While we’re talking about Codevilla and all.
Political-war-by-accusation-of-crime is common in the world. As a rule—Charles de Gaulle was not the first to note it—“peoples are moved only by elemental sentiments, violent images, brutal invocations.”
But in America, political war used to be rare. The Federalist Papers begin thus: “it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice.”
Was America ever ruled by reason? For the most part, and relative to the rest of the world, yes it was. How did this come to be? In 1816, Thomas Jefferson answered: “our functionaries have done well, because… if any were [inclined to do otherwise], they feared to show it.” In short, America was exceptional because the American people were exceptional.
Today, Americans seem to be regressing to humanity’s sad norm.
Once again: not accident, not coincidence, not happenstance.
The 2016 election campaign gives insights, positive and negative. The majority of Americans’ sentiment that the ruling class has been warring against their way of life in word and deed overshadowed all issues. Donald Trump led from the beginning because his words showed the same disdain toward the bipartisan high and mighty that they, in turn, show to the rest of Americans. His (relatively mild) “brutal invocations and violent images” called forth the most elemental of sentiments: Your detractors are bad, you are good. Consequently, people who felt demeaned and pushed around by their pretend-betters came to feel that although Trump shared the ruling class’s culture more than their own, at least a Trump presidency would not threaten them; and that perhaps Trump might be their champion. Trump’s presidency lived up to minimal expectations. His administration is not leading the media’s, the judges’, the bureaucrats’, the corporate executives’ continuing war on ordinary Americans.
But that war is unabated because the power of the people who degraded our lives in their own image is undiminished. For them, the rest of America is and will remain irredeemable. They well nigh removed Christianity and Judaism from the public square. Their schools have dumbed down a generation. They reduced raising children within marriage to a vanishing majority in the country at large and to a rarity among blacks. They have filled our streets with criminals. Their corporations try dictating what people may say and even think. They have stigmatized the verbal currency of two centuries, and bid to outlaw it as hate speech. And they continue to tighten their vise. In the process, however, these rulers are convincing the rest of Americans that they are irredeemable as well.
When one side rejects persuasion in favor of war, what are the other’s options?
Nobody likes war; nobody wants war. But as with Muslim terrorism, when war is brought to one’s doorstep, there can be but two options: victory, or defeat. To insist on remaining above the fray in hopes of preserving one’s genteel “diginity” is a tacit acceptance of defeat, whether one likes it or not.
Codevilla goes into some interesting and unexpected places with this. I’m not sure I agree completely with all of the ideas he comes up with; some of them are damned good, if unlikely to actually come to pass. Being Codevilla, all of them are worth a look anyway. For my money, his biggest error comes right at the end:
The ruling class has conquered commanding heights over every part of American society. Because, as it did so, this class convinced itself unalterably that the rest of us are a lower class of beings, re-conquering those heights could not restore citizenship among us.
The ruling class didn’t “convince itself” of anything “as it did so.” The belief in our innate inferiority—of the absolutely necessity of micro-managing the lives of the Great Unwashed “for their own good”—was baked right into the cake from the outset; it is Progressivism’s most fundamental tenet. Without that arrogant presumption, Progressivism would not and could not exist at all. None of us should be fooling ourselves for a second that they’re the least bit likely to give it up, or to accept any resistance to it from the likes of us.