A Patriot’s Lament, a Conservative’s Hope

A Patriot’s Lament, a Conservative’s Hope January 14, 2021

After last week’s madness, I had some thought of banging out a Take within a few days. That plan went by the wayside as more data came out and more dominoes continued to fall. Now a single week out from January 6th, it feels like we’ve already run through multiple weeks’ worth of news cycles. I, for one, am tired. Literally, physically tired. More than ever, I feel the hyper-accelerated pace of news in the digital age, the exhaustion of it, the burden on one’s time and attention. It’s enough to make one damn Big Tech to hell, chuck one’s phone in the nearest pond and retire to a Luddite commune.

Unfortunately, I’m far too much of a wimp and too much of a junkie for all this stuff to do that. And so here I am, back at my laptop, tapping out my lukewarm Take on [gestures] all this.

Let me say upfront that I have no desire to pretend last week’s Capitol storming was something other than it was. Despite all public evidence to the contrary, some have persisted in claiming it was a false flag operation orchestrated by Antifa. Others who were present on the day but at a distance from the violence have argued that it can’t have been “all that bad” given what they saw from their limited vantage point. I’m happy to acknowledge that the violent mob may have formed a proportionally small fraction of the people gathering there. Mathematically speaking, the gathering may indeed have been “mostly peaceful.” But decades of dealing with radical Islam in the West should have taught us that “mostly peaceful” is small comfort given a large enough reference pool. Whatever the relative proportions, there were enough people to overwhelm an ill-prepared police force, attack and injure dozens of officers (killing at least one), and proceed to LARP around the seat of our government at will while calling for Mike Pence’s head on a pike. Another officer took his own life days later, no doubt wracked with guilt. One image haunts me in particular, a “Thin Blue Line” flag being torn up and fluttering down in shreds to chants of “F— the police.” Where have we heard that before? So it is that crowd madness comes full circle, and finds itself staring at its own face in the mirror.

Several demonstrators died that day, though only one death, Ashley Babbitt, was a confirmed casualty of the violence. If more proof were needed of my non-partisanship, I also have no desire to paint her as a martyr or to hang her death around the neck of the policeman who shot her. I support the right of our police force to control violent mobs with live ammunition and accept the tragic consequences that might result from this. (I can only wish that police forces around the country had consistently been given this liberty when controlling crowd madness on the left, but consistency doesn’t seem to be a hallmark of the times.) I will say I consider it unfortunate that if someone in the mob had to be shot dead, it was an unarmed woman as opposed to one of the thugs clubbing a fallen policeman with flagpoles. But the bell tolls for whom it will. I think journalist Bari Weiss struck precisely the right tone here in her recent Substack debut, lamenting the tragic waste of Babbitt’s death while calling out those who dehumanized her and danced on her grave. In my book, the pundit who called Babbitt “a pile of meat that moved and spoke and acted like a person” is orders of magnitude more malicious and sinister than Babbitt herself gave evidence of being.

But there’s no denying the terrible fact that Babbitt’s ilk chose to dance with the devil and lost. If more proof of Trump’s pathological narcissism were needed, the past few months left no doubt of his priorities. Had he been capable of sparing a thought for something or someone other than himself, the Senate might still be in Republican hands. As it was, MAGA sycophants urging people to stay home in protest probably cost Republicans the Georgia run-offs. Meanwhile, Trump has shown no remorse for throwing Mike Pence under the bus—Mike Pence, the guy for whom numerous people saw themselves as “really voting” when they voted for Trump. Merely for daring to accept the verdict that the election wasn’t stolen, suddenly suddenly Mike Pence is a coward and a traitor who should be lynched from the nearest tree. It’s grotesque. It’s a farce to make any patriot weep.

Having thus, I hope, sufficiently proven that I take the tragedy of January 6th and the tragedy of this whole four-year experiment seriously, I have some other comments that some people might like less. I’ll begin by saying that I don’t think it’s just whataboutism to point out the blatant double standard between the chattering classes’ coverage of January 6th and their coverage of the past year’s sustained leftist mayhem. It will likely also ruffle feathers that I view that systematic, ongoing destruction as a clearer and more present danger in our cities than roaming MAGA mobs. By now we have an established pattern of coordinated, targeted violence against innocent people and their property under cover of night, not just in one town here and there but nationwide. As long as policemen continue to have violent confrontations with black citizens, this kind of backlash will continue to perpetuate and spread. Where is the comparable self-perpetuating motivation mechanism for widespread coordinated MAGA violence? I ask the question genuinely. I certainly hope I’m not wrong.

However, it is certainly true that the January 6th violence did incalculable and far-reaching damage to the cause of American conservatism. Rod Dreher has aptly christened it “the Left’s Reichstag fire,” referring to the lone wolf act of communist arson that sealed the ascendancy of Nazi Germany. It won’t matter how peaceful and measured we genuine conservatives are as we make our case in the public square. Our opponents will now be able to point to the MAGA thugs who took Capitol Hill as if this settles everything.

I regret to report that David French misses the point (keeping the streak going) in his take here, where he smoothly files obvious statements of fact like “The left hates us [conservatives]” alongside QAnon lunacy as “enabling lies” all. Meanwhile, he’s readily joining in the attribution of corporate guilt to evangelical Christians for the day’s events, arguing that the presence of a few people waving Jesus signs is enough for the attack to be labeled “a Christian insurrection.” David is free to go on singing this tune, just as he’s free to go on whistling past the graveyard of coordinated Big Tech censorship. But the rest of us need to take stock and brace for what’s coming.

What will this involve? Let me ruffle a few more feathers and say it’s going to have to involve the building of community, by which I mean physical community, with or without the permission of the proper public officials, and with or without “proper” protocol. It means churches opening, being willing to not enforce discouraging mandates, and (this is important) removing language on their websites that misleads people about what they’re actually doing, or, rather, not doing. (I have heard of one church whose website discouraged senior citizens from attending and said masking and distancing would be strictly enforced, none of which is happening in actuality.) It means friends inviting friends to gather in each other’s homes in groups of more than five at a time—to read together, to talk together, perhaps even (gasp) to sing together! Without masks, quelle horreur!

“But wait!” you ask. “Won’t some of those friends likely be some of the same people who voted for Trump and think the election was stolen? What do I do about those friends?”

My answer: You take stock of your priorities, and you make your choice accordingly. Look, I understand that depending on context and personality, this can be a draining interpersonal thing. I know how aggressive and obnoxious some Trump fanboys can make themselves, including some within the church, sadly. Maybe, for some people, there’s going to be no good way to avoid an awkward confrontation where you sit down with the aggressive friend or family member and patiently tell them to back off. I have sympathy for those navigating those kinds of delicate situations right now.

What I don’t sympathize with is the Extremely Online millennial sort who’s currently virtue-signaling about how to stage an intervention with non-belligerent Uncle Fred and Aunt Fanny Fox News Watcher. I don’t sympathize with people moaning on their socials about What It’s Like to have friends and family who unwittingly wink at them over “the stolen election, amirite” in casual conversation. As it happens, I have a few of those friends myself. I’m happy to report that it’s not that big of a deal, actually. It’s not that big of a deal because I choose not to let it be that big of a deal. Not because I’m lying about what I actually think—I’ve had a couple occasions to drop in a gentle suggestion that there probably was fraud, but not enough to tip the election. I’m not against finding ways to do that sort of thing if it can be done smoothly. But I didn’t stop the presses and Have A Conversation right then and there.

Why not? Because these are people I’ve known for years, people whom I would trust with my life, who if I had cancer or a baby would be first at my door with a 9 x 12 Baptist casserole, and on whom I know I can count for incarnated fellowship as the pandemic and its accompanying hysteria drag on. Yes, some of them believe some strange things. I’ve had pew neighbors who believed strange things before. I know this is hard to imagine, but before the Internet, people used to share pews and barstools with other people without even knowing exactly what all strange things they believed about everything. I have to wonder how much of our current splintering is a more or less direct result of having a space where everyone is tempted to put out all their ideas about everything. It seems we used to have a better sense that people are more than the sum of their ideas. Recovering that sense is going to play a role in any kind of realistic healing process for our nation going forward.

Am I sorry that my friends allowed themselves to be so poorly represented for four years? Yes, I am. I’m sorry about that. But Trump’s time is up now. My friends might never agree with me about the election results, but they’re going to move on, and Lord willing they’ll have someone who actually deserve their vote in four more years. Meanwhile, we will continue to talk, to pray, and to share the same ordinary day-to-day things we shared before Trump was a blip on this country’s political radar. This is as it should be.

In closing, my mind has been going back to “America the Beautiful” in recent days, particularly the final verse. It’s a painful verse to listen to and to sing in these times. But I believe carrying this patriot dream forward in our hearts is the only way for us to survive—as Americans, as conservatives, and as Christians. To that end, God help us, and God bless America.

Oh beautiful, for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears

America, America

God shed His grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea

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