Kevin D. Williamson:
After the attempted assassination of House Republican whip Steve Scalise by a Democratic activist and Bernie Sanders supporter, a peculiar turn of phrase began to be repeated: “The cold civil war is heating up.”
There are those who dream of a new civil war, or at least of an approximation of the political events prior to it. Some left-wing Californians and right-wing Texans dream of secession, while others fantasize about an open armed conflict, a pitched battle and a cleansing fire out of which a new America could be born, its impurities burnt away.
But you cannot make a new America out of old Americans, for the same reason that you cannot build a new car out of old parts. Likewise, “no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.”
“The old is better” may be a convenient caricature of conservative thinking, but it is not one without some basis. “To be conservative,” Michael Oakeshott wrote, “is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”
You can keep your New America. I’m happy enough with the one we’ve got, and think we ought to do a little bit more to take care of it.
This is a dangerous moment in our history, about which we ought to be honest. President Donald Trump is an irresponsible demagogue who ought never have been elected to the office he holds — but he was, legitimately, fair and square, your favorite Muscovite conspiracy theory notwithstanding. That being said, the actual immediate problem of political violence in the United States is overwhelmingly and particularly a problem belonging to the Left. This is not a “both sides do it” issue: Paul Krugman can speak on any college campus in this country without enduring mob violence and organized terrorism — Charles Murray cannot. There is not anything on the right like the mass terrorism behind the Seattle riots of 1999 or the black-bloc riots of the day before yesterday. The Democratic party, progressive organizations, and college administrations have some serious political and intellectual housekeeping to do here — but, instead, they are in the main refusing to acknowledge that they have a problem. The line between “Punch a Nazi!” and “Assassinate a Republican congressman!” is morally perforated.
If we follow the course we are on, we will see more unhappiness, more violence, more repressive national-security policies, less prosperity, less freedom, and less of anything that looks like the quite-good-enough America we already have.
Some elements of the Right are nearly as hysterical. (Some are more hysterical, though my impression is that those are mainly insincere radio and television entertainers.) On Thursday afternoon, a caller to an AM radio station in Dallas made what is by now a familiar, illiterate, and terrifying argument: that those who oppose President Trump are working to undermine the president, and, therefore, to undermine the country, and that they ought to be arrested as “subversives” or “traitors.” The identification of the president with the nation itself is a particularly poisonous and idiotic form of power-worship, one that was a fairly common feature of progressive discourse when it was Barack Obama being “undermined.” But the president is not the country, and opposing the president — irrespective of his party or his agenda — is not treason. It is politics.