A Peloponnesian Pep Talk: Trump's Hoplites Storm Washington
Culture wars are wars. When I go on Twitter, I am going downrange. I approach my tweeting, retweeting, blocking, and replying as such.
This is still war even if (for now) the conflict is not an armed clash between us conservatives and our leftist nemeses. As I have elaborated in previous posts, Carl von Clausewitz noted that much of what we call "war" is mastering our thoughts, our troops' thoughts, our allies' thoughts, and our enemies' thoughts. Of his nine principles of war, some, such as "objective" and "surprise" and "unity of command," point as much to what goes on in all these players' heads as to violent conflict.
Fortunately, in 2017, conservatives (though not all) came to understand that our political fight is not a roundtable symposium or a pie contest at the county fair. Hallelujah!
We face a leftist enemy who hates us and seeks to replace us with complacent gender-confused pajama boys shaking in fear that they may be shot through a biodegradable cannon by race-baiting rioters into a mob of lesbian sexual harassment lawyers. An astonishing swath of the right has rebuffed the NeverTrumps with their calls for civility. This signals that we aren't crazy if we've been acting like troops in a kulturkampf for years.
Five years ago, when I described a certain political battle as "our Pharsalus" or defined certain tactics as "Carthaginian," people bristled. "Oh, no, we are going to be civil!" I would hear. That's changed lately.
When I attended the World Congress of Families in Budapest last May, one of the plenary speakers even quoted the lines from Ephesians I am often too shy to drop into articles: "Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens" (6:11).
Hungary's president, Viktor Orban, hosted the conference, and he knows a lot about this lately. The gist is, we promise not to shoot or stab anyone, but we will crush foolhardy attempts to corrupt our souls. And if you steal our stuff, we will get back at you. Just ask Edith Macías.
Somebody call Pericles's publicist
Some past wars are more applicable to our current situation than others. For instance, I can see World War II working as a comparison, but I do not see the left and right as massive conglomerations of forces going at it in open hostility. I see a lot of strong parallels right now to the Peloponnesian War.
Thucydides's classic history depicts a scattered, dizzying clash among many city-states with shifting and unclear goals. Much of the challenge for the players in that ancient war was simply figuring out what they were doing, who their enemies were, and whether it was worth fighting. Camps within each of many cities were warring and betraying each other. That is how I feel about our current battle with the left.
In Book II of Thucydides's history, the great commander Pericles appears and gives two speeches at different junctures. The first is his famous speech on the burial of the first fallen in the battle against Sparta. Pericles distinguishes the Athenians' motivation for fighting from the motives of others. The Athenians, Pericles emphasizes, are free and fight because they enjoy the spiritual and cultural benefits of privacy, choice of how to live their lives, and frankness in speech with each other.
Pericles understood that what we call political correctness is poisonous. Athenians would fight all the harder because they did not live under its censorship.
Again, in our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, both united in the same persons[,] although usually decision is the fruit of ignorance, hesitation of reflection. But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most justly to those who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure yet are never tempted to shrink from danger.
Pericles does not always sound like this. His words here reflect the heady feeling of a war's beginning, when the young soldiers are still fit and well fed, the people still not confronted by severe losses. Grief for the first fallen has more ceremonious hope than one will see in the second speech by Pericles to the people, toward the end of Book II.
In the second year of war, everyone is turning on each other inside Athens. There are strong possibilities that some are bribed by foreigners or even cowards within the city, tired of fighting. A plague breaks out. Numerous rural dwellers have had to burn their fields and then take refuge in Athens among city-dwellers unhappy about the strains and disease. The particular sickness racing through the Athenian population is bizarre and gruesome, causing lesions and fevers.
While still trying to uphold morale, Pericles scolds the people with these lines:
I have called an assembly to remind you of certain points, and to protest your being unreasonably cross with me, or cowed by your sufferings. I am of the opinion that national greatness is more for the advantage of private citizens than any individual well being coupled with public humiliation. A man may be personally ever so well off, yet if his country be ruined he must be ruined with it[,] whereas a flourishing commonwealth always affords chances of salvation to unfortunate individuals.
In the second speech, Pericles cannot sugarcoat words. He has to acknowledge that the people are legitimately worn down and want the fight to end. But he has to be blunt with them that the fight is far from over. It would be tactless and ineffective to make high-minded appeals to the city's democratic culture at this point. His audience is burying loved ones who died from diarrhea and heat blisters, not because they charged courageously into danger's way to defend the city they loved.
Which speech now? It's a toss-up.
Right now, we are where Athenians were on the occasion of Pericles's first speech. Our first casualties are being carried to the funeral pyre – Omarosa, Roy Moore, Milo, some of the Alt-Right, Mooch, the NeverTrumps. Though we know there are a lot of internal divisions on our side, we still feel the thrill of having won so many victories against daunting odds. We like winning. Overall, our position looks strong, with the economy picking up, taxes going down, and Trump coming across very presidential. Now is a good time to give the lofty pep talks about our strong values and remind ourselves that we fight for a good reason.
But keep Pericles's post-plague speech handy, because it will likely be necessary within a year.
I foresee that 2018 will be like the year when Athens had ulcers and diarrhea. We are going to see many of our Pericles figures get attacked even by their closest friends and our closest friends. Greater scrutiny will reveal that some of our allies have been bribed and have hustled us. Some will be exposed for having not truly fought for us, while others will be smeared in rear-guard sabotage and mutinies within their own camps. Trump is going to disappoint us with some whoppers at some point – it is inevitable; all leaders are imperfect – and 2018 might be such a year, especially with pressure for him to arm for foreign adventures.
Certain fault lines, seemingly dormant, wait to awaken and quake Trump's Christian coalition: Protestants vs. Catholics, Calvinist vs. traditionalist, charismatic vs. strictly Bible-based. There are still strong pockets of gay conservatives who have avoided the disapproval of the mass of Trump-supporters who believe that homosexuality is a sin and will never compromise on that issue. The latter tension, I have concluded, was fundamental in sinking Roy Moore because pro-gay conservatives in the Trump camp pulled away and let Moore get torpedoed by the NeverTrumps.
We will need the second Pericles to appear, scolding us, slapping us out of our whining, and reminding us that if high principles cannot bind us, fate will. If MAGA crashes and burns, we all will burn, heroes and scoundrels together in flames.
Speeches to Avoid
With a successful year behind us, perhaps now is the time to clean our rhetorical house. I suggest we retire the following obsessions so that any emerging Pericles can reach us within minimal background noise. Since we are in a war, we must economize our limited time and resources, prioritizing efforts that need support now before the GOP may lose control of Congress.
"Conservative Speaker Treated Badly on Random Campus." We are decades into the liberal ruination of universities. If anyone knows something about this, I do! But there are four basic functions that the higher education industry is supposed to fulfill: training of students, scholarship by researchers, service to the community, and administration of university resources. All four of these areas are dominated by full-time employees, with full-time conservative employees approaching zero percent. Guest speakers, whom most students don't hear and who have no long-term influence on campus, are so irrelevant to the core corruption killing education that we need to shift our attention to the problems of tenure, financial waste, and bogus research.
"Don't make me bake a cake." I wish Jack Phillips all the best in his Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Certainly, the Alliance Defending Freedom is to be commended for its fine work in this case. The problem is that to bring this case to the Supreme Court, our side had to define the controversy so narrowly that a host of threats from the LGBT lobby will be untouched even if Jack Phillips wins: the LGBT invasion of our schools from K to Ph.D., the eradication of counseling to help people get out of homosexual behavior, and the tens of millions of people who are not artistic business owners doing work for weddings and therefore unprotected even by a positive outcome at the Supreme Court. The LGBT issue is perhaps the biggest flashpoint threatening the explicitly religious constituency under Trump, and the most serious questions are simply being neglected.
"Isn't it great to see liberal men destroyed in sex scandals?" There is nothing funny about a wave of punitive hysteria combining female narcissism and angry white-knight mobs. It's true that liberal men seem to be the bigger losers in the game of "Sluts or Prudes – Who Will Kill You First?" After the Foley-Haggard-Craig trifecta of Republicans tarred as closeted gay perverts, we cannot avoid some schadenfreude. But I saw firsthand the collapse of due process with Title IX, and I know that the mobs are coming for Christians already. Don't feed the beast that will kill us. Spend your time harassing Planned Parenthood night and day until it breaks down and closes up shop.
"Let's get somebody fired for a tweet." I will not defend George Ciccariello-Maher, who was recently compelled to quit his post at Drexel University. He seems cruel and unlikely to have any interest in defending my job against censors. Academic freedom is a dead end, after all. But the general trend of turning into howling lunatics over fragments of language floating in cyberspace is extremely unhealthy. Make a pledge to stop doing screen shots. Never rush to get someone fired over a statement. Let's try to keep it classy even as the left slithers in the gutters.
Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed on Twitter at @Baptist4freedom.