Monday, April 11, 2022

You First

Gary Abernathy is a conservative columnist contributor to the Washington Post, and I make sure that I read — if not share — his columns because I believe in listening to what people with a different point of view might have to offer.

His most recent column is on tolerance, specifically that on culture-war issues, tolerance should be a two-way street.

We live in a world that by nature becomes more liberal with each generation. Conservatism serves to slow, never stop, the steady march to the left. Legal barriers to gay couples enjoying the same rights as their straight counterparts took generations to tear down, but they were always based primarily on religious doctrine and entrenched traditions more than logic or sound legal precepts. In a pluralistic society where religious beliefs are protected but not imposed, it was right that the barriers fell to the wayside.

By contrast, many of the progressive demands being made today are seen by conservatives not so much as a challenge to the old order as an assault on basic logic and common sense.

These are complicated topics with serious implications, and decency and mutual respect should guide us. Loving each other, even as we strongly disagree, is crucial to coexisting, and so tolerance is the better goal than some unattainable universal agreement.

I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. Some of the demands by certain elements of the progressives are silly and self-defeating. But let’s take a step back and remember how it all got started in the first place.

A lot of the ginning up of angst and paranoia about civil rights was started as purely political fodder to advance the campaigns of certain candidates, most notably the Southern Strategy embraced by Richard Nixon in his run for the presidency in 1968: pitting the white patriarchy against the inevitable tide of racial equality.  The Republicans seized upon the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and 1965 as their cue to sweep up the Southern Democrats who were the remnants of Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats of 1948.

Nixon was never an original thinker, but he knew an opportunity when he saw it.  Ronald Reagan did much the same thing when he ran in 1980, pulling in the grifters of the Moral Majority who were scaring the crap out of their flock because The Village People were popular on the radio.  In each case it was never about the religious doctrine or entrenched traditions: it was all about the money and the power that came with it.

Today we have the poor man’s version of Thurmond, Nixon, and Reagan in the likes of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who conveniently forgets that he was somehow elected the governor of all the people, not just those who voted for him.  He and others like him — Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and senators such as Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and of course the AK down in Palm Beach — know that no one ever lost an election by exploiting the greed, fear, and paranoia of the electorate.  Pick out an issue, regardless of what it is or who it effects, find someone to blame for it, and then swear that you are the only one who can fix it, at least until the check clears.

We’ve lived through this for as long as there has been political discourse, and to a degree Mr. Abernathy is right that it doesn’t help when there’s shouting.  But let us also remember that the things he calls “culture-war issues” were started not by the people who were putting them out there but by the knee-jerk and over-the-top reaction by those who had no interest in discussing it but saw a way to make a buck off it.

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