I’ve often been bashed by the Left for being “uncivil,” and even my allies on the right have been critical of me for the language I have used politically. But while I’ve always been a firebrand, much of the conservative movement has passed me by to the point that I feel like an old fuddy-duddy longing for the old days. This mentality can be summed up in this Tweet, which I quoted and criticized last month: “First rule of politics- there are no rules. Those who play by a code get beaten up by those who have no code.”
David French warns against this mentality at National Review:
Our founders knew that Americans would persistently and constantly disagree. So they both protected the means of expressing that disagreement (through the First Amendment) and included multiple mechanisms for implementing legal and structural change. Discarding core civic values, by contrast, is a real threat to the nation. Even robust republics are strained by constant application of “principles” like “free speech for me, but not for thee” or “by any means necessary.”
The idea that we must discard all rules of decorum and civility, along with our principles against even outright lying, is dangerous and counterproductive. As French explains, tearing down these basic rules leaves us with no moral standard to fall back on. We have no complaint when the Left lies about us or tries to destroy us personally when we engage in the same behavior and use the same tactics. For Christians, it is even worse, as it is a betrayal of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our Lord never advocated a mentality that we have to win “by any means necessary,” and He hates that mentality today.
Yes, I understand the Left abandoned many of these rules decades ago, and they are especially fond of “free speech for me, but not for thee.” That is why we must hold fast to these civic values, because we are the only ones defending the principles that are holding our society together and providing a framework for non-violent political battle. If conservatives abandon those things, then those principles will die.
But then we cannot win, you say. Wrong. We have won for decades holding to these principles. I can point you to all kinds of campaigns that have won without embracing “by any means necessary” mentality that the cult of Donald Trump advocates. Plus, if we campaign on policy and principle, we have a mandate to implement a conservative policy agenda when we win elections.
This, of course, is not to say we cannot fight back when attacked, or that we must behave as if we live in some utopian Pleasantville where everyone is perfectly cheery and polite all the time. No, going negative is absolutely essential and is often morally necessary. Bad policy must be dissected and shown to be destructive, hypocrites must be called out, and liars must be exposed and their lies must be refuted. Severe character defects must be revealed and attacked. But we can do that while being both factual and truthful.
(As an aside: It is impossible to be truthful without being factual, but it is possible to be factual without being truthful.)
This starts at the grassroots, with how we use social media. We need to carefully vet what we share. I was utterly disgusted to see Barack Obama’s hypocrisy in decrying social media and how it is used, knowing that he was directing his complaints only at Republicans and Trump. We know very well that there are plenty of myths, lies and smears pounded out by the Left daily. Let’s not pretend one side is spreading lies while the other side is using social media responsibly. There are terrible people on both sides, and people who post responsibly.
So how do we do better? Civility, respect for free speech, and rejection of “the ends justify the means” starts with each of us. We need to kill that idolatry in our own hearts first, and call out those on our side who engage in it. We have to be better, and we have to stop justifying bad behavior just because it comes from our side. We cannot continue down this path.