A couple of weeks ago, Gerald Seib wrote, “The border wall fight is more than a border wall fight. It has crystallized a deep cultural divide, between those happy with the evolving face of America and those alarmed by it”. Well, duh, this has been the obvious state of affairs for the past 50 years, Gerald, but thanks for the update. And, by the way, in case you’ve missed it, the left has been winning pretty consistently.
My friend Greg Stachura sent me a piece by the late American jurist Robert Bork from The Wall Street Journal in October 1997, the key phrase of which deserves to be quoted in full: “The growth and intrusiveness of governments and the vitality of our economy are important conservative issues. But in our current state of affluence, social and cultural issues are more important to the good life. They are also where the votes are. To get these votes and restore sanity and morality to our lives, we must do nothing less than refight the battles of the 1960s—battles over educational curricula, the content of popular culture, the feminization of the military, the understanding of the family, the proper spheres of reason and emotion, and much more. This long countermarch through the institutions will not be easy. The resistance of the cultural elite will be furious. But until it makes that fight, conservatism will continue to fail”.
This about sums up the nature of the fight and the sentiments still loudly resonate today. So how is the “countermarch” coming along? In a recent issue of Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College, Charles Kesler describes the current clash as “America’s Cold Civil War” and it basically boils down to a conflict of visions about our Constitution which has been going on for over 100 years–the conservative/originalist vision that views the document based on its original meaning as amended, the other that views the document as a “living” instrument to be adjusted for the progressive needs of the 21st century. Again, in its current form this is already a 50-year war and shows no signs of abating, and Kesler doesn’t seem to be very optimistic about the countermarch.
I recently caught up with an interesting take on what conservatives should do to regain the momentum, and how to do it, in an article for The American Mind entitled “Our House Divided: Multiculturalism vs. America”, by Thomas Klingenstein, Chairman of the Claremont Institute. He writes that “conservatives have been dazed by Trumpism” and are not quite certain what is to be learned from Trumpism that might inform the future of the conservative movement and maybe even provide impetus to the countermarch.
For Klingenstein the lesson is this: get right with Lincoln. What does that mean? Lincoln made opposition to slavery the non-negotiable center of the Republican Party. He was prepared to compromise on all else because for him the public’s understanding of justice was the single most important political issue. Klingenstein is suggesting that conservatives should do likewise with multiculturalism, which threatens our understanding of justice. He believes that, in effect, Trump had already framed the 2016 election as a choice between two mutually exclusive regimes—multiculturalism (including “identity politics” and “political correctness”) and America, with its fully formed exceptional culture.
And the other way to “get right with Lincoln”, he believes, is to relearn what Lincoln knew, that the purpose of higher education, in particular elite higher education, is to train future citizens on behalf of the common good. And this common good is being undermined by the multiculturalism that is currently pervasive in these institutions.
I think that Klingenstein is on to something here that just might begin to turn the momentum and jump start the countermarch, and who would have thought that Donald Trump’s America First might be the catalyst.