Please note: this post has been edited a bit since first published.
Bit more than a month ago I wrote a longish article about Kevin Williamson’s opinion regarding the people who are backing Trump – I do regret the title of the article, but I was a bit hot under the collar. At any rate, Williamson got a lot of flack over that article and wrote an article defending himself against his detractors and in it Williamson had this to say of those who, perhaps, aren’t doing as well for themselves as they ideally should:
Perhaps that is taking a comment out of context? Well, let’s take a look at a larger quote to put it into some context:
What to do about dysfunctional families in dysfunctional communities? I have a great deal of experience with that question — a great deal more experience than ever I wanted to have in this life. And my answer to what to do about a community or a family that offers you little or nothing and that may be actively working against your real long-term interest is for me the same today as it was 25 years ago, when I first was forced to consider it and answered in the argot of my own downscale tornado-bait community:
Michael worries about dying old mill towns in upstate New York and similar places and wonders why the party of free enterprise doesn’t have more to offer people dwelling in them. He imagines a disability fraudster dwelling in Garbutt, N.Y., and asks what we (we conservatives) are going to do for him and his sad little town. (Among the many dishonest responses to my piece were those treating the addled fraud artist in Garbutt as my hostile literary invention rather than Michael’s sympathetic one; no doubt Michael will have a lot to answer for the next time he visits the Greater Garbutt Chamber of Commerce.) My answer is that if there’s nothing for you in Garbutt but penury, dysfunction, and addiction, then get the hell out. If that means that communities in upstate New York or eastern Kentucky or west Texas die, so what? If that’s all they have to offer, then they have it coming.
In contrast to the attitude expressed there, I offer this quote from The Lord of the Rings – Aragorn is explaining himself to Boromir in the the Council of Elrond:
And yet less thanks have we than you. Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names. “Strider” I am to one fat man who lives within a day’s march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly. Yet we would not have it otherwise. If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so…
It is the duty of those who have the mental and physical strength to stand guard – ceaselessly – over those who don’t. We all know it, instinctively. The police officer and the soldier put themselves between regular folks and those who would do harm. They aren’t better people than everyone else; they are just people who have been gifted in a certain way. Other people, those who don’t stand on the wall, have different gifts – and gifts which if not utilized, would prevent the soldier and the police officer from doing their duty. Not everyone can do every possible task. But a task is not less honorable because it is a common task – meaning, a task that most people do. Everyone has their part to play in life. For some, it is to simply go to work and pay the bills. For others, to take care of family and home. For yet others to be doctors and other agents of mercy. The doctor is not superior to the work-a-day guy who makes shipping boxes at the local factory – but the doctor, by reason of his position, is to help the work-a-day guy. If he gets sick or injured, the doctor rushes to his aid…just so he can get back to making boxes; not so that, once cured, he can go off and conquer the world. And the political leader – which includes not just those who seek office but also those who seek to form public opinion – has a duty to help the less instructed in political matters to understand why things are as they are, and how they might be made better.
I don’t know Kevin Williamson’s whole story, but from what is quoted here it seems clear he came from a rather distressed background. By dint of hard work, he overcame that and has risen high in the world – to a place of respect and influence. Now in that position, what is Mr. Williamson supposed to do? Perhaps, if he sees that gross immorality is playing a baleful role in the lives of the simple people he grew up among, his duty is to try and drive those things out of the community? If he sees that economic decay is taking away the wherewithal of those people to even try to build a better life, then his duty is to try and repair the economy? I can’t see that his duty would be to condemn out of hand those who haven’t made the better choices.
These days, because no one has been standing guard over our communities, the simple people are no longer simple – they are harassed out of their wits by things which they don’t understand and can’t effectively deal with. They are unequipped by nature to deal with drug addiction, family break up, public immorality and economic collapse. Those who are equipped to help correct these ills must help. At least, that is how I see it. After all, what worth is there in obtaining knowledge except to use it in the service of others? One person cannot cure the ills of the world. Indeed, were all of us wise, we still couldn’t cure all the ills of the world. That is not our office. But I do think we are bound to try, within the limits of our gifts, to do what we can to make things better.
Conservatism, as I’ve said, is about conserving Judeo-Christian morality. But, let’s step down a little bit from there and get to the practical, nitty-gritty of it all. Conservatism is about making sure that Mom and Dad can raise their kids in peace as they see fit. In order to do this, there first must be immense respect accorded to anyone who voluntarily promises their life to another in matrimony. Second, there must be laws and customs in place which put such men and women at a distinct advantage over people who don’t choose that life – because if people don’t volunteer to do this task, there isn’t merely a collapse of civilization, but an end of humanity. Third, there must be maintained a healthy level of economic activity to ensure that Mom and Dad have the resources – if they work hard and live frugally – to raise their children and leave them a legacy.
It is true that some times a town dies. Goldfield, NV was once a booming mining town – now it is a dusty dot on the map with a population of less than 300. The gold which made the town in the early 20th century is long played out. But telling everyone to get up and move if things aren’t in the sweet spot is a formula for the break down of family and community. All else being equal, it is far better if a person lives where born – using talents and energy to contribute a life time of benefit to the people he or she lives among. The extra strong and vigorous will always be able to make a place for themselves – but not everyone is capable of that. In fact, most people aren’t. Americans are a bit different in that in the days of our expansion we got a continual supply of people who were the strong and vigorous (if they hadn’t been, they wouldn’t have left the home country). This ancestral energy still moves through America – but it becomes attenuated as time goes on. People don’t automatically inherit the abilities or the desires of their parents. And being rooted in a place and loving it warts and all is also a great strength…and in some cases a greater strength than wandering off and seeking some new El Dorado.
There is much to be said against Trump and those who are following him so heartily. There is also much to be said against Hillary and those who are following her. While Hillary, herself, is not a clownish vulgarian like Trump, her followers are just as blind to the reality of Hillary as Trump’s followers are to him (and, often, just as vulgar as any Trumpster). We have discovered in 2016 that plenty of our fellow citizens have only a dim idea of how things are supposed to work in a democratic republic. We have also found – though I think we all knew it for years – that the vials of wrath are very full. But those who know better have a duty to try and stand against the storm – to instruct, rather than condemn. But one can only instruct when there is a bit of mutual respect between teacher and pupil. Calling people you disagree with fools for disagreeing is not likely to generate mutual trust.
I know this makes two articles I’ve written about Kevin Williamson, but please understand that I’m not actually condemning him. He’s a great writer and has a lot of very smart things to say about the world. I just think that in this case – and probably under a great deal of provocation – Williamson and plenty of people like him have lost sight of something rather important. The people we have in the United States today are the people we’ve got to work with. If they’ve gone off the rails a bit, then the task is to get them back on the rails. Perhaps we in the Conservative movement have been missing some rather important points? Perhaps we have been talking to each other too much? Liberals do that all the time, folks – and it is a common human failing. It is called Confirmation Bias – or, to paraphrase Chesterton: It is not bigotry to be sure you’re right, but it is bigotry to not see how you might have gone wrong. Maybe we’ve gone a bit wrong? Maybe a bit of humility and a bit of listening to those who are so angry will give us some insight in how to turn them away from mountebanks like Trump (and Hillary) and back to things which will actually satisfy their real needs?
In all the Trump phenomena, I have refused to be drawn into insult matches with Trump supporters. I’ve had plenty of opportunities, to be sure – but I’ve always held back. Partially this was because I just didn’t want to fight – but now I realize that it was some small strain of wisdom which has rather astonishingly grown in me: it doesn’t serve any purpose.
Think of it like this. Trump is a terrible person – those who vote for him are stupid! Well, Hillary is also a terrible person – those who vote for her are stupid, too! What does that work out to? Well, if it’s Trump vs Hillary in November, then it means that 100% of the voting population is stupid…doesn’t matter if its divvied up 60% for Hillary and 40% for Trump. Everyone’s stupid! But, no – everyone isn’t stupid. Misinformed? Sure. Haven’t thought everything through? Definitely. But not stupid – and the task is to reach these people and explain to them in a way they’ll accept where their true interests are. But here’s the kicker: if we go up to them and say, “hey, you moron, this is what you have to believe”, I’m guessing that the message won’t sink in quite the way we’d like.
2016 will go along and what will be, will be. Perhaps Cruz will stop Trump and then figure out how to beat Hillary. That would be great. Perhaps the Convention will deadlock and a Jindal/Martinez ticket will emerge as a compromise. That would be proof that Bismarck was right – there is a special providence for fools, drunkards and the United States of America. But however it comes out, the task ahead is to work out ways and means to reach the American people and convince them of the rock, solid truth that their real desires will be met (as far as that is possible given human frailty) by a genuinely Conservative government. That takes treating people with respect – even when you think them wrong. That takes offering them hope – even when their own actions have put them in a pretty hopeless situation.
I’ve been saying for a while that Conservatism has to think anew and act anew in order to win in modern America. I’m actually hopeful that out of the morass of this election year, this will start to sink in.