by Mark Bauerlein
I just heard a fellow on CNN say that Donald Trump has radicalized the Republicans. Let’s be clear on what is and isn’t radical.
A well-patrolled border is not a radical policy. An open border is a radical policy.
To believe in two genders is not radical. To insert gender identity into Title IX is.
To praise Western Civilization as a legacy of political freedom and artistic genius is not a radical opinion.To regard it as promotion of white supremacy is a radical opinion.
To love America as an exceptional creation is not radical. To see America as founded on slavery and imperialism is radical.
For a president to express support for the outcome of a vote in a foreign country is not radical. For a president to threaten a unique ally with economic hardship if a popular vote goes in a certain way, as Barack Obama did before Brexit – that’s radical.
To cancel student debt is radical.
To make college free is radical.
To demand reparations 150 years after the end of slavery and 60 years after the end of Jim Crow is radical.
To demand more public attention to the tiny population that fits the label “transgender” is radical.
To introduce 5-year-olds to drag queens is radical.
To award a Pulitzer Prize to a rapper whose award-winning record includes the lyrics
I got so many theories and suspicions
I’m diagnosed with real n—- conditions
Today is the day I follow my intuition
Keep the family close, get money, f— b—-es . . .
To mount campaigns to get people fired from their jobs because they donated money to a political campaign that ended up winning – that’s radical.
To deny a popular food franchise a license to operate because its owner upholds a biblical conception of marriage is radical.
It may appear ironic or hypocritical for liberals to charge the president with radicalism, but it quite predictably follows the Alinsky-like rule that says: “Always accuse your opponents of the foul play that you commit.”
The wilder the Democrat candidates get in their championship of pet projects of the hard Left, the more they and their mouthpieces in the media have to tar the other side with a worse extremism. That’s one way to legitimate a far-left proposal: concoct a far-right that blocks it, a far-right that is patently stupid and vicious. The way is then paved for more “justice” or, at any rate, more change.
Yes, keep pushing, get louder, never stop centralizing what is radical, normalizing the abnormal, defining deviancy downward. Eventually, the return of common sense does indeed look radical. Seize the institutions – schools, the press, the Boy Scouts, the Olympics – and punish participants who won’t go with the flow. Take a few scalps, publicize them well, and most everyone conforms.
It doesn’t matter if now and then it all looks nutty and barbaric. The maestros out to “transform” America expect it. They know that the occasional Jussie Smollett and Nathan Phillips embarrassment is bound to happen. When you are as venturesome as the Left is today, some rockets will fizzle. But so what? The fact that the entire establishment, both Right and Left, jumped on the Covington Boys straight away, and that so many public voices credited so outlandish a tale as Smollett’s, proves that the tactic is working.
This is what “tolerance” is for. It softens up the people, conservatives included, for another overturning of common sense.
It’s all so exciting, too, so edgy. Common sense is just that – common, ordinary, routine, unimaginative. Only two genders? Let’s try three, or four . . . oohh, interesting. Who’s more fun, the young gals in the House or the old white guys in the Senate? AOC isn’t an irresponsible Millennial who mutters “like” too much. No, she thinks outside the box, which makes what she has to say so much more camera-friendly than the laconic replies of Mitch McConnell.
The culture sphere sets it up that way. Many years ago, gender theorist Judith Butler explained in the New York Times:
. . . scholars are obliged to question common sense, interrogate its tacit presumptions and provoke new ways of looking at a familiar world.Many quite nefarious ideologies pass for common sense. For decades of American history, it was ”common sense” in some quarters for white people to own slaves and for women not to vote.
Got that? Common sense, you see, isn’t based in nature or human nature or time-tested traditions. It is a form of repression, and once it is lifted, to reinstate common sense is to restore that repression. Common sense is disguised ideology. It must be fought tirelessly, not least because human beings are ever disposed to slip back into bias and scapegoating (so the progressive thinks). We need to find, therefore, new occasions by which to take down commonsensical notions, the “trans community” being the current favorite.
The culture sphere gives progressive politicians and commentators the vocabulary for doing so. Go into a modern art exhibition and check the wall text. “Subvert,” “transgress,” “challenge,” and “question” are everywhere, and common sense is the target. The schools constantly talk about instilling “critical thinking,” critical thinking usually meaning “interrogating” ordinary notions of life, history, nation, God, and humanity held by the man on the street. The 1960s gave us one “experiment in living” after another, and all the cool people went along with it even if they forged bourgeois lives in the ’80s and ’90s. The 2010s are at it again, this time with the powers of America behind them, from Yale to corporations to the Democratic Party leadership.
Of course, then, Donald Trump sounds radical to them. They see him as an anomaly, as atavistic. The current of History flows toward a sea of total openness – open borders, open sexualities, open access to all resources and pleasures – and they swim happily within it. Throwbacks such as Donald Trump are just boulders in river; we will pass them soon.
That profound confidence has been given to them by a thousand Hollywood films, Antifa, required courses and orientations in gender and diversity, women’s marches, blabbering musicians and celebrities, Pride Month, advertisers who pulled out of Tucker Carlson’s show, corporations and the NCAA that threatened Indiana if it held to its religious freedom restoration law, and, not least of all, the weak-kneed posture of peacetime conservatives.
Liberals accuse Donald Trump of radicalism, or of just plain off-the-chart outrageousness, not because of the substance of what he says. They do it because he stands up for common sense without apology or conciliation.
Progressives have managed to persuade a good portion of the citizenry that certain off-the-wall ideas are salient and practicable. They know it is a fragile consensus among every group except the social justice brigades. Trump’s common sense, launched with an equal and opposite confidence, raises a sharp needle to the identity politics/gender theory/socialism balloon. By now, we should have dozens of Republican politicians doing the same thing.
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Mark Bauerlein is a senior editor at First Things and professor of English at Emory University, where he has taught since earning his Ph.D. in English at UCLA in 1989. For two years (2003-2005) he served as director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts. His books include Literary Criticism: An Autopsy, The Pragmatic Mind: Explorations in the Psychology of Belief, and The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.