by Angelo Codevilla
Leftists in America treat conservative voters, elected officials, and policies as illegitimate. Should conservative Americans return the favor? Could they?
Few outside the corporate leftist media took seriously Hillary Clinton’s accusation that Donald Trump might refuse to accept defeat in the 2016 election. Though Americans’ sociopolitical divisions had already become irreconcilable, no one really believed that a major party would rebel against the voters, and hence against our constitutional republic—yet.
And yet the Democratic Party and the ruling class that it represents did just that, and decided never again to concede legitimacy to any serious opponents’ victory.
#TheResistance began as an attempt by Clinton and her staffers to explain why their unexpected electoral defeat had to be illegitimate. It burgeoned quickly into rejection of rule by voters because so many on the Left and in the ruling class rallied to it, having already decided that ordinary Americans have no right to stand in their way.
Clinton’s characterization of Trump voters as “deplorables” and “irredeemables” and Barack Obama’s description of rural Republican voters as “clingers” to Bibles, guns, and racism, has long been ruling-class conventional wisdom. This attitude is what crossed the threshold of revolution.
Because the Resistance succeeded so well in limiting the impact of the 2016 election, it solidified the Left and the ruling class’s sense of common identity and entitlement. Henceforth, the bureaucracies, the educational establishment, the judges, the corporate establishment and the media will continue to impose themselves, regardless of conservative election victories or laws, never mind the Constitution. This attitude is not the result of a policy decision, but the expression of an evolving identity.
The Resistance also portends the wholesale abandonment by the ruling class of limits in cases of electoral victories. Already we have the precedent of the Obama Administration refusing to enforce laws it disliked (defense of marriage, religious freedom restoration, illegal immigration), and ruling “with a pen and a phone” on the principle of “stop me if you can.”
With the advent of the Resistance, the ruling class merged with radical identity groups and has become dependent upon them for electoral success. Because radical blacks, third-wave feminists, LGBTQ identitarians, etc. regard most Americans as enemies, given that “intersectionality”—i.e., concurrence in wreaking vengeance upon the rest of America—is what binds these disparate groups together, a victorious Democratic Party’s extra-legal rule will be far more noxious next time around.
Were the radicalized Democratic Party to win the 2020 elections, the top of its agenda would feature prohibition of abortion restrictions, a crackdown on non-public education, and the pursuit of “environmental criminals”—as well as ever newer and more Byzantine impositions of political correctness.
Would a conservative resistance to such a turn of events even be possible? Conservatives lack the control of society’s commanding heights that made the ruling class’s resistance to 2016 so successful. Constitutionalist judges might well rule that certain government actions were ultra vires. But the ruling class would ignore such judges, as they do now, and the media would pillory them. The media would also cheerlead the prosecution of whomever stood in the way.
The conservative resistance would have to be organized, openly as a revolution, by national-level political leaders, whose credible voices could not be silenced. This resistance would have two assets: state-local government backed by the people, and economic boycotts.
But rallying the deplorables would have to overcome the natural conservative reluctance to acknowledge that the Republic of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the republic of “all men are created equal,” is beyond our capacity now to restore. It must be understood that it needs instead to be reasserted anew.
Unlike the Left’s resistance, however, the conservative one would aim not at forcing anything upon those who deplore us, but at ruling ourselves in living our lives as we think we should.
The state and corporate officials who have pressured conservative America to bend to their ways by withdrawing their business from recalcitrant localities threaten those whom they target with isolation. They discount the fact that isolation is a double-edged sword, which their targets can wield to greater effect than they. Some 180 corporate CEOs declared they will reduce business in states that restrict abortions. But the moment that conservatives come to view companies and institutions like, say, Procter & Gamble, or Disney, or corporate Hollywood, as an enemy of their way of life, said institution is cut in half, at best. Twitter says conservative speech is hate speech. Why should conservatives use Twitter?
Conservative boycotts would intend not to change corporate policies, but to channel conservative patronage away from their enemies—to amputate diseased parts of the body politic so that healthy ones might grow.
Similarly, conservatives should call out and boycott schools and any other institutions that show themselves to be promoting a way of life alien to them. Why should we associate with those who hate us?
Analogously, the past decade has seen 11 states, notably Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington, legalize the production and marketing of marijuana for recreational use, contrary to federal law. Any number of states and localities, also following their voters, have refused to enforce U.S immigration laws. Explicitly, the governors of California and New York have made their governments part of the Resistance to the Trump Administration. The federal government has not used force against these states or their cannabis entrepreneurs, or against officials who violate federal immigration law. There is no reason why conservative state and local governments could not, should not follow their voters’ preferences with regard to abortion, health care, or anything else in defiance of what the federal government, or judges, or bureaucrats, or anyone, might demand of them.
The ruling class, unwilling to loosen its grip on America, will appeal to “the rule of law,” use its control of the bureaucracy to cut funds, its control of the media to intimidate, and might even send some federal agents to give substance to that intimidation. They might point guns. But knowing what they are up against, they dare not shoot.
America has already come apart. The conservative resistance can conserve only one of those parts.
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Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).