Allow me to say a few things about the polarization of our society, and the radicalization of some individuals out on the extreme edges. There are always extremists at all extremes—for that is who lives out there—but let me begin by addressing one that (some) would want to say is an extreme version of what I am articulating here in this responsible, law-abiding place.
For an example, I refer to Dylann Roof, who was recently found guilty of murder for the infamous Charleston church shooting, and was sentenced to die for it.
There are two things to keep track of here, and both of them are essential. Failure to keep track of them is why our culture has lost its bearings, and why everything is such a tangled knot of confusion.
The first is that you should determine what someone thinks about Dylann Roof’s crime by finding out what they think about his crime. The same goes for any other outrage. If an outrage is condemned, then accept the condemnation. If the outrage is overtly supported, then tag the supporters as those who are aiding and abetting outrages. If the outrage is superficially condemned and the subject is immediately changed to a discussion of “root causes,” then treat that coy response as it deserves. I certainly don’t mind discussing root causes, which could be profitable, but the discussion should wait until after the execution.
So if any were curious about my thoughts about Dylann Roof, I believe that what he did was horrendous, and I believe that he fully deserves to die for that crime. “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11, ESV). If you want more of that kind of evil, then you should ignore what Scripture teaches and turn him over to therapists. He is broken-boy enough that the therapists would have plenty to talk about—but that is not how God instructed us to deal with such criminals. If you want less of it, as I want less of it, then you should support the right of someone like Roof to receive a fair trial in open court and, if he is convicted, you should support his prompt execution.
If a man walks into a church, and shoots a bunch of people who were there to honor God, and you don’t know what you think of it until you find out what color everybody was, then congratulations—you are the root cause.
But the second thing we must grasp is something that will enable us even to see the first one. The current state of our public discourse has gotten pretty toxic. Instead of determining whether Smith agrees with Murphy, we settle for a Rorschach test approach, asking instead whether anything whatever about Smith reminds us of Murphy. This emotive reaction is whatIf a man walks into a church, and shoots a bunch of people who were there to honor God, and you don’t know what you think of it until you find out what color everybody was, then congratulations—you are the root cause. has enabled the most irresponsible attacks on responsible citizens. Take some member of the gentry and treat him as though he had a cockroach head and were disembarking from an alien spaceship. The most recent example of this was the attempt to smear Jeff Sessions as a racist. Not only was it evil, it also managed at the same time to be lame.
This is the problem. There is such a thing as principled conservatism that is neither reactionary nor bigoted. But if the reflex response from the left is to tag absolutely all those who are a disagreeable distance to their right (say, six inches) as though they were all an indistinguishable mass of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and more, then the thing giving credence to the alt-radicals is in fact the basic strategic play used by the left in all their current confrontations. Somebody says something and the left howls racist! So the alt-perp shrugs. These days who isn’t a racist? What does it mean to be a racist in a world where the bedwetters have turned racism into a meaningless term? It used to be that it was not a meaningless term, but now it is. Congratulations, hypers.
We had a host of useful distinctions to separate steady eddies from fever swamp goons. That is, we used to have them. Here is a question for the left, which I am sure they will struggle to answer. Name somebody, anybody, to the right of Mitt Romney that you would be willing to say isn’t a racist.
Change the image. Say that the mantra all these years wasn’t that mild conservatism = racism. Suppose rather that the equation was that mild conservatism = thievery. How many decades do you think you can accuse someone of thievery before some of them start thinking that if they are going to be hanged as a thief anyway, they might as well steal something? This is the way to create what you think you are condemning. So the resurgence of the extreme right is the doing of the left, not the responsible right.
You cannot make your made-up “micro-aggressions” and “white privileges” tantamount to being a midnight riding cross burner without simultaneously making it go the other way. Tantamounting is a two-way street. Didn’t you people ever take algebra? You cannot repeatedly equate normal things and extreme things without discovering, somewhat late in the day, that you have actually made extreme things into normal things.
This is a serious problem, but I don’t blame movement conservatives for it. The fault lies almost entirely with the left. When they do nothing but shout you down, tagging you—because you registered modest economic concerns about a raise in the minimum wage—with every vile crime that has been committed from Genghis on down, then this is going to create reactionaries where we did not have them before.
I speak from personal experience here. I have been called a racist more times than I can count, and there is absolutely no substance to it. I have been called that name by pagan unbelievers and by Christian thought-leaders. (We call them thought-leaders because they are so adept at thought-following.) One of the things they like to follow is this peculiar tactic of the left. Don’t like a position someone takes? Has any extremist ever taken a similar-sounding position? Flatten them all, blur every distinction, smudge it up hopelessly, and start calling names. Their condemnation is just.