The Destruction of Statues Is Telling You More About the State of Conservatism Than It Does About the Left

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

In the past couple of days we’ve seen one of the more amazing demonstrations of the virulent and vitriolic hatred of America that has been spawned by the left. The bitterness instilled in a couple of decades of Americans by the indoctrination they encountered in the classrooms conservatives have both abandoned and been banished from has come to the fore. In San Francisco, a statue honoring Ulysses S. Grant, the military victor of the American Civil War and a vigorously pro-civil rights president, was pulled down. Christopher Columbus suffered the same fate. A New York museum is in the process of removing a statue of Teddy Roosevelt–as someone on Twitter said, “this would be the Roosevelt who didn’t put fellow Americans into internment camps”–because colonialism.

While the obvious people to blame for this are the ill-bred Marxist now engaged in a fit of iconoclasm as a way station to a full-blown reign of terror, we really have to look as the supine, collaborationist muck that has become what was a fairly robust conservative movement to understand how we got to this point.

When I sat down to write this post, I was going to have some fun at Rich Lowry’s expense over the contortions he’s gone through in the past few days from making what I take to be common cause with the demonstrators destroying monuments to Confederate war dead and generals in what is essentially ‘the conservative case for destroying American history and heritage’ (see Conservatives Should Feel No Investment in Confederate Monuments) to deciding that they’ve gone too far (see Thomas Jefferson Must Stand).

One doesn’t know how to take this stance. Is it the cheapest form of virtue signaling, the kind calculated to the ‘reasonable conservatives’ invited onto television and given op-ed space in the finest publications done without any regard for what inevitably comes next? Or is it simply pig ignorance of the kind that collaborated with Robespierre and the Bolsheviks and the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge and Khomeini and the Sandinistas because they agreed with some parts of the program of revolution but thought no one could be quite as radical as what the revolutionaries were saying. Why would anyone think, knowing what we know about the left, think that the same people who are doxxing people over tweets and getting their panties wadded over pronouns were joking about destroying any reminder of anything they found loathsome in America– that would be literally all of it. Whatever the genesis, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to hear Martin Niemöller’s “First they came for…” apology being written .

This is Julie Kelly, always a must-read, in American Greatness, The Con of the Surrender Cons:

Predictably, the same outlets and pundits that surface whenever the Left needs backup rushed to cover for the race-baiting “conservatives.” Carlson’s monologue was labeled a “misleading attack on prominent conservatives,” by Ramesh Ponnuru, an editor at National Review.

In a rebuke that was part strawman, part cherry-picking, and part rambling word salad, Ponnuru failed to make his case. But no matter, Ponnuru—a visiting fellow for the American Enterprise Institute, another what-have-you-done-for-me-lately conservative think tank populated by NeverTrumpers—had achieved his goal of shivving Carlson while defending race-hustlers on the Right. (Ponnuru, however, was filled with praise for Joe Biden’s response to the Floyd killing, cooing over Biden’s “old-time liberalism” and decency in the midst of crisis.)

Speaking of National Review, some of its editors and columnists continue to play footsie with the Left—unsurprising behavior considering NR contributors have been invaluable allies to Democrats in their crusade against Donald Trump. Just consider their work as foot soldiers in the effort to perpetuate the Russian collusion hoax; bolster Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into imaginary crimes; warn about surges in “white supremacy”; oppose the president’s emergency declaration to protect the southern border; and back impeachment—to name a few. Not even the Covington Catholic High School pro-life students were spared an immediate condemnation and thrashing from National Review’s “conservatives.”

Confederate statues, argues the magazine’s editor-in-chief, should not be protected by conservatives. People like us, opines Rich Lowry, “reflexively oppose politically correct campaigns to destroy anything giving offense. They fear where the slippery slope of woke iconoclasm will lead—first it’s Jefferson Davis, ultimately George Washington. This impulse, though, is a mistake.”

That same day, vandals in Portland wrapped the head of a statue of George Washington in an American flag, set it on fire, and tore it down. Statues of Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant were destroyed in San Francisco. On Sunday, New York City’s American Museum of Natural History announced it would remove a statue of Theodore Roosevelt in an effort to erase a “painful legacy of colonial expansion and racial discrimination.”

Like many Surrender Conservatives embarrassed over their impulse to assemble some sort of Leftist Lite alternative to defining political matters, Lowry later presented an unrealistic compromise. “The upshot is that we are going to have to fight like hell to keep Thomas Jefferson and George Washington regardless of what happens to the Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart statues,” he wrote.

Fight like hell, you say? Fight who—and how? What united front has establishment conservatism built over the past few decades with the exception of unified opposition to Donald Trump, and perhaps the pro-life movement?

Indeed, once you acquiesced to the demolition of monuments and memorials raised in memory of those men who fought for an independent Confederacy no matter how misguided you believe them to be, you are left with trying to differentiate a slave-owning Thomas Jefferson and George Washington from any other pair of slave owners and explain why owning slaves and taking up arms against your country is, on the one hand noble (Washington) and, on the other, odious (Robert E. Lee). I don’t really think the people, like Lowry, going along with the destruction of Confederate memorials have a thought process much deeper than ‘those people wave the Confederate flag and shop at WalMart and I’m not like them.’

Before going on, I’d like to cue up this video of a discussion between David Rubin, of the Rubin Report, and Michael Knowles. I’m not sure the whole video is worth your time (I think they are insanely optimistic about the state of play in our politics) but I’ve cued it up to a segment that, to me, describes where we are today.

 

Rubin But how wide do you think that thing can be to not to become too big?

Knowles I think you don’t need to worry as much about the breadth as the object, what you’re fighting against. Because I do think that there is a lot of space on the right. But it’s not going to be the same tent that we saw in the Cold War, for instance. So you will never find a greater admirer of William F. Buckley Jr., and Ronald Reagan, than me.

Rubin Okay?

Knowles I really admire those guys. They fought their battles. They were fighting the Soviet Union, and they cobbled together this coalition that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The coalition was the social conservative, traditionalist religious right, and they hated of the atheism of the Soviet Union. You’ve got the libertarians, you know, practical anarcho capitalists on one side, right? They don’t really care about the religious right argument at all, but they hate the collectivism of the Soviet Union. You’ve got the blue dog Democrats, they don’t really care about either of those two things, they care about the Imperial expansion of the Soviet Union. They come together, they fight the Cold War.

Rubin Where do you think Reagan fits in that? He’s more of like a California conservative that kind of shifted, right, in the midst of all that, right?

Knowles Anybody who tells you they can analyze Ronald Reagan is lying to you. Ronald Reagan is one of the most enigmatic figures in American politics. I mean this is a guy, he liberalized abortion laws in California more than anybody before him, and yet he becomes one of the most pro-life presidents in American history. It’s very, I mean I know that Bill Buckley had a major influence on Ronald Reagan over to the right. I mean, I think there were a lot of people of his generation who said they got mugged by reality. And I think that’s how you go from the New Deal democrat into a Reaganite conservative. I mean it’s what’s happening to these people right now.

Rubin Right, it’s happening now.

Knowles And so I think that made a lot of sense then. I don’t think that makes as much sense right now. A lot of that kind of conservatism took on a very, especially in the 80s and 90s and 2000s, an economics first dimension to it. People just, they said forget about any cultural issues, any social issues, we’re just going to talk about tax rates.

Yeah, that’s what gets people riled up in the mornings. Slightly lowering the marginal tax rate. And it’s ironic that conservatism devolved into that because the great philosopher of conservatism, probably the founder of what you call modern conservatism is Edmund Burke, and in the most often quoted part of the most often quoted book of his, “Reflections On The Revolution in France,” he said, “The age of chivalry is gone. “that of sophisters, economists, and calculators “has succeeded, and the glory of Europe “is extinguished forever.”

And what have we done? We become sophisters, economists, and calculators.

Rubin We double down.

Knowles Yeah, I don’t think that the future of the right is a bunch of egghead people on spreadsheets talking about how to more efficiently move markets.

Rubin But you think those people are part of it? It’s just not the heart of it, something like that?

Knowles Yes, yeah, I mean, I think they certainly can be part of it.

Rubin Yeah.

Knowles But I think what we’ve got to be motivated by is the threat, and the threat right now is not the Soviet Union. The threat is the woke left, the radical left, that is literally burning down cities, as we speak. Now, who opposes the woke left? The religious right, Catholic integralist, you know, as far social conservative as you can imagine, and Dave Rubin. Last time I checked, you’re not a Catholic integralist.

Rubin Not yet at least.

Knowles And yet, both of those groups fit perfectly together in this tent because we do have a common foe. The politics of opposition is often derided, but the politics of opposition works pretty well. It worked well in World War II, it worked well in the Cold War.

Indeed, people who claim to be on our side seems singularly unable to understand either the nature of the enemy…and I’m well past the point of thinking that groups like Antifa and most of the activist left are merely good people who are passionate but in error, they are an internal enemy dedicated to the overthrow of our economic system, our culture, and our way of life…or really what is at stake. How many high profile conservatives signed onto homosexual marriage because they could not articulate any reason that sexual aberration was wrong? How many, as Tucker Carlson pointed out, have used the occasion of the death of George Floyd to jump on the self-flagellating examination of our national conscience (mine, for the record, is clear). We have people who claim to be conservative today proclaiming that it is a good thing for our country that libraries are allowed to put on Drag Queen Story Hours for toddlers and have half-naked cross-dressing men cavorting about in what is an obvious attempt to mainstream sexual deviancy and to sexually groom children. Many of the same people who were fine with our national history being erased, so long as what was being erased were the icky parts that they didn’t like or which truly pissed them off by being romanticized, are the very same that we hear defending the right of Google and Facebook and Twitter and other tech giants to limit the ability of Americans, even the president himself, to communicated (see Twitter Censors ‘Harmful and Abusive’ Trump Tweet.) They are mostly the same people telling the baker to shut up and bake that gay wedding cake.

What the past month has demonstrated is that the current conservative movement isn’t conservative or a movement. Instead it is a barely animated hulk built during the Cold War, the constituent parts of which have very little in common in culture or outlook. The major voices within this alleged coalition are much more concerned with getting the plaudits of people who will never like or respect them than they are with defending the basics of free speech unconstrained by either street thugs or corporate oligarchs or opposing vandalization of public property. They can’t bring themselves to defend freedom of religion because the free exercise thereof is tacky and may offend someone with money to donate. They are willing to defend free speech so long as that speech doesn’t offend anyone. They are always telling you that ‘this is not the hill to die on’ until it becomes very obvious that there is literally no hill that these people are willing to die on.

The time is come for a great sorting out of sheep from goats. The essentials of our liberties and our culture are up for grabs, on the streets, in academia, in Congress, and in the courts. Conservatives to realize that many of the people who would be ‘opinion leaders’ have no more affinity for the conservative rank-and-file than does the average leftist professor and they will sell out you and your family and anything you believe in just as fast as they sold out the Covington Kids.