EVERY SINGLE THING IS NOW DIFFERENT: THE KAVANAUGH MOMENT IS NOT DONE. IT IS JUST BEGINNING.
I do not normally write with this kind of introspective tone, generally because I don’t normally imagine that readers would much care about my mental gymnastics. It strikes me as narcissistic, to some degree, and perhaps even uninteresting. But as this Kavanaugh episode has unfolded the last couple weeks, I have felt a paradigm shift underway, and I find it hard to believe others are not experiencing the same dynamic in some capacity. My intent in this writing is to articulate how the Kavanaugh matter has impacted me, not psychologically, but what it has revealed to me – with actionable implications – about the nature of the culture war in which we find ourselves.
I wish I did not have to, but some degree of commentary on the actual story itself is briefly necessary. For a huge percentage of the population, this has become a litmus test of what one believes about sexual aggression – about the male/female dynamic in our culture – about a broader cultural narrative that Judge Kavanaugh was made the antagonist in. And before I lay out why everything is different for conservatives who value the liberal order in society (liberal being used the right way in that sentence), some factual interjections are necessary.
If Judge Kavanaugh was guilty of the crime of which he was accused, I do believe he would be disqualified from serving on the Supreme Court, both due to the violence and gravity of the crime, but also because of the lying about it. Any attempt to spin that alleged incident as “high school mischief” is not only wrong on the merits, but fails to account for the integrity issue even now. No, my steadfast insistence on the qualifications of Judge Kavanaugh is rooted in my unwavering belief in his innocence, testified to by the complete lack of evidence to the contrary (which is the way it is supposed to work). Had there been remote corroboration of Dr. Ford’s story, at a very minimal standard, we may be having a different conversation. Not only was there not a single bit of evidence that the teenage Kavanaugh did this, but the feeble attempts at corroboration became arguments for Kavanaugh as each and every “witness” denied or failed to affirm any part of the accusation. I am not sure why there has to be debate about this point (well actually, I am sure, but I will hold back for a moment), but the entire story was flimsy from the get-go, with years of contradictions and inconsistencies, and genuine factual basis for questioning the other side. I have not been coming-out-of-my-chair angry to advocate for Judge Kavanaugh because I didn’t care if he was guilty or not; it was because I believed and believe him not to be. I do not believe any objective person looking at the clear facts of this case could claim they have good reasons to believe in his guilt (of the crimes for which he was accused).
But there are thousands of recitations of the facts of this case available for public consumption, and walking through the laughable story The New Yorker ran is beyond the scope of this article. I don’t need to criticize Michael Avenatti, as to be quite honest, I am highly skeptical that Judge Kavanaugh would have prevailed without him. The Avenatti dimension served as the “reductio ad absurdum” of the whole matter, and enabled a significant portion of the population, and lawmakers, to become disgusted by the insanity of what was now being alleged.
Should anyone confront me with the “yeah, but” aspects of this matter – that he drank excessively on occasion in high school/college, I would point out that I already knew that, because he testified to such. His attendance of a prep school does not make him a rapist. His antics in a yearbook do not make him a predator. His beer consumption does not make him a perjurer. One can hate him, one can hate the idea of him, and one can believe there are people like him who may have done bad things. But no one in good faith can claim that there was an iota of evidence – and I mean that by even the slimmest definitions of evidence – that he was guilty of anything he was accused of.
I am not sure I will ever spend another minute regurgitating the lack of evidence for Brett Kavanaugh’s guilt – the lack of corroboration – the whole canvas of his outstanding life and testimony. There are no minds left to change, and as you may have heard, it is Justice Kavanaugh now. He will vindicate his own name through time, and his own public record has been as clear as can be already. I consider him an innocent man, which now makes him a wronged man.
Stephen Colbert’s writer, Ariel Dumas, tweeted over the weekend, “Whatever happens, I am just glad we ruined Kavanaugh’s life.” We should be grateful for her honesty. But we also should transition from this as a discussion of the dirty politics of a Supreme Court confirmation to a commentary on a conservative’s plight in the present malaise. I am, frankly, despondent. And while I celebrate with the majority of the country that our Supreme Court has added such a virtuous and capable jurist to its midst, I also find myself totally paralyzed by the reality of the moment.
I will never know the full story of the genesis of these allegations, and neither will you. I cannot speak to where Dr. Ford fits into this, and I will not be lured into commenting on such a thing. I do know that every man, woman, and child in America knows how this story got leaked, and that in this incident, the left has a grand total of zero heroes. The shameful behavior of the direct actors in this (from Dianne Feinstein, to Chuck Schumer, to the Washington Post, etc.) is simple enough. They actually went to lows that even I would not have ever guessed they would go to, but at the end of the day, if there actions were isolated, it would be simply a disgusting overreach of partisan dirty politicking.
But in fact, their actions were met with a response from the entire leftist ecosystem of our country, and it is that response that is the source of my newfound convictions and questions.
At the heart of my statement that things will never be the same again is this discovery: The left does not wish to co-exist with the right in this country; they wish to extinguish them. They do not value the liberal order of society, or they would never say something so illiberal as “believe all women.” What we are living through right now is an unprecedented level of hate, dishonesty, distrust, and mistreatment. A strong disdain for the ideology of conservatism, of social norms, of Constitutional government, of western civilization – is what it is. But that ideological divide is no longer a merely ideological divide. It really never has been. That transition from worldview to actionable behavior has accelerated faster than I or any humanistic critic could have ever anticipated. And what it means for our national politics and the culture at-large is frightening.
The struggle I am having is that I believe in civility, character, and decorum. I am not saying that in a self-righteous or sanctimonious way; I am confessing it to be a liability. It is a liability for me, but also for all of my colleagues at National Review who are similarly handcuffed by standards of decency and morality. These handcuffs are a liability because in the present culture war, the other side has no such self-limiting governor in place. The other side will fabricate the most horrid of accusations against a man of unparalleled character and accomplishment, and lynch him with it. The other side’s use of physical intimidation, coercion, harassment, and abuse will not be limited by norms. They desire an end without norms, and they certainly will not see their means limited by such. To take on an opponent in the battleplace of ideas is difficult when your lead will be a carefully constructed white paper, and their lead will be an unsubstantiated allegation that you are a child molester. The Biblical story of David and Goliath is promising, but in analyzing the present cultural milieu, there are few analogies to capture what we are up against.
I am not regretting my commitment to civility and decorum, and if National Review decided tomorrow it was time to start a smear campaign against a leftist lion I would jump ship, pronto. What I am doing is acknowledging that this substantially changes the rules of engagement for the foreseeable future. The universal response of the left to the Kavanaugh debacle involved new lows in disdain for truth, in presumption of guilt, in slander, in hypocrisy, in double standards, and in immorality. The leftist ecosystem is a willing aid and accomplice in degrading the culture, and in irreparably dividing America. They will not stop, and they will utilize unspeakable weapons in their efforts to do this. I believe that “truth will overcome,” and yet I also am increasingly aware that the side fighting a battle with no pretense of ethics has a distinct tactical advantage. Rich Lowry recently pointed out that the unfair attack against Judge Kavanaugh and the sometimes fair attacks on President Trump have this in common – the left is not remotely concerned with whether or not their tactics are fair, right, or true.
I hate “whataboutism,” and I give you permission to burn me at the stake if I ever say that it is okay for “our guy” to sleep with a porn star because “their guy” had an affair with an intern. If I ever dare default to “two wrongs make a right” in discussing the shortcomings of people on the left, I will have lost my moral compass and forfeited my credibility to be a thought leader. (And yes, that is exactly what I am saying many people on the right have done, and they know who they are). With that said, it cannot be called “whataboutism” to simply note that the standards by which the anointed press holds leftists to are not exactly the standards they hold the right to. The left has beclowned itself for twenty years now by enabling, ignoring, and defending the rank sexual and financial abuses of the Clinton dynasty, and truth be told, they’ve taken some heat for it. But even now, from Cory Booker, to Richard Blumenthal, to Keith Ellison, the Democratic Party is filled with overt and undeniable scandals in their leadership, from being caught in complete fabrications, to being credibly accused with corroboration of physical abuse. I would never use this to “offset” someone on the right being guilty of the same; for indeed, the contrast here is of a guilty party to a not-guilty party! That is not whataboutism!
The radicalism of university leftism from the last thirty years is now entering the mainstream of American leftism. Victor Davis Hanson recently said, “campuses are no longer out-of-touch ivory towers; their creed is now beginning to run the country, which is frightening.” How else can one interpret the outlandish controversy over Facebook employee, Joel Kaplan, attending the Kavanaugh hearing in defense of his long-time friend (and groomsmen in his wedding). The thought police in Silicon Valley have made for some good fear-mongering stories for the right for some time, and in many cases, the behavior of the big firms of the valley has been downright Orwellian. But this is the employees of Facebook demanding someone’s head for daring to support his friend, a friend who obviously half of the country also supports (and much more than that when pollsters add the caveat of “no corroborating evidence”).
What has happened is nothing more than the abandonment of classical liberalism by the left wing of the Democratic party, an abandonment the intelligentia of the left executed decades ago, but that has now been joined by the cultural leadership of the left as well. P. Andrew Sandlin of the Center for Cultural Leadership says this abandonment is the direct cause of the cultural Marxism all around us, a trend that we as conservatives now ignore to our own peril. The creeping of this element into the pop culture is the reason things will never be the same, not the mere opportunism of a few political bullies like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
I do believe the right has often been guilty of exploiting and weaponizing certain news events or outlier stories, and I wish from the bottom of my heart that I believed this despicable attempt to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life was a bottoming event in our political discourse. But I believe it is “the new normal,” not a bottom, and that the worst manifestations will not be in a Senate Judiciary Committee, or a heated campaign (both of which are bad enough), but will be in our businesses, our lives, and our communities, until these vestiges of cultural Marxism are soundly defeated.
Conservatives have claimed (rightly) for some time that it would be quite difficult to win the war on terror if we could not label it and identify it for what it is – Islamic jihadism. I would say that right now, in the present context, conservatives will have a very difficult time surviving in this culture if we cannot identify, accurately, the battle in which we find ourselves. Well-meaning people of faith frequently comment that we must avoid getting sucked into the culture war. Good luck with that. You’re in it. You’ve been made to care. And no head-in-the-sand-ostrich routine is going to save you now. We are locked into an existential battle for the future of western civilization. A romantic clinging to the idea of neutrality, denying the antithetical frameworks by which both sides see the human person, the human condition, and the nature of a free society, will lead to one side’s victory, and the other side’s annihilation. That is the reality in which we now live.
It would be nice if conservatives of faith had some support in the church, that allegedly spiritual institution of Christian community, doctrine, and practice. If you want to know what the church will look like in 3-5 years, look at what the culture is doing now. If you want to know what the culture looked like 3-5 years ago, look at the church now. From all but complete outliers in Rome and evangelicalism, the Christian church is in the theology of capitulation business now, desperate to fit in, desperate to be accepted by Vanity Fair, and oblivious to the fact that no amount of surrender is going to prove sufficient. Non-churched leftists are completely comfortable calling their ideology “leftism” or “progressivism.” The cultural pacifists that fill today’s pulpits lack the courage to even self-identify for the humanism-soaked sponges that they are. Christians, you are all alone if you are looking for the church to defend your cause, mission, and purpose. I don’t blame unbelievers for laughing at the latest screed that comes from today’s emasculated church; I do blame believers for not doing so.
My despair has come from the realization that our divide in this country is not merely sociological, that the other side is playing for keeps, and will stop at nothing to win. It is exacerbated by the realization that potential courageous opposition – the church – is asleep at the wheel. And my turmoil is unresolved by the realization that the tactics we will face as a remnant defending western civilization and the American experiment in the decades ahead will not, and cannot, be reciprocated by our own side. If we forfeit a quest for civility and decency, we will have already lost.
And that is where we find ourselves. A large percentage of the American population, enterprising, traditional, law-abiding, and respectful of social norms, under persecution from an extremist foe which has actually subverted the mainstream of American leftism. And that large percentage of the American population will spend the next period of time realizing the degree to which they are under assault, and then deciding how they wish to respond.
As for me and my house, we will do our very best to love each other, to love our neighbors, to grow our businesses, and to build community in the places that we live. We will defend ourselves against slanderous accusations. We will fight like mad for the causes we believe in. And we will try to live our lives above reproach.
But in engaging those who would prefer we be squashed, silenced, and ruined, we will not seek to squash, silence, or ruin them. And it is in that final commitment, that we may just be sowing the seeds of our own destruction.