Last Sunday, I was invited to appear as a conservative voice opposite liberal pundit Sally Kohn on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” – specifically because the host, Brian Stelter, read this piece I wrote for “Conservative Review” last week.
We discussed whether we are really as divided a country as the media claims. If you’re interested in seeing the panel in its entirety, you can watch it here.
One of the more interesting moments that occurred during the discussion was when Stelter asked Kohn about Ted Nugent saying he was going to tone down his rhetoric following the recent attempted massacre of GOP congressmen. Stelter seemed skeptical of Nugent’s call for détente, given some of his past statements, but to her credit, Kohn was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt moving forward.
I am now going to offer the same grace to Kohn. And I hope that she, and others like her, offers the same grace to me.
Since our CNN appearance, I have been sent statements that Kohn made in the past that most wouldn’t consider civil. Just as I’m sure her side could find the same from me if they tried — and maybe they have. And for the record, vehement disagreement on the issues isn’t incivility. Nor is thinking that people who disagree with you on matters of existential importance are dangerously wrong.
For a handy guide to what is and what isn’t civility, click here.
To that end, Kohn agreed with me when I said, “Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re a racist misogynist homophobe or anti-American.” I hope we both meant that, because now is when the true test of our Kumbaya moment starts.
On this CNN segment, I compared the attempted massacre to the spark that lit the powder keg to start World War I. Some think that’s going too far. If that’s you, I would urge you to think again.
Where was the West just prior to World War I? The average storefront owner in Frankfurt had no beef with the average pub owner in Edinburgh. Neither did the average nurse in Marseille hold a grudge against the average farmer in Budapest. They mostly had the same desires for themselves and hopes and fears for their children.
Unfortunately, one small group of people with more influence than any of them felt differently. And they entangled themselves in webs of nationalistic and sibling rivalry to the point that one assassination blew the fuse. The next thing you know, those average folks in all those countries were at war. And 37 million of them died before it was over, as chemical warfare was introduced en masse for the first time.
This is the same environment we have today.
Average Americans have similar desires for themselves and hopes for their children, even if they don’t have similar views on how to realize them. The percentage of Americans with a Twitter account (21) or who watch cable news (31) isn’t close to a majority. Nevertheless, the influencers are influenced by both, which impacts the majority of Americans who abstain.
That means we have a responsibility to remember the true impact of what we’re doing here. Chances are if Kohn and I got together over lunch and it was taped, the debate would be vigorous but personable. Yet over social media, or through clickbait, it would be poisonous – the 21st-century political equivalent to chemical warfare, which harms friend and foe alike.
Just as real war has rules of engagement, we must install those in our ideological contest. Some acts of aggression are so potentially devastating that they can’t be tolerated on the ideological battlefield.
I am a culture warrior. I got into this to fight on the front lines of the battle to preserve – better yet conserve – the last shining city on the hill this planet has to offer until HIStory reaches its culmination. And by fight, I mean fight.
But we cannot fight in a way that makes whatever is left after it’s over unworthy of the price we paid for it. World War I was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.” Instead it so deepened the divide that it sowed the seeds for something even worse to come.
The lesson here for us is this — it is not acceptable for either side to fight in a way that diminishes the nation we are fighting over, ways like shutting down free speech, rights of conscience, or other fundamental freedoms.
Rather than lowering ourselves to the behavior that has been used against us for far too long, we must isolate those deploying such tactics so that they can be confronted. For, my fellow conservatives, we are never going to win a war of grievance and victimization. That is the playbook of the worst the opposition has to offer, and you don’t beat the opposition with their own playbook. You beat them with your own.
That’s why I wrote this.
Lies don’t beat lies; the truth does. Hate doesn’t beat hate; love does. The reason political correctness was created in the first place was to dehumanize our viewpoint so it wouldn’t be allowed through the Overton window.
Constructing an Overton window of our own plays right into the opposition’s hands. They want to poison the atmosphere so that nowhere is safe from the culture war. No Little League, no school district, no church, and no neighborhood gathering is to be exempted.
Moral conflation and chaos are friends to those who seek to undo us. They know an exasperated people will give them what they want, which is why we would be tactically unwise to play into their scheme. It will at best produce a Pyrrhic victory, at worst, mutually assured destruction.
Instead, let us isolate such fiends in broad daylight by maintaining our integrity as they lose theirs. This makes them come out of the shadows and defend the indefensible – exposing who they are to the majority of Americans who really can’t stand this crap.
For example, both Kohn and I are now on the record about the matter at hand. Should either of us violate our nationally televised commitments, by all means we have given the other side permission to rhetorically rip the flesh from our bones. Hypocrisy is one of our last remaining societal sins.
Plus, we may find there are those within the opposition who don’t fully realize what it is they’re supporting. Doing it this way will give them a lifeline to walk away. Whereas returning poison for poison may provide us clickbait success, but it also causes those same people who may reconsider to dig in their heels all the more.
Besides, we are staring down the barrel of a generational apocalypse as conservatives. Sooner or later we’re going to need to figure out how to win some of these folks to our side, and I’m guessing the reason they haven’t joined us yet isn't because we haven’t been nasty enough.