Even as Donald Trump continues to frustrate #TheResistance after three years of ceaseless fabrication and hysteria, conservatives must not forget just how close they are to the edge.
We have a defender in the White House, but the social ideas of the Left prevail in nearly every other elite and cultural space in the United States.
The election of November 2016, the elevation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the Mueller report debacle, the Iran turnaround, and other wins for conservatives may be satisfying, but they have not shaken the leftist lock on our institutions one bit. The simmering stew of LGBT rights, toxic masculinity, white privilege, disparate impact calculations, and Millennial social justice campaigns has become dogma in corporate America, media, higher education, K-12 public schools (and many private schools, too), Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Broadway, the art world, museums, libraries . . .
It functions in all those realms as a hegemony, a body of beliefs and values that are wielded by those in power in such a way that a society comes to accept them as the ordinary and proper criteria of judgment. A hegemony distinguishes good from bad, legitimate from illegitimate, qualified from unqualified. And it gives people the capacity to act on that judgment. A criterion isn’t hegemonic unless it has force behind it.
(The term “hegemony” as used here comes out of Marxist thought. We should always consider the Left’s vocabulary of critique when addressing the current situation. The Left aims its lexicon of “hegemony,” “privilege,” “exclusion,” “normativity,” etc., at conservatives and their putative aggressions and discriminations. The language is altogether accurate, but not in the way leftists think. It describes very well the Left’s behaviors, not the Right’s. There is no better analyst of the Left than Michel Foucault.)
In the current condition, intellectual wins are ineffectual. It doesn’t matter that U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) proves herself a civic and historical ignoramus again and again. Her job is not to be cogent and accurate. It is to reiterate the dogma over and over, to pound it home again and again, no matter the circumstances. The hegemony must be maintained.
When a law professor criticizes affirmative action on the grounds that beneficiaries of the system can’t compete with those admitted through regular channels, and subsequently is denounced by her colleagues and activist student groups calling for her termination, conservatives are inclined to defend her by appealing to traditional norms of dissent and free speech. This is futile. If those norms had much pull in higher education, the collective attack on said professor never would have happened. Her critics would have challenged her ideas and evidence, not her employment. But that didn’t happen. She crossed the dogma, she disrespected the hegemony, she must go.
For the Left, outcomes trump procedure just as politics eclipses intelligence, conscientiousness, and competence. One thing I saw in more than 30 years in academia was that while leftists on the faculty were not always the brightest bulbs in the room, they often managed to populate university and department committees where policies were created and passed. While we were teaching and researching; they were reshaping the institution. We were getting on with our work, pushing our individual careers, getting our names in print, and believing we were advancing the field and the school. They were taking over. Put it this way: We were clueless, they were canny.
Donald Trump understands this. That’s one reason the Left despises him. He typically doesn’t bother to debate ideas and ideals, but this is not anti-intellectualism, as the liberal says. It is, instead, his awareness that politics is now, first and foremost, a battle of persons, not ideologies or tax rates or trade. The Kavanaugh episode proves the point, for this battle was all about the individual (which is one reason why Supreme Court appointments are so heated).
In recent times, conservatives have tended to focus on ideas. If, after President Trump leaves office, they don’t start thinking more about personnel, if they don’t consider the population of institutions as much as they do the structure of institutions, if they choose a leader who thinks technocratically instead of ad hominem-ly, we will indeed end up with the permanent Democratic majority liberal intellectuals have predicted for the last 20 years.