What was the first thing that catapulted Donald Trump to the front of the Republican presidential pack?
He called Mexicans “rapists.”
Trump’s defenders claim he didn’t really say that. That he was only talking about illegal immigrants and his words were misconstrued.
At the micro level, perhaps some of Trump’s defenders have valid points.
At the macro level—where perception is reality, the public absorbs information and elections are decided—Trump sounded angry and hateful.
He sounded ugly.
And how it “is” is always ugly.
Trump certainly sounded ugly when he called Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig.” He sounded ugly last week when he tweeted that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly was a “bimbo” after the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland.
Then Trump said something repulsive about Kelly’s menstruation. Seriously.
Jonah Goldberg asked at National Review, “Are we really going to go down the insane path of saying that real conservatives must abandon good manners and respect for women to demonstrate their purity?”
But conservatives abandoning basic manners and decency is not new.
This did not start with Trump.
When conservative pundit Erick Erickson disinvited Trump from his RedState Gathering last weekend over the billionaire’s Kelly comments, many criticized Erickson because he’d also used offensive language in the past, including calling Michelle Obama Barack’s “Marxist harpy wife,” and describing outgoing Supreme Court Justice David Souter as “the only goat f***ing child molester to ever serve on the Supreme Court.”
Erickson said in 2010 his words were “about the dumbest thing I’ve done” and that “it was a wake up call to me that I had to grow up in how I write.”
While many on the left and right were quick to pounce on Erickson for what they perceived as hypocrisy, they failed to notice he’s been trying to lead the conservative movement in a better direction for some time.
A year ago, Erickson wrote a column at RedState titled “I Increasingly Find Conflict Between My Faith and Some Conservative Discourse.” Erickson said, “In the past several months there have been three incidents that have solidified for me that my faith and my politics are starting to collide.”
Erickson’s first disenchantment centered on some conservatives’ treatment of the refugee immigrant children who were stuck in legal limbo at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014.
Conservatives attacked those who showed kindness toward these kids, some victims of human trafficking. Wrote Erickson “Christian conservatives were roundly assailed by other conservatives for daring to provide aid and comfort to children whose parents had shipped them across the border.” “To some on the right,” wrote Erickson, “that is aiding law breakers.”
Erickson’s second concern was how many conservatives treated Kenneth Brantly, the Christian missionary doctor who contracted Ebola and returned to the U.S. for treatment. Wrote Erickson, “The number of angry calls into my radio program from well meaning conservatives, comments across social media, opinion columns, agreement thereto, etc. really boggled my mind… The level of outright anger, fear, and bitterness over the decision to take care of American citizens…”
Erickson’s third example was conservatives reaction to the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, “The rush to win a fight and lay blame instead of mourning a loss and praying for a situation just leaves me perplexed. The rush to ‘change the narrative’ with bad facts to replace bad facts by some folks who keep the ichthys on their car unsettles me.”
“While I am a firm believer in the idea of a conservative populism,” Erickson wrote, “I see a dangerous trend within the mix of unfortunate shrillness and hostility.”
Shrillness and hostility is what fuels Trump’s campaign. It’s the entire point of it. He speaks for those for whom being politically incorrect is regarded as the highest conservative value.
It’s not necessarily that those attracted to Trump have a burning desire to insult minorities, women, kids or Christian missionaries—but that they become so engrossed in “us” vs. “them” political narratives, basic decency goes out the window.
Being ugly becomes a conservative value.
Being against illegal immigration becomes a war against immigrants and Mexicans, even children. Being against gay marriage becomes being against gay people. Being against violent rioters, understandably, in Ferguson and Baltimore morphs into enthusiastic support, disturbingly, for police brutalizing black citizens.
In this emotionally-charged, adversarial environment, all lines can be crossed, there are no indignities and hatefulness becomes a positive value.
Goldberg writes, “Just because being rude or crude is un-PC that is not, in itself, a defense of being rude or crude.” “You would think social conservatives in particular wouldn’t lose sight of this,” Goldberg adds.
But many have lost sight of it. They have for some time. Trump is just a reminder.
Erick Erickson is right to combat this. Jonah Goldberg is correct that crudeness is not conservatism proper.
But just how ugly has today’s conservatism become?