We are called to be contemplatives in the world, not of it or above it. Since our true life is not here where political parties constantly vie for our affection, we can let go of all this nonsense and focus on neighbor love. That doesn’t mean not voting or not dealing with the massive political problems these United States face. It just means putting them into their proper place, beneath the feet of Jesus, along with the rest of the world he overcame through his death and resurrection.
Hillary Clinton infamously said:
You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.
As the unbearably woke NYT columnist Charles Blow pointed out this statement broke with political common sense because it attacked the very people Clinton needed to finally become the grand poobah of America. American politics is built on attacking campaigns and politicians not the voters. Hostess doesn’t call fat people worthless fatties and politicians don’t call their electorates evil.
By her own admission Clinton was attacking 11 million people as irredeemable and “not America.” That’s about 5% of the potential voting population of a National US election, equivalent to the entire populations of Ohio or Georgia. She won the popular vote by a mere 2%. It doesn’t take a math genius to see that the “basket of deplorables” line might be one of the more important (and dumbest) things ever said by a political figure in US history.
The MAGA hats have lashed the DNC with this bloody shirt for years now, and rightly so. Simultaneously segments of the American right have pushed into that filthy basket. Trumpkins have literally been able to have their cake and eat it too, furthering the divide that Clinton pointed out.
That is what was truly profound about Clinton’s comment of infamy. She and Donald didn’t create the divide, they just publicly established it. And while almost everyone seems to recognize that it was a mistake for her to say it, the left still obviously agrees with her. And not privately in hushed tones at Davos cocktail parties. They’ve been shouting it from the metaphorical rooftops. Charles Blow said it best:
What Clinton said was impolitic, but it was not incorrect. There are things a politician cannot say. Luckily, I’m not a politician.
Donald Trump is a deplorable candidate — to put it charitably — and anyone who helps him advance his racial, religious and ethnic bigotry is part of that bigotry. Period. Anyone who elevates a sexist is part of that sexism. The same goes for xenophobia. You can’t conveniently separate yourself from the detestable part of him because you sense in him the promise of cultural or economic advantage. That hair cannot be split.
The conclusion is pretty clear: The MAGA hats are complicit in evil for voting for Donald Trump. Anybody who helped elect Donald Trump isn’t part of their America. And just a few months ago another explosive moment in this narrative occurred.
But this time it wasn’t a “politician,” rather it was someone from the exact same “journalistic” class as Charles Blow: CNN’s Don Lemon. And technically Mr. Lemon didn’t even say anything, he just laughed hysterically to the point of face planting on his desk. But he was laughing at a joke about not only President Trump, but President Trump’s base being stupid.
So the GOP created a brilliant campaign ad that brings all this together with biting minimalist clarity. A small retro TV sits center stage while various incendiary clips roll. Noticeably the old rabbit ears can be seen. This isn’t the HD flat screen of the elites (that pretty much everyone owns now because they’re so affordable) it’s the small humble TV of Wonder Years America. They are essentially virtue signalling to the populists that we’re on your side. We see the world the way you see it, unrealistic nostalgia and all.
The first clip starts with the now infamous Don Lemon segment. Never Trump Republican Rick Wilson, condescension dripping from every word, says:
Donald Trump couldn’t find Ukraine on a map if you had the letter U and a picture of an actual physical crane next to it. He knows that this is, you know, an administration defined by ignorance of the world.
This is followed by the basket of deplorables line with Ms. Clinton’s audience laughing and applauding her. Then back to Mr. Wilson, Mr. Lemon’s already face planted at the crane joke:
And so that’s partly him playing to their base.
In other words Mr. Wilson is saying Donald Trump plays dumber than he is because his base is dumb. He’s playing down to his demographic support. The problem isn’t just him it’s the half of America that helped him. Then Pete Buttigieg enters expressing Charles Blow’s opinion on Mr. Trump almost verbatim:
Anyone who supported this president is at best, looking the other way on racism, at best.
Trump supporters are AT BEST indifferent to racism. Basically they are racists. Instead of just calling President Trump a racist he’s going after his supporters. Back to Mr. Wilson:
The incredulous boomer rube demo that backs Donald Trump that wants to think that (switches to a “Southern” accent) Donald Trump is the smart one y’all elitist are dumb.
Again going after the supporter not Donald Trump. Then MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews comes in saying:
Trump loves the low information guy.
Then back to Don Lemon where leftist writer Wajahat Ali says:
You elitist with your geography and your maps.
Then Joe Biden:
The issue of racism across the country, because that’s his base.
Then back to Don Lemon to finish the segment with Ali & Wilson riffing off each other mocking redneck America:
Your math and your reading.
Yeah your reading. You know, your geography. Knowing other countries…
The ad ends with these simple stark words: they think you’re a joke, prove them wrong in November.
The irony being that by voting the way the ad wants you to vote you’re simply reinforcing everything the talking heads said in the ad. Because they aren’t mocking Donald Trump. They’re mocking the people who voted for him. Hillary Clinton’s faux pas has become American normalcy in the last few years. Not just for the left but, as this ad proves, for the right as well. Because the ad isn’t focused on defending Mr. Trump, it’s focused on defending your own dignity as a Trumper by doubling down on Mr. Trump. Both sides have fully acknowledged there are two Americas.
The leader of a populist movement becomes mystically joined to his people. It’s like a misapplication of some of Jesus’ most terrifying & simultaneously comforting words: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” The GOP is reaching out to the mystical body of Donald Trump with this ad. The message is a kind of soft fascism. We’re all in this together. If they mock one of us they mock all of us.
This is why the Southern political tradition matters more than ever. This political/culture war has no answers and its inevitable conclusion should be some form of secession between the two Americas. President Trump represents the same kind of solution that the American left does: over-politicization and polarization. For everything he does that Conservatives can applaud—and the accomplishments of his administration, while complicated, are far from negligible—he serves as a reminder that politics is inherently a kind of warfare. People like Sohrab Amari are explicitly in love with Mr. Trump because he fights. And campaign ads like this are politically brilliant because they just add fuel to the fire.
But the Southern tradition is exactly the opposite. I think, probably without knowing it, Rod Dreher’s Benedict option is a variation on this and should probably be considered within the scope of Southern Conservatism. Instead of stoking the culture war by building our moral foundation upon it, the BenOp is supposed to be cooling water. Not for the US federation but for your soul.
The criticism I always hear of BenOp is that Mr. Dreher wants us to all move to the same street and not vote, which doesn’t sound that bad to me. But the truth is it’s nothing more radical than what Jesus said 2000 years ago: render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Our contemporary Caesers (right & left) should mostly be rendered indifference, and occasional resistance. And given the complete lack of national interest in the impeachment fiasco it seems that Americans are, at least functionally, more open to BenOping than anybody realized.
The BenOp is primarily a secession of the heart. It’s Brion McClannahan’s motto of “think locally, act locally.” The business of the Christian life, and healthy life in general, has never changed. James Davison Hunter argued persuasively, ten years ago, that the job of the Christian was not to change the world, nor was it to engage in eternal culture warfare. The Christian life is about taking responsibility for what we’re really responsible for. That means our families, communities, schools, and everything immediately adjacent to us. Those things are not there by accident. They are there by providence. Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable we have been provided with neighbors in need. They are our first concern.
Yes Jesus commissioned his disciples to take the Gospel into all the world. Yes we should fight for the unborn. To every issue of actual justice the Conservative and the Christian always says yes. But we also need to be wary of appeals to ego and honor. The GOP wants you to feel the sting of shame, they want you to constantly hear the word deplorable and irredeemable to make your blood run hot thereby making you run to the modern altar of America: the voting booth. But if we believe Paul in his letter to the Colossians then we have not only a different perspective on all these things but literally a different kind of life. Paul exhorted the church in Colossae to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
By being born of the spirit we have already seceded from both Ms. Clinton’s America and Mr. Trump’s. We are called to be contemplatives in the world, not of it or above it. Since our true life is not here where political parties constantly vie for our affection, we can let go of all this nonsense and focus on neighbor love. That doesn’t mean not voting or not dealing with the massive political problems these United States face. It just means putting them into their proper place, beneath the feet of Jesus, along with the rest of the world he overcame through his death and resurrection.
Whatever happens politically we can secede first from the concerns of this world and hold onto genuine faith. That’s not turning into an ostrich, it’s turning to what’s fundamental. It’s turning to what’s more real first and placing secondary concerns in their proper place. And whatever happens can be left up to providence.
Republished with gracious permission from The Abbeville Institute (March 2020).
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