Fear Politics is No Longer Sustainable

People often like to think President Trump is the only major politician with a toxic “winners and losers” mentality, where if we do not try to win, then we lose. But this mentality is shared among our politicians from both parties, making us less trusting of one another and more willing to confine ourselves to echo chambers and the misinformation that permeates such places.

Many hot-off-the-press takes have rolled out ever since the Senate’s certification of the electoral votes (usually an unexciting event that garners scant media coverage at best) was briefly shut down after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building and proceeding to vandalize, loot, and steal from the property. These takes have ranged from condemnations of the rioters’ behavior (including from world leaders) and calls for prosecution and jailing of the participants to calls to impeach President Trump a second time and encouraging his senior-level staff to resign. Some even believe that the day parallels Pearl Harbor and should live in infamy, while others have been quick to point out the differences in police treatment of the pro-Trump rioters and the Black Lives Matter protesters last summer. Still, others have lamented the worrying number of far-right extremists, neo-Nazis, crank conspiracy theorists, racists, and fringe militia groups that showed up at the rally-turned-riot. 

There is merit to all of this, but they are missing the big picture (the only big-picture take I have seen is people pointing out one of the rioters getting a Confederate flag into the Capitol building, something Confederate soldiers were unable to do 150 years ago). That big picture is something that has been bubbling under the surface of politics for decades now, and that is the tension between the haves and have-nots. The political class is not oblivious to this: politicians, journalists, pundits, activist leaders, and other political elites turn every single thing into a potential or actual catastrophe. Every election becomes “once in a lifetime” and a chance to “save our country.” Every speech given by a politician is influential. Every piece of legislation will have serious consequences. And so on and so on. 

Whether these claims have any merit is not significant. What is important is that our elites, specifically our politicians, continue to exploit our fears and pit “us” versus “them.” People often like to think President Trump is the only major politician with a toxic “winners and losers” mentality, where if we do not try to win, then we lose. But this mentality is shared among our politicians from both parties, making us less trusting of one another and more willing to confine ourselves to echo chambers and the misinformation that permeates such places. Whataboutism becomes commonplace as people talk past each other, versed in wildly different political languages. Coupled with the differences in values that people hold and the increasing perception that the “other side” wants fundamentally different political outcomes to occur, it becomes impossible to find common ground.

With this in mind, it makes sense that Trump supporters, feeling maligned by elites and that the “once-in-a-lifetime” election was stolen from their guy, would go and riot and loot the Capitol building. I am not trying to excuse the actions of the rioters (quite the opposite, I condemn the idea of mob rule as an affront to a nominally functioning political system); instead, I am offering an explanation for the behavior of a group of people whose intentions and political goals are often widely misunderstood. Additionally, it is not a defense of the beliefs that Trump supporters tend to hold. When people are made to feel like they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from engaging in criminal behavior, it is then that respect for democratic norms and republican institutions diminishes. Unfortunately, shunning the political process (in favor of “alternate” means of political participation) when one feels powerless to influence it has historical precedent in this country.

In a previous article, I discussed the centrality of violence in American politics. I think that is no more apparent than last Wednesday’s riot, and it shows how deeply ingrained violence is in our politics. Pundits keep calling the riot “un-American,” but I argue that it is who we are. This will continue unless large portions of the country finally recognize that they are protesting against the wrong people. In other words, the same reasons that pushed the Capitol rioters to act the way they did (minus the cranks) are the same reasons that motivated the Black Lives Matter protesters, the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and the Tea Party types to take action. However rudimentary, people are angry at the status quo: the national debt has gone up, cost of living has soared, student debt has accumulated at dizzying heights, lockdowns have continued without an end in sight, and most importantly, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has widened. People have every reason to be angry, but while we are at each other’s throats, cronyists in big business and government are laughing their way to the bank. 

Violence is never the answer. Those who directly participated in breaking into the Capitol building should be punished accordingly and proportionately, being mindful not to add any more incarcerated individuals than we have to. And while the state continues to perpetrate acts of violence on Americans every day, we should recognize that private individuals and groups can do so as well. We should oppose all of it because the current state of politics is unsustainable. 

What Does It Mean to be Conservative in College?

Being conservative on campus means being willing to stand up for oneself, and stand up against our generation’s political leftism.

Today, young conservatives face the most difficult challenges they have ever faced. College campuses have become ever more leftist, to the point where conservatives have become the minority on nearly every campus. Conservatives face the difficult choice of remaining silent, and letting the left monopolize political discourse, or standing up and facing the consequences of rejecting the prevailing beliefs of their generation. What type of consequences? Perhaps just harassment and limited job prospects if you are lucky, arson and assault if you are not. The fact that most professors are left of center means it is not merely leftist students that a conservative must deal with, but also professors and the university itself. University after university has caved to the demands of those espousing social justice, often to the point of absurdity.

The left have clear goals with regard to what they stand for and what they want to change, but those goals are often unattainable. Arguing that systemic racism must be eradicated, supposes that there is systemic racism in America, and that we can somehow end it with enough protests and government intervention. Conservatives, on the other hand, reject these calls for radical change and defend the freedoms and institutions that have made America the greatest nation in the world.    

Being conservative means supporting the Constitution, a document that protects our rights and liberties. The First Amendment-protected right to freedom of speech is under attack from not only the left, but many in the center as well. This right is the first to go when freedom begins to wane in nations throughout history, and must be protected at all costs. The cancel-culture mob thinks they have a right to ruin someone’s life for speaking against the mob. The idea that you are justified in unleashing a vicious assault on someone’s livelihood for disagreeing with what they say is troublesome, as it discourages the free exchange of opinions. In Silicon Valley, big tech now uses partisan censorship to control who can be heard, and what they can say, while still being protected as platforms. This again stifles free speech, as huge companies with monopoly like control now become the arbiters of truth and opinion. 

Another right that could arguably be called even more important than the First Amendment, is the Second. The right to keep and bear arms serves as a guarantor of all the other rights. Arms allow every American to not only protect themselves, but protect the rights of others from any threat. Whether that threat is a criminal in your home, a shooter at your school, or ATF agents sieging your farm. These rights are protected by the institutions of America, which represent another important aspect of conservatism.

Being conservative means supporting the institutions of America, but rejecting the abuse of them. The police, military, and our government serve important roles in protecting the rights enshrined in our constitution, but that does not mean they are exempt from oversight. Recently, however, fueled by anarchists that have hated all authority for decades, the police have been under unceasing attack from those who want to see them defunded. This anti-police movement has grown rapidly in the last several months, and represents an assault not only on the police, but the rule of law in America. As seen in Portland and Seattle, when the police are not allowed to enforce the laws of our nation, anarchy and violence ensues. This does not mean some police do not abuse their power, for we have seen it several times in recent memory, but to use that as reason to abolish the police as an entity is absurd. 

Our military has protected our rights against foreign threats time and time again, which is why every veteran deserves our respect and admiration. Yet, our military can be abused as well, by being used in needless foreign conflicts. Our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam represent conflicts unwinnable with the resources we were willing to use, and led to thousands of American deaths. Our military is best used as a strong deterrent to our enemies, instead of being used to trying to mold nations into what we want. Politicians in Washington, unelected state department officials, and generals have often led us into these conflicts that drain our tax dollars and cost our soldiers’ lives. 

The Federal Government receives the most criticism of these institutions, and rightly so, for it is the most abused. Government bureaucracies invade our lives, whether it is through the NSA illegally collecting our information, or the IRS targeting individuals for their political beliefs. Yet despite these abuses, the system of government we have in place is still constrained by our constitution and the ballot box. As a democracy, we not only have the power but the duty to vote those out who try to abuse their powers.    

A Conservative on a college campus has other duties as well. They must work to get real conservatives elected, and work to vote out those who betray their campaign promises or use their position to enrich themselves. They must be debating and searching for the conservative answers to our nation’s problems. They must stand up and stop the left from getting what they want, for ground lost is not easily retaken. Campuses are the battleground for our nation’s political future, and while we may be down and outnumbered, we are not out of it yet. Being conservative on campus means being willing to stand up for oneself, and stand up against our generation’s political leftism. 

Cover photo taken by Rebekah Wendt.