If you ask conservatives what they stand for—I mean genuine conservatives, not libertarians who were aligned with conservatives long ago because of a shared anti-Communism even though their social beliefs were wholly liberal—here is what they will say: “God. Family. Country.”
Yes, it’s that simple. Conservatives want a churchgoing public, stable families, and national identity. Limited government, low taxes, free markets, and deregulation are secondary commitments.
Establishment Republicans didn’t understand this, which is why they underestimated in 2015 the appeal of Donald Trump. Trump’s “Build the wall!” slogan hindered the free flow of labor that businesses favored, and the other candidates slammed him. But Republican voters loved it. Finally! A leader who understands that a country without borders is not a country.
When Trump promised that his White House would say “Merry Christmas,” he picked a fight that most Republican politicians preferred to avoid. But voters found it mighty refreshing for one of their leaders to respect the Christian meaning of December 25.
Liberals hated him for it, but that was no surprise. Conservatives have felt liberal malice for a long, long time, ever since the 1960s when the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War, and a culture of general irreverence laid waste to those three conservative idols. In 1955, America was still a firmly Christian nation, divorce and illegitimacy were rare, and love-of-country a universal sentiment except among the still tiny counterculture of the left. By 1975, the revolution was complete. Religiosity was withdrawing from the public square, family break-up was soaring, and patriotism was uncool. What conservatives believed were rock-solid foundations turned out to be fragile and crumbling.
It’s not hard to see why conservatives floundered and compromised as the movement progressed. For every William F. Buckley, Jr., who diagnosed and battled the tide of History, there were thousands of conservatives who were befuddled and paralyzed by the assault on things they had honored but took for granted all their lives.
Who could imagine that God, family, and country had to be vindicated? That was like defending food and water.
When feminists declared that families weren’t natural, but patriarchal, ordinary conservatives must have said to themselves, “Huh?” When they first heard that patriotism wasn’t selfless devotion but rather arrogant jingoism, they probably thought back to D-Day and shook their heads in puzzlement. When told that faith wasn’t “love God and love your neighbor,” but instead ignorance and repression, they could only wonder why anyone would knock their charitable impulses.
But they kept hearing they were wrong, over and over and over again. “The Stepford Wives,” “Soul on Ice,” “Laugh-In,” “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” “Steal This Book,” “All in the Family,” Woodstock (“We are stardust, we are golden”), the Pentagon Papers, “M*A*S*H,” “Imagine” . . . all of them said so.
This counterculture poured over conservatives like a tidal wave, washing away the trinity of God, family, and country. The revolution didn’t bother with tax rates and trade talks. Abbie Hoffman and Gloria Steinem understood very well that the roots of conservative order lay elsewhere, and that if you could tear them out, then the nuts and bolts of policy and politicking would shift forever in the progressive direction.
Oh, we would have the occasional conservative pushback—Reagan in 1980, the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996—but those would be rearguard actions merely slowing for a moment the permanent conservative retreat.
This is the irony of #TheResistance. November 9, 2016, was another conservative victory, but the trauma it caused went way beyond previous progressive disappointments such as the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014. The Left knew that those older setbacks might prompt secondary conservative actions regarding taxes and budgets, but they would leave the three idols alone. Paul Ryan wasn’t going to challenge the sexual revolution, and Republican senators weren’t pushing an America First agenda.
But the Left’s instincts were correct. Trump was different.
President Trump, indeed, would bring the battle of Left versus Right down to the foundations. He would step right in front of the 50-year freight train of Women’s liberation, the Black Panthers, flag-burnings, and Roe all the way to Obergefell and Black Lives Matter and gender identity in Title IX. And so he did, pulling gender identity right back out of Title IX, nominating anti-Roe judges, hugging the American flag, setting tariffs and building some walls, and proclaiming “All lives matter!” and “Merry Christmas.”
For leftists and liberals to claim the mantle of resistance to these actions, however, is to ignore a half-century of steamrolling and bulldozing and trampling conservatives underfoot.
Genuine conservatives have been resisting progressive aggression for so long—and losing again and again—that progressives don’t even realize that a fair body of their fellow citizens feels besieged and maligned every time they turn on a TV, walk through a mall, and review the books their kids read in high school. Progressives own academia, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, public schools, the art world, mainstream media, human rights commissions and other state and local bodies oriented around identity, and human resources in corporate America and medical care. For them to assume the same title as French men and women who battled Nazis is ludicrous.
The labels should be switched. In truth, the election of Donald Trump was the veritable act of resistance in our time. Liberals and leftists warn of his tyranny and paint feverish visions of dictatorship, but they are the ones who have behaved as if they were an occupying army, expelling conservatives from cultural, media, and educational institutions as soon as they gained a majority of positions.
The anti-Trump resistance deserves another name: #TheReactionaries.
They believe they are always moving, ever pursuing social change, pushing for more reform, more correction. But having conquered so much of American society, they are, in effect, a mighty status quo. They want things to stay the same. It’s been going their way for so long that they magnify the slightest dissent into a scandalous foe. And when that dissent touches the core of God-family-country, they resolve that this foe must be put down immediately.
They have turned social media into a surveillance apparatus, and they are willing to ruin careers and incite mobs and boycotts in the course of defending their half-century hegemony, and when they succeed they publicize that triumph widely. It is just as important to intimidate the whole populace as it is to punish a guilty individual.
These are not the tactics of a resistance, which historically is always in danger. Resisters need to hide, but one could walk into any store in a pro-Trump district wearing an anti-Trump t-shirt and not expect violence. But try walking three blocks on 14th Street in Manhattan with a MAGA cap on your head and see what happens.