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2020 and the possibility of revitalized, healthy politics

At the heart of political realism and a theological account of the political order is the recognition that politics does not, and can never, encompass the whole of human life.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. (Image: Caleb Minear/Unsplash.com)

In the midst of our current stagnation and exhaustion from the recent election, I keep returning to something President Trump said back in 2016: “I’m a conservative, but at this point who cares? We’ve got to straighten out the country.”

Whatever one thinks about President Trump and conservatism, it seems clear that the last four years have given a new kind of direction and even encouragement for conservative thought and practice. While I do not want to equate “conservative principles” with “Donald Trump,” I do think Trump’s presidency has been a catalyst for renewed reflection upon national conservatism. Along with this, I would say there is a real possibility of a revitalized coalition bringing together conservatives and liberals. As the political philosopher Yoram Hazony recently argued:

Liberals will have to choose between two alternatives: either they will submit to the Marxists, and help them bring democracy in America to an end. Or they will assemble a pro-democracy alliance with conservatives. There aren’t any other choices.

In this light, I want to briefly call to mind two areas in particular where Trump’s presidency has been a condition leading to a renewed and deeper reflection upon national conservatism, and how this might also be an aid in joining together conservatives and liberals.

First, it is no longer disputable that identity politics has become secured within the platform of the Democratic Party. By this, it is not meant that identity politics has become a part of a larger whole that makes up various interests on a broad spectrum within the party. Rather, it is now self-evident that the term “Democratic Party” is synonymous with “identity politics.” If one is to claim allegiance to the Democratic Party, he or she must first confess identity politics as one’s savior. As Harvard Law professor Adrian Vermeule rightly points out, identity politics is a form of “sacramental liberalism” writ large.

As Joshua Mitchell has convincingly shown in his recently published American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Times, the core framework of identity politics is a mutilated religious worldview grounded in transgression and stain. Salvation comes when oppressive groups (i.e., the white heterosexual male) offer the sin of their impure identities as an act of atonement. In return, a currency of political credit will be given to such individuals, wherein they can be seen as “just.” Talk of climate change or racial and gender justice are the official religious hymns of the Democratic party.

There are many visible signs of this, but we should consider the mainstream media’s commentary on the night of the election as a pertinent example. One of the most telling representations was the commentary offered by Van Jones at CNN. For Jones, the possibility of Joe Biden winning a political victory was not going to be enough. What was needed on election night was a complete repudiation of Donald Trump. It is worth hearing Jones in his entirety:

I think a lot of Democrats are hurt tonight. I think there is a lot of hurt out there. There is a moral victory and there is a political victory, and they are not the same thing. The political victory still may come. But I think people who saw images of babies being snatched away from mothers at the border, for parents who are sending their kids to school where the “N” word is now being used against them. People have seen this wave of intolerance. They wanted a moral victory tonight. They wanted to see a repudiation of this direction of the country. And the fact that it’s this close, it just hurts.

Even with what seems to be a Biden victory, there was a universally palatable sense that the political left had been given a substantive moral and cultural defeat.

In addition to this solidifying of the reign of identity politics within the Democratic Party, the last four years has provided an opening towards a renewed and more wholesome love of the American nation. This love of one’s own upholds the American republic as unique, while not banging the drum of the more remote Republican mantra of “American exceptionalism.” This worn-out notion was certainly considered to be part of the political right’s rhetoric following George W. Bush’s second inauguration.

Having still been somewhat seduced by the “end of history” dialectic of 1989, many on the right (and the left) believed that exporting liberal democracy across the globe is univocal with political peace and economic prosperity. Trump’s public policy principles effectively undermined this dream, and encouraged a more moderate nationalism that principally refused to spread democracy across the globe via the American military.

While this second point was witnessed in Trump’s foreign policy aims, it was perhaps the recent post-election rallies that were more indicative of what love of one’s country could feasibly look like. The recent gatherings in support of President Trump were not only without violence and destruction, they were often robust civic expressions that love of one’s homeland is fundamental to human flourishing. Loving one’s country appears to be something Americans can joyfully practice and think about once again.There are those whose national love is disordered, and we would be rightly faulted for dismissing or overlooking such an error. Yet, we must not forget here the stronghold of identity politics, which dangles before democratic citizens the claim that the American republic is a nation that, in principle, we cannot love.

The 2020 election has undoubtedly been disorienting. At the heart of political realism and a theological account of the political order is the recognition that politics does not, and can never, encompass the whole of human life. The absolutization of politics is the first sign of despotism, and it is the very core of identity politics. The need to “straighten out the country” entails simultaneously rejecting the stronghold of identity politics as religion and affirming a moderate civic nationalism that is essential to true human flourishing. This civic reality has the potential of bringing together conservatives and liberals in a new way.

Let’s hope that Yoram Hazony’s prediction is right.


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About Brian Jones 31 Articles
Brian Jones is ia Ph.D Candidate in Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. His works have appeared in The Public Discourse, Strong Towns, and The American Conservative.

24 Comments

  1. Not sure I fully understand a possibly restored conservative nationalism involving an alliance with an intact Democratic Party…

    Not to endorse all of Trumpism, but the simplest litmus test is whether public school libraries are permitted to restore “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to their shelves, or not.

    Past censorship had to do with use of the “n” word. But, for the Left, now a deeper abuse is also in play….Countering today’s cribside strangulation of the universal natural law, even Mark Twain’s Jim understood what was self-evident in the dispute, in the Old Testament, as set before Solomon: “De’ spute warn’t ’bout a half a chile [partial birth abortion], de ’spute was ’bout a whole chile; en de man dat think he kin settle a ’spute bout a whole chile wid a half a chile, doan’ know enough to come in out’n de rain” (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884). Will the Left really “come in out’n de rain,” or not?

    The question in America is most foundational and comes in two parts:

    FIRST, does the Left actually reverse its pogrom of religious persecution, abortion, euthanasia, mandatory gender theory, and even permissive infanticide, or not? Or, do the Biden puppet-masters buy-off the barbarians? how exactly does one give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dead donkey?

    SECOND, do we even have a perennial Catholic Church, as a consistently vocal defender of natural law, or not? At this post-Christian and post-civilizational moment, does Cardinal Gregory blink and fold, or not?

    • I read the End of History (footnote) wrote in 1989 which was another Great Conservative President ended his career. I agree with your input, but as you can see in America Catholic liberals that has drank the blueberry Kool-Aid to Globalism has flourish. In California we now have more 3rd World Bishop from Socialist Countries that have no idea of the Greatness of America. America converts to Marxism the World will invert back. All the work Reagan and Trump has accomplish to defeat World Socialism/Communism will be deleted from history.

    • Tell you what, don’t wait to see. Do everything you can to defend the Christian faith and as for Biden et al, I pray for the destruction of their govt, which in my view is not yet endorsed either. Never have I seen such duplicity and cold dishonesty, not even in the Clintons, as in this govt. Poor Biden, shuffling to and fro, is a puppet who doesn’t know it but the malignity of the forces using him MUST be opposed.

  2. The purpose of government is to protect the poor from the rich..
    Yet that is the exact opposite of government today, proven in the percentages that hoard the wealth in the USA, or World, and the fact the poor hold next to nothing, but do have the debt on their backs.
    All hyper boil to , OH please mr government save us..
    The fact of the USA military in the Genocide of Yemen alone, an act that is most directly defiant to the Catholic faith, says total ignorance is in this story of, any potential of healthy politics ever, is for naught.
    The past US gov over throw of Syria, 1949 Iran in 1953 by the US government, needs to learned by Brian Jones, who did it, in the use of the US military, and then their direct take over of the US catholic control as well. and their ties to other events, most directly the take over of Guatemala, and its effects today, or Haiti..

    then write a story.

    • The purpose of government is to govern well: in short to act justly from good principle, hence the perception that a good govt will assist the poor. I did not know until my brother, qualified in history followed by law, was doing his thesis that 5% of the world own 85% of all property – by which the law refers to land, housing, businesses, stocks and shares. However, the Lord defends his little ones, God has never upheld worldly power and ambition over the apparently insignificant faithful, so courage, Lyle. As one priest said to the author who quoted him “the salvation of your immortal soul, Buchanan”, that’s the purpose of a human life (not limited of course to Mr Buchanan). One can start with the 10 commandments, eternally true.

      • We cannot save our own soul, but rather in the salvation of others, do we save our soul.
        Their is a major disparity in a religion of the more one has, the greater they are blessed by God. Verse the more one gives to others, greater the chance of salvation.
        The beatitudes, tell us what to do, as the Spirit of the Gospel.
        To attain a healthy politics, the basic of charity to all, malice to none has to be brought back to US internal and foreign politics..
        A government that looks to God as the source of all power, is a just government, that protects the poor from the rich is a long standing standard, based on common sense.

  3. I noticed you corrected equivocate.

    One more, same root:
    “exporting liberal democracy across the globe is equivocal with political peace and economic prosperity”

    “Equivocal” means ambiguous. I don’t know what to suggest.

      • univocal
        adjective PHILOSOPHY•LINGUISTICS
        (of a word or term) having only one possible meaning; unambiguous.
        “a univocal set of instructions”

        Not sure that ‘univocal’ is the word you want either. Probably ‘equivalent.’ ‘Univocal with’ is not a natural collocation in English, because ‘univocal’ is an adjective used to modify a particular noun.

        • Hi Albert,

          Thanks for the comment. Whether I say “equivalent” or “univocal,” I am not convinced that the meaning would change.

    • Equates to, perhaps? Very entertained by your comment, thank goodness you took the time to correct. Language, as people ought to observe much more than we do, is everything in human communication, or at least, dissemination of information. Today we are fed a mediaspeak that is distorting our lives. God help the young.

  4. The socialist/democrat party has a very distorted definition of the word “Unity”.It seems up against the wall Republicans & Conservatives,it’s their preferred meaning and final solution.

    • Too right. When a student in Britain, one of my close friends considered himself a reasonable socialist and took himself to a supposedly ditto meeting with fellow sympathisers. I’ll never forget his expression of amazed shock when he told me that at the meeting, the majority turned to him and a few others, announcing “of course, some of us would have to go” ! I think Tony revised his views about sympathy.I was amused that he had trusted them so implicitly but then he was a man of goodwill. I was NOT amused years later in Wagga in Australia, as a teacher, to meet the representative of the Catholic Education Office (for Catholic schools in NSW). He attended an Alliance Francaise social meeting where he encountered a woman he already knew, one Caroline. The pair were ideological, devoted, ruthless communists. The memory is as vivid as ever today of the complete mercilessness of their attitude to anyone who stood against them, to any disagreement or opposition, which they proclaimed during our conversation without having been disagreed with or opposed. Ryszyard, the man, was the son of parents who had left Czechoslovakia for Australia and Caroline was a burn the bra, look at me, Thoroughly Modern Thoroughly Traditional Authoritarian in the very best tradition of Stalin. They taught me much about themselves, in one short encounter; all I need to know about communists and antiChristian movements generally. I can only suppose that Ryszyard lied about his Catholic belief since he was a 100% atheist.

  5. I think the author underestimates the corruption of the Democrat Party. Anyone with eyes knows that party endorsed at least tacitly the murders, looting, burning, and rioting associated with the bogus “race protests” of this last year. That party also currently endorses electoral fraud on a scale heretofore unknown outside banana republics; fair play be damned, they are going to win at any cost. There isn’t even any significant protest inside that party against the attempt of Communist China to turn our country into one of its satrapies, or against traitors like Swalwell in its own midst.

    Exactly how are we to engineer a revitalized, healthy politics with a collection of citizens this corrupt, this immoral?

    • Hi Jack,

      Thanks for your comment. In using the term “liberal” I am referring to those that are classical liberals. Two good and recent examples of this would be Joe Rogan and Dave Rubin. Rubin was certainly a staunch progressive, and Rogan was not. However, both identify as liberals and certainly hold viewpoints that we could define as such. And at the same time, both are speaking in ways that are deeply and substantively conservative. I think Rubin is more explicitly conservative, but there is little doubt that Rogan tends in a similar direction.

      I agree with you that progressives will not join conservatives in any respect. It is not just that they will not; conceptually, it is not even feasible.

      Thanks again for your note.

  6. At first it would seem that there is some value in believing in the potential of bringing conservatives and liberals together in a new way. But hope should have some reasonable basis in reality. We are actually engaged in war – spiritual war. The liberal positions, their platform, is one of death. Mr. Jones refers to climate change and race and gender as the religious hymns of the liberals. I would add that abortion is their sacrament. There is no indication that the liberals are willing move in a more moral direction. In fact, there is every indication that they intend to move in a more immoral direction. If we fail to see the reality of this spiritual war we will come together in a new way – but it will be a terrible way.

    • Hi Crusader,

      Thanks for the note. My response here would be similar to the one given to Jack above. There is no disagreement between us. My point about some type of coalition between conservatives and liberals is much more nuanced than the appearance first indicates. There are many liberals who feel deeply disconnected by the current democratic party mantra. And while it might be the case that they do not like Trump tout court (a hang over from their ideological past), they are more open to seeing that the general tendency to “conserve” what is good may actually only exist within communities that support conservative principles.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      • “There are many liberals who feel deeply disconnected by the current democratic party mantra.”

        Well if they are they are quite silent about it and therefore politically they effectively do not exist.

        • It is because those liberals can suffer from cancellation. Those who have financial independence or the illusion of financial independence can speak more freely. But many of those liberals (for example the so-called but fake Intellectual Dark Web) function as controlled opposition and gatekeepers.

  7. “At the heart of political realism and a theological account of the political order is the recognition that politics does not, and can never, encompass the whole of human life.”

    Mass politics does not encompass the whole of human life, but the human life is political, and this is what Catholics need to recover both within their parishes and their local communities, if possible.

    “The need to ‘straighten out the country’ entails simultaneously rejecting the stronghold of identity politics as religion and affirming a moderate civic nationalism that is essential to true human flourishing.”

    There will be no moderate civic nationalism for the Blues even it is enforced by the state. Reds need to reject liberalism and uphold tradition and community. There can be no strategic alliance with liberals who are opposed to tradition; mass politics is over and other avenues must be traveled.

  8. Liberalism is the problem. There can be no compromises with it, and liberals shouldn’t be allowed in government. Only true Catholics are most likely anti-liberals. One should read the important book “Liberalism is a Sin.” It can be found and read online.

    Either abortion is murder or it is not. (The former is true.) To attempt to compromise on that issue along with others (e.g. “divorce,” same-sex “marriage”), is to permit intolerable injustices under color of law.

    I can’t agree that there is anything “sacramental” about identity politics. There is nothing – even purported – of the supernatural involved with it. Unlike the Sacrament of Penance, there is no confession of personal sin or absolution. The “self-flagellation” of – for instance – “checking one’s privilege” appears to be a kind of simulation (i.e. a sinful pretense or lie in action), or perhaps a certain vanity in making a scene and being the center of attention. Assuming that those committed to identity politics are sincere (which is a question) then they are hypocrites if they don’t live close to or interact much with those of different skin colors. Supposedly “reparations” will make everything all better, but fundamentally it is unjust to force someone to be punished for a sin that they haven’t committed.

    Peace can be overrated and the Catholic Church, while generally desiring peace, has never been pacifist.

    Also, it should be noted that there are fundamental problems with democracy recognized by the Catholic Church. The rule of the majority is never a guarantee of just laws. Another problem is the ideology of democracy which seeks to establish the people as the source of authority. All authority comes from God, so it is an error to believe that somehow legislators (or all elected persons) are the servants of the people.

  9. I have believed as this article implies that Trump is more a pragmatist than ideologue.

    In that light have saw the opportunity for real bipartisanship between Trump and the Democratic party. This could have been a great moment for America but the Democrats chose to attack and finally impeach Trump without trying to compromise on one single issue. This is because other people don’t see the communist revolution the Democrats want. We don’t even look for it. But now the Democrats have fraudulently obtained the Presidency (and because of that fraud now have a Senate “majority” because of a 50-50 tie going to the Vice President), they Democrats have taken over Big Tech, all of what was called the mainstream media and they have won the culture war by cancel culture and censorship. There is no middle ground with the Democrats. They win and they

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