Whether new to politics or a seasoned veteran to the battlefield of ideas, one observes this election cycle with a sort of amazed bewilderment, an amusing comedy tragically unfolding before us. It would be hilarious if the manifestly unfit actors didn’t promise to wield their sought after authority over their audience of 300 million people, but alas, democracy.
So the audience member – the viewer of politics – sits in the stands and observes the scene that materializes around him. In particular, he observes two things: the behavior of the actors, and the conduct of the crowd, of which he is a part.
He observes that two predominant rhetorical camps arise: conservatism and liberalism. I am here to remark on the former.
“I notice an unmistakable mutation of the conservative mind.”
When observing a school of thought and its progress through time and culture, it helps to step back and view it in its larger context. As I do so, I notice an unmistakable mutation of the conservative mind, a new model of the modern conservative: the playground conservative.
The playground conservative is one of the predominant modern forms of conservatism that privileges alpha status as a supreme and infallible mark of political leadership. Like the school bully who uses his illusion of power to enlist unwaveringly devoted minions, the “alpha,” really nothing more than a manipulative and insecure personality demanding respect through illusory strength, promises certain fruits of membership to his posse, thus building his squad of playground conservatives.
The bully is a socialist-lite, dedicated to using the mechanisms of his office and the illusory infallibility of a majority to disperse material privileges to his naïve base. His minions follow him dutifully, perching themselves on his shoulder and squawking a regurgitation of whatever the bully decided to announce. To the playground conservative, these words are sacred, and though they convince themselves that they follow out of affection, they do so from a place of fear and promised spoils.
The playground conservative spreads his messages by smothering the brick wall of discourse in a choking and vibrant chalk, crafting poorly worded and provocative messages that are grounded in emotion, reaction, and anger. And when his counterpart, the daycare liberal, trots over in ready tears and full diaper demanding that the message be erased because of its allegedly discourteous nature, the playground conservative does not confidently enumerate the tenets of his message, modern conservatism – the affection for variation, the place for order and hierarchy within civilized society, the recognition of spirituality and transcendent, objective moral prescription – but instead he mocks and derides the mental infant, only exacerbating the inherent conflict between the playground’s co-residents; he is too immature for attempted reconciliation.
The playground conservative displays a penchant for condensing vastly profound intellectual systems, grounded in a providential order for society and history, into pretentious phrases. He thinks shortening his history lesson into a single sentence somehow asserts an intellectual authority. Most often, these clichés take on a derisive character, and the playground conservative rallies his pals to circle an unwitting deviant on the four square court and chant mechanically until they reduce him to tears, whereupon they chide him to “return to his safe space.”
Like a child, the playground conservative lacks manners; he doesn’t recognize the place for them within ordered society. He thinks they represent that despised beta class of isolated and self-aggrandizing nerds who never win at tetherball anymore. Never mind politeness: if the playground conservative has to pummel that dork in glasses to score the winning run in a meaningless game of kickball, then prepare the bandages.
The playground conservative, though he knows better, is grounded in, and guided by, instinct. He tells his teachers and parents that he displays manners befitting of his inheritance, but when he thinks no one is watching, he is all to eager to kick sand into the eyes of the inherently naïve liberal who thinks the world ought to be more like the daycare in which his parents place him. He makes no effort to foster or guide the intellectual development of the daycare liberal; he has no interest in it, nor is he fit to do it. He’d rather be known as a menace, hoping to secure the approval of that alpha that stalks his fifth-grade playground as if the world is not composed of adults who recognize the infancy of his behavior.
The playground conservative is one with affection for repeating the follies of his older brother, talk radio, and considering that word infallibly supreme. He makes no effort to verify the remarks of the individuals whose primary interests lay in deceptively crafting messages in a way that fosters incorrigible anger and righteous indignation. The playground conservative is the mute recipient of authoritative edicts from his ostensibly wise older brother, whose reputation is staked not on accuracy, but on the ability of his message to run as gossip through the entire playground, fostering an esteemed image for himself while feeding his communicants inflammatory tidbits that are unverifiable except by slavish devotion to the source’s illusion of infallibility.
Of course, the playground conservative discards all pretenses when faced with the recess guard, whose word and duty is even more supreme than the dear alpha bully. Only the most dedicated of the bully’s disciples defend him when he insults the recess guard, the rest of the playground watching with bemused skepticism as to how that guy enlisted such a potent following.
Finally, though, recess ends, and the children are called back into the classroom. The playground conservative files in dutifully and takes his seat, the restraints of society constraining his derisions. While under watch from his teacher, he confers due respect to his classmate, the liberal, but evidently the jungle of the playground, politics, alters his character, and makes him into an inconsiderate brute.
Oh, until they graduate.