I don’t support Donald Trump for President and never will, primarily because I have no idea where his true political convictions lie and because he was a Democrat until the day before yesterday. But the surging success of his campaign has delivered an important message that every conservative should take to heart. Political correctness, the idea that certain people get to decide what the rest of us are allowed to think and talk about, is an emperor that has no clothes. Donald Trump isn’t surging in spite of polite society’s shouts of “shame!” but precisely because he refuses to be cowed. He’s tapped into the energy of millions of Americans that are tired of being bullied into silence. All of this is great, but if Republicans are going to succeed we need more than one dubious presidential candidate to the break society’s political taboos. We all have to break our silence.
As Republicans, we’ve long comforted ourselves with the notion of the silent majority. Notwithstanding the fact that we’re surrounded by a cacophony of left-wing ideas in our schools, media and workplaces, we tell ourselves that there still exists a silent majority of Americans who are more-or-less sensible, patriotic, and who if push-comes-to-shove would stand for liberty against oppression. I don’t know for sure whether this is true, but I know it won’t be for much longer unless ordinary conservatives lose their fear of offending their ideological opponents.
The problem with the notion of silent majority is that silence contains the seeds of any majority’s destruction. A majority that remains silent on the important issues of the day, which essentially cedes the field of ideological battles to their enemies, will not remain the majority for long. The silent majority is a dangerous anachronism that justifies self-censorship and is fast creating a permanent silent minority. Any set of ideas, even well-established and widely held ideas, must make new converts every generation or die out when the current generation shuffles off the mortal coil. There is nothing in human DNA that guarantees a belief in constitutional liberties, limited government, or the rule of law. Most human societies have in fact been authoritarian to one degree or another as any ruling class almost inevitably seeks to entrench and justify their privileges. For the defenders of liberty to remain silent, then, is a terrible and self-destructive act.
I suspect few people reading this disagree with the principle that conservatives should cast off the shackles of political correctness and fight on the ideological ground of our own choosing, but the much harder step is breaking our every day habit of reticence. In a society where a loud and vindictive leftist minority viciously punishes political blasphemy, it is so much easier to just silently hold our beliefs than get involved. Being labeled as politically insensitive could threaten your education, your career, and your social standing. Even short of that, in many environments, notably University campuses and most professional firms, liberalism is conventional morality and a person risks social ostracism for going against it. To my shame I can think of several occasions where I remained silent at work rather than outing myself as a conservative.
The problem, I think, is that conservatives have maintained the habit of silence for so long that on some level we’ve bought into the idea that our beliefs are forbidden. Like critics of communism in Stalinist Russia, we talk furtively in code, making sure that we’re in the company of friends, before expressing our true beliefs. But we don’t live in Stalinist Russia. That level of caution is not really necessary. The risks of speaking out are real, but the truth is that the leftist ruling class doesn’t yet have the power to impose the kind of punishments on dissent that you find in a totalitarian regime. Not yet.
Trump has shown that you can break the left’s taboos without being destroyed. More importantly, he’s shown that you can destroy the left’s taboos by breaking them. We have to engage. We have to say what we believe even when it’s uncomfortable. We have to inject our ideas into every political discussion even if we expect negative repercussions because if we do not then more and more people will be able to go their entire lives without hearing a word of meaningful dissent. I can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to persuade our co-workers, class-mates, family and friends. But I can guarantee that we won’t persuade them of anything if we remain politely silent. We need to stand up for what we believe in and we need to stand up for others that do so.
Rather than piling onto Trump we should be attacking the leaders of the lynch mob that want to silence him. He is not in substance the voice of the silent majority. But he is the current voice of the right to speak itself. There are no forbidden viewpoints in a free country. The silent majority must break its silence on the freedom of speech and thought or risk losing it forever.