Friday, August 18, 2017

#230 / Keeping In Touch

Rod Dreher, a self-styled "American Conservative," writes about American politics, culture, and religion from a "conservative," and specifically from a "conservative religious" perspective. I have been following Dreher's daily blog postings since his profile appeared in The New Yorker

As The New Yorker made clear, Dreher is calling for a "new monasticism," which he identifies as the "Benedict Option," defined as a "communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life."

On August 17th, Dreher commented on President Trump's reaction to the confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia between a white supremacist crowd and those who came to Charlottesville to protest the white supremacists' "Unite the Right" demonstration. As you will remember, a young woman was killed during this confrontation, and the President, though he made different comments, over a period of several days, ended up saying that "both sides" were to blame for the violence

The American Conservative agreed with the president, but almost universally, pundits and the mainstream media did not. The press and media reaction to the president's statements rejected the idea that those who came to witness against a white supremacist demonstration were "equally to blame" for the death of Heather Heyer, who died after having been run over by an automobile driven by a white supremacist demonstrator. 

Dreher's take on the controversy is titled, "Trump Is More In Touch Than You Think," and relies on recent polling to support this analysis. Here are his conclusions: 

  • The news media have been seriously distorting public reaction to Trump’s handling of Charlottesville. Whether this is a matter of only seeing what they want to see, or a matter of the talking heads being concentrated among coastal elites of both parties, is a matter of conjecture. True, a slight majority of Americans think Trump didn’t go far enough, but judging from the coverage and commentary, you would have thought at Charlottesville, Trump met his Waterloo. It didn’t happen. Charlottesville is not nearly a big a deal to Americans as it is to the media and coastal elites. 
  • Trump’s disapproval rating is very high, but Charlottesville didn’t really move the needle. And he’s kept his base. 
  • Continuing to attack Confederate statues is a big loser for Democrats and liberals. A strong majority of Americans favors keeping them standing. Only liberals want to see them go. When even 44 percent of African-Americans favor leaving the statues alone, the take-them-down faction of the Left has a serious echo chamber problem. 
  • This is likely to cause them to seriously overreach. If Democrats and liberals only pay attention to the media and to each other on the statue debate, they are going to alienate a lot of people. The hostile media environment has made it very difficult for anybody to speak up for keeping the statues, even though that is a majority opinion in America. So people will keep that opinion to themselves. 
  • In turn, they may very well stew on it, angry at the liberal gatekeepers of respectable opinion either not caring about their opinion, or shutting them down as racists. 
  • Do not underestimate the power of cultural symbols to drive voter behavior. 
  • Americans have no trouble condemning white supremacists and the far right, while at the same time supporting the statues. Americans probably do not believe they are racist for wanting the statues to remain in place. 
  • Charlottesville was the first time most Americans will have been introduced to both Antifa and the Alt-Right. 
  • Trump remains an extremely divisive figure. For any Commander in Chief, the idea that six out of 10 Americans do not trust your leadership in an international crisis is potentially destabilizing. 
  • And, it’s telling that younger voters are half as likely to back Trump’s handling of Charlottesville than older voters. This is not terribly surprising, but it points to long-term problems the GOP faces reaching the young after Trump departs the scene. One way or another, Trump will leave a strong legacy when his presidency ends — one that the Republican Party will be dealing with for a long time.

Having now read Dreher (and the other commentary published by The American Conservative), I wish Dreher would have taken his own advice, and sought a "withdrawal from the mainstream." I think there is significant truth in Dreher's suggestion that the public doesn't want to promote the kind of social and political division that gave us Charlottesville. Instead of trying to calm the waters, however, Dreher's comments are fanning the flames of further division. 

To get back to that "rainbow" metaphor I talked about yesterday, it doesn't help for Dreher to promote never before defined oppositional groups (the so-called "alt-right" and the "antifa"), as Dreher does, as a way to help sharpen divisions that may not even exist, as the polling he cites apparently indicates. What Dreher and The American Conservative are doing will lead us further and further from what Martin Luther King, Jr. used to call "the beloved community."

That's where we should be heading. 

You can even call it the "Benedict Option" if that makes you feel better. 

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