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Interesting article on the right vs left argument


mspart

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Ross Douthat

By Ross Douthat

Opinion Columnist

 

Since the leak of the Dobbs decision in May, the conservative organization CatholicVote has counted 75 attacks on pro-life organizations around the country — vandalism, arson, graffiti, a firebombing. A group calling itself Jane’s Revenge has taken responsibility for some of the attacks, though it’s not clear whether this is a real pro-choice terrorist organization or just a conveniently unifying slogan. But then very little about these incidents is clear, because while officially the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating, so far it has not publicized any arrests.

Perhaps a hardworking agent is about to break one of these cases. For abortion opponents, though, it’s been hard not to notice the contrast between the slow-seeming federal response to the wave of violence and the vigor with which the government has been pursuing anti-abortion protesters lately. For instance, the F.B.I. recently sent more than a dozen agents to make a 7 a.m. arrest of Mark Houck, a Pennsylvania father of seven who allegedly shoved an abortion clinic volunteer more than a year ago, an altercation that led to no local charges. (Houck said he was defending his 12-year-old son from verbal abuse.) Around the same time, the Department of Justice charged 11 pro-life protesters with federal crimes allegedly committed while blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic in Tennessee; one defendant is an 87-year-old woman.

We’ll see what happens in court; it’s certainly plausible that some of these protesters were in violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. It also seems plausible, though, that under the ideological pressures of the moment, the Biden Justice Department is “fishing,” as Timothy Carney of The Washington Examiner puts it, for pro-life activists to arrest and charge, while pro-choice arsonists are just a lower priority.

Social conservatives who nurture this suspicion do so in the shadow of their Covid-era experience, when there was a wide gap between the urgency with which progressive authorities went after lockdown violations that were coded as conservative and religious — Christian congregations, Jewish funerals — and the tolerance or even celebration that greeted violators protesting for causes that the authorities considered suitably progressive and obviously just.

‌There is a well-traveled online quotation that encapsulates the suspicions involved here, formulated by a composer named Frank Wilhoit commenting on a political-science blog in 2018. To quote Wilhoit, what social conservatives fear is that progressivism in power “consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” In other words, under progressive rule, abortion clinics get the law’s protection while racial-justice protesters aren’t bound by its requirements; meanwhile religious conservatives get to fear F.B.I. agents on their doorsteps while crimes against their own institutions go conspicuously unsolved.

Actually, I’m not playing fair with the quotation. Wilhoit’s formulation was written to describe conservatism’s defense of in-groups and contempt for out-groups, conservatism’s inability to guarantee equal protection under the law. But it’s powerful precisely because it generalizes. What the formulation really captures is not the essence of conservatism but the tendency of any ideology in power to find excuses — often excellent-seeming ones! — to reward its friends and punish its opponents, to apply the rules of the game unequally, to limit principles like free speech, religious liberty and freedom of association whenever they seem to offer too much leeway to a hated enemy.

I bring this up because much of contemporary liberalism, staring down the prospect of another electoral defeat, has convinced itself that this pattern exists only on the other side of the aisle, that only conservatives are plotting “endless political warfare” without any concern that it “might violate anybody’s rights,” as Jonathan Chait of New York magazine put it in a recent portrait of the national conservatism gathering in Florida.

And indeed, much of Trump-era conservatism is convinced that worrying too much about classical-liberal niceties is a sucker’s game. But anyone who imagines that Trumpism took shape in isolation needs to understand how this “don’t be a sucker” attitude has been reaffirmed and strengthened by progressive governance that seems equally unconcerned about neutrality or fairness.

Consider one of the sharpest contrasts in our national life right now, the difference between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Gov. Gavin Newsom, Florida and California. In liberal polemic, DeSantis is the frightening embodiment of illiberalism after Trump, a punitive practitioner of governmental overreach — using the powers of his office to go after corporations that speak out on liberal causes, undermining free speech in Florida universities, threatening unjust restrictions on medical care for gender-dysphoric kids.

If you are a Florida progressive frightened by DeSantis’s political warfare, though, consider the position of a social or religious conservative in California in recent years. A recent summary from David French, himself no partisan of the populist right, is a good place to start: He writes that “over the last decade, California Democrats have launched their own frontal attack on the First Amendment, one that matches or exceeds Gov. DeSantis’s in both intensity and scale.” French’s examples include attempts to force pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise abortions, Covid-era restrictions on religious free exercise that the Supreme Court repeatedly struck down, requirements that churches provide abortion coverage in their health plans and prohibitions on state-sponsored travel to other states deemed too hostile to gay rights (currently 23 are on the list).

To this list one might add the Diversity-Equity-Inclusion loyalty oaths expected of many academic job-seekers in California’s public universities. Or the state’s prosecution of David Daleiden, the pro-life muckraker who released videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing fetal dismemberment. Or the new Californian measure, signed by Newsom last month, threatening doctors with disciplinary action if they offer what the state considers Covid “misinformation” to their patients.

If you read this list and think, “These sound like excellent, uncontroversial ideas,” congratulations, you’ve just made the conservative case for voting for DeSantis, if not for Trumpism redux. Because all of these policies ensure that under Californian conditions, dissenters from liberal orthodoxy experience the same “bound, but unprotected” relationship to the state and its policies that Florida progressives feel themselves experiencing with DeSantis. And to give up the weapons of state power that your opponents are using so freely feels, inevitably, like unilateral disarmament.

But even if you can imagine your way into the other faction’s perspective, there’s still the question of how this cycle of polarization can be broken. French, a passionate classical liberal, tends to argue that what the nation needs is a recommitment to the ideals of fairness and neutrality; what he fears (and portrays in his book, “Divided We Fall”) is an escalatory cycle that pulls big liberal or conservative states into irresolvable conflict with a conservative or liberal-leaning federal government, and from there a slide toward national collapse.

A stronger commitment to simple procedural fairness, an awareness of Wilhoit’s Law and the temptation it describes, would definitely help avert this slide. But it’s not simply a failure to commit to liberal ideals that creates the current escalatory dynamic. It’s the fact that liberalism as a system historically relies for peace, common ground and understanding on certain forms of moral consensus, even religious consensus, that its thinned-out proceduralism struggles to generate by itself.

As I argued in my inaugural newsletter last week, in general you need liberalism plus some overarching vision to sustain solidarity, energy and hope. And you definitely need the “plus” to fully resolve questions like, “Is abortion a form of murder or a fundamental right?” or “Is it child abuse to give teenagers puberty blockers or child abuse to refuse them?”

So what preserves a liberal order when there’s no such common vision, just the crumbled remains of one, with increasingly incommensurate visions of the good and true competing in the rubble? One answer might be conflict itself. In this theory the fight will eventually generate the truce: The reality that a sprawling empire of 300 million cannot be governed the way one would a deep-blue or red state will become more apparent the more intensely America’s different factions fight, until the current peak of culture war yields to a somewhat exhausted peace — with federalist solutions, acceptance of pluralism and difference, a recognition that we can remain one country with, say, varying abortion laws.

Alternatively the working-out of conflict could yield an unexpected synthesis, perhaps via a partisan leader who can pivot to statesmanship when the opportunity arises. Or else the struggle could eventually vindicate one overarching vision and restore consensus through one side’s simple victory — a victory of the sort that progressivism supposed itself to have won already, in the Obama years, before the arc of history bent another way.

But what’s very hard to see is how the struggle can be simply averted through a retreat to classical liberal principle, because there isn’t quite enough there there to found a lasting settlement. For better or worse, the future peace depends on the outcome of the present conflicts, and Newsom contra DeSantis shows the path ahead.

I found this interesting reading.  Hoping some of you on the board do too.

mspart

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I am not a fan of the author's writing style, specifically the run-on sentences, filler words, and abstractions.  It is hard to maintain my focus to get through it.

One of my takeaways is that the government is mistreating people based on their beliefs and opinions, that it is becoming more common, and is not good for the country.  100% agree.

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13 hours ago, jross said:

I am not a fan of the author's writing style, specifically the run-on sentences, filler words, and abstractions.  It is hard to maintain my focus to get through it.

One of my takeaways is that the government is mistreating people based on their beliefs and opinions, that it is becoming more common, and is not good for the country.  100% agree.

Agreed...very difficult to maintain focus reading that.

And agree.  I always said, you can't make something you don't like stop, by doing the exact same thing to the people you think are doing that thing to you.  Example...I want there to be no oppression and for ALL people to be treated equally, but you can't make that happen by oppressing people who historically weren't oppressed and treating them unequally.

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8 hours ago, Bigbrog said:

I want there to be no oppression and for ALL people to be treated equally, but you can't make that happen by oppressing people who historically weren't oppressed and treating them unequally.

Some people view equality as oppression. 

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