Here’s what I mean by my essential Tory sensibility

I expect respect for fundamental institutions, such as the rule of law.

I expect respect for fundamental institutions, such as the rule of law.

I’m a conservative guy, on a fundamental level. I sometimes refer to my “Tory sensibility,” and I may be using the words incorrectly, not being a Brit, but at least I know what I mean. And in response to a comment by Doug back here, I tried to explain to others what I mean. And it got long enough that I decided it should be a separate post, because, you know, why waste all that typing?

When I say “conservative,” I mean it in a conservative sense, a traditional sense. No, I’m not trying to claim intellectual descent from Edmund Burke, because frankly I’ve never read Burke. In fact, the whole Burke thing confuses me: How could he be the father of conservatism, and be a Whig?

No, I’m more self-taught in this regard. And, quite frankly, even though I tend to pride myself on thinking things through rationally, this is a gut thing. (That’s what liberals think all conservatism is, don’t they — viscera over mind?) And in fact, it may not be self-taught as much as it relates to things I learned when I was so young I don’t remember learning them, things as basic as how you ought to treat other people (short version: with respect) and such.

And this gut thing of mine causes me to feel disgust at so many who insist that they are “conservative,” when they are institution-destroying radicals. I tried getting at this in early 2008, in a column headlined “Give me that old-time conservatism.” (That link was to The State‘s version, which I was pleased and surprised to find still up. Here’s the blog version, which includes links.)

What returns me to the subject was that call from Jack Van Loan last night, and some of the comments from my blog friends. Doug wrote:

There are more and more players this season who are sitting for the anthem. Marshawn Lynch is probably the most visible right now. To me, it’s a relatively harmless (and probably useless) way for a person to express his displeasure with the events of the day. The best course would be to ignore them if you disagree rather than try to vilify them….

I responded more or less as follows…

It’s outrageous. It’s completely uncivilized behavior. I don’t care what your issue is, you don’t do something that amounts to a general “F___ You!” to the entire nation over that one issue. (OK, I did something inconsistent with my own sensibilities there — chalk it up to my strong feelings on the issue, and my wish to engage the interest of moderns.)

(To elaborate on that point, Doug responded facetiously to my reply by saying “I must have missed Rosa Parks’ pamphlet: ‘Top Ten Reasons I Should Sit In The Front of the Bus’.” Which offered me a perfect opportunity to explain further: What Rosa Parks did was moderate, measured, proportional and to the point. She’d had enough of being disrespected, so she didn’t move. What the football player did was as different from that as night from the day. He flipped off the whole country in order to make an unrelated point. And if you think it is relevant and proportional to the point — if you think the whole country is rotten (which is what disrespecting the flag says) because on rare occasions (proportionally) a cop engages in violence that may or may not be based in his own personal racial attitudes — then you’re not thinking clearly. It’s a matter of focus, a matter of specificity, a matter of clarity.)

This is where my essential, bedrock conservatism comes into play. Real conservatism, not the nihilistic garbage that so many loudly proclaim these days.

I don’t ask much from people in the way of acting civilized. I just expect them not to go out of their way to do things that amount to a slap in the face to their fellow citizens, things that flip off our essential institutions.

I don’t ask you to go to my church. But I expect some respect toward that fundamental institution, toward all such fundamental institutions. If I were an atheist, I’d be a devout one. When someone said a prayer in my presence, I’d respectfully bow my head and be silent until they were done. Because to do otherwise would be disrespectful to the person and his beliefs. It’s like when I was in Thailand, and this lady who had hosted and fed us for two days in her home invited us to kneel beside her at the little Buddhist altar in her home to pray for our safety on the rest of our journey (or so my daughter explained, this being all in Thai), I gladly knelt and bowed my head. If I’d known the Thai for “amen,” I’d have thrown one in. When in Rome.

I feel the same way about other institutions of our civilization (and whatever civilization I’m visiting) — the government, our courts, public schools, the Constitution, the Rule of Law, the military, the national anthem, the flag, and yes, motherhood, the girl next door and apple pie (even though I am allergic to apple pie, so that it benefits me on no way). And I expect a modicum of respect for these things from my fellow citizens. They don’t have to exert themselves; they just need to not go out of their way to insult these things.

And when they do, forgive me if I don’t pay attention to the issue they’re trying to dramatize. If you want to advocate an issue, use your words — don’t use unfocused gestures of insult toward the whole society. That is childish, and I would add, barbaric — senselessly destructive. And I’m not going to hear you.

Use your words.

And yes, motherhood and apple pie and the Girl Next Door (Frank Capra version). Welcome home, George Bailey!

And yes, motherhood and apple pie and the Girl Next Door (Frank Capra version here). Welcome home, George Bailey!

71 thoughts on “Here’s what I mean by my essential Tory sensibility

  1. bud

    Good heavens man. Why all the shrill, over the top condemnation of this. The men aren’t destroying things or breaking any law. They’re not vocally disrupting the national anthem. They’re not walking around or waving fists. These guys are sitting quietly or kneeling in silent prayer. Frankly you’re the one who is disrespectful and even inciting violence. At most note this is disrespectful one time and move on. Continuing this tirade is both unwarranted and may even be dangerous.

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  2. bud

    I was hoping we’d discuss Trump’s speech last night. That is something substantive, rather than this symbolic nonsense.

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    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Weren’t you being redundant just then? Don’t you and Doug both consider symbolism, or perhaps I should say semiotics, to be “nonsense” by definition?

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  3. Doug Ross

    If you spend your time wishing other people would conform to your standards and your choices, you’re going to be one of those angry old men one day. This feels a lot like “My country, right or wrong” or “Love it or leave it!”. You’re a product of your upbringing and your experiences. Others have different backgrounds that might not result in the same behaviors you consider “normal”. But then you think selling a pair of pants on Sunday is a great tragedy. (I know, I know, you don’t care that is Sunday… you just want everyone else to agree with your views on taking a day off — except newspapers).

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    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      First, a cry from the heart: Anyone besides Doug and Bud — who are constitutionally unable to agree with me on any of my points; they are hardwired not to — like to weigh in here? Bring praise or criticism; it’s all the same — just weigh in.

      If not, if this is only to be a conversation with Doug and Bud, let me set a ground rule: I will discuss your objections to what I say, but I will NOT engage when you mischaracterize what I say.

      For instance:
      — If you spend your time wishing other people would conform to your standards and your choices, you’re going to be one of those angry old men one day. Well, then there’s no danger of that happening, since I haven’t spent a second here wishing anything of the kind. I can’t even imagine you got such an impression. What I wrote here was an elaboration explaining why, over the years, I have reacted to certain things in certain ways. How could ANYONE have read this blog over the last 12 years, a forum in which I insist only that we disagree in a civil manner, and gotten the impression that I expect others to “conform to (my) standards and (my) choices.”

      — “This feels a lot like ‘My country, right or wrong’ or ‘Love it or leave it!’.” It is absolutely NOTHING like that. What I said, quite clearly, was to stand up and say what you mean to say. Better yet, write it out so that you can take care in saying it, and to minimize misunderstanding (although at times, such as this one, I may despair of that being possible). Don’t lash out in destructive ways more likely to cause others to react emotionally rather than listen and understand you.

      — “You’re a product of your upbringing and your experiences.” Yep, I kinda said that. But being a rational creature given to self-examination and self-questioning, I’ve studied those attitudes carefully, and decided whether they were worth sticking with. And everything I’ve said here holds up. I believe in civilization. I believe it is the duty of man to rise above his own beastly nature. And we do that through carefully building up ideas, and institutions that support those ideas, over time. And if you wish to depart from those edifices, then come with a really convincing argument. Don’t just flip it off, because there are a lot of thoughtful people like me (and yes, I dare to call myself that) who will not respect the way you’re approaching the issue.

      — Others have different backgrounds that might not result in the same behaviors you consider “normal.” Yep. But this wasn’t about what is normal and what is not. That never even came up. What I said was that if you want to broadly flip off fundamental institutions in order to make a specific political point, you’re going to lose me and a lot of other people.

      — “But then you think selling a pair of pants on Sunday is a great tragedy. (I know, I know, you don’t care that is Sunday… you just want everyone else to agree with your views on taking a day off — except newspapers).” Nope. No tragedy. Just an abandonment of common sense. I find the quasi-religious horror of libertarians at the commonsense, humane, humanistic concept of taking a day off from the rat race once a week rather puzzling. I don’t think I’ve ever even once proposed, “Let’s bring back Blue Laws.” I’ve never spent an iota of political capital on that. I have other battles to fight. What I have said is that I miss the days when we all had a day off from commerce. I’ve also said that the adamant negative reaction that you and Bud have to that is way over the top, and out of proportion to anything I’ve ever said on the topic.

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      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        By the way, just to clear up another misunderstanding that a lot of my friends here who have no clue what the military is about or what it’s like to grow up with it…

        A lot of you, when you say, “You’re a product of your upbringing and your experiences,” mean, “You’re such a warmongering neocon because you grew up in the military.” Which is so far off-base that I haven’t addressed it because it would take so much explanation. Also, it would mean contrasting my views with those of my father, and I’m too respectful of my father to do something like that publicly.

        But ask around, and I think you’ll find a very broad range of reactions to political issues — including those of war and peace — among military brats. You can start by asking Burl, who differs from me politically on a LOT of things.

        Probably the only thing we have in common is that our views on the military, pro and con, are somewhat better informed than those of people who have had little or no contact with the military in their lives, particularly with regard to the intangibles of the culture and the way of life. This is true even with those military brats who disagree with me about everything and are therefore, by definition, in error. :)

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        1. Doug Ross

          Many of the same institutions you revere because of your upbringing are the same ones that Kapernick takes issue with. Because his (and people like him) have had experiences with those institutions that are quite different than yours.

          Had you been born a poor black child like Navin Johnson, I think your perceptions would be quite different.

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          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Again, I think you’re overassuming when you say, “because of your upbringing.” Pretty much every position I take is the result of having examined and re-examined the issue as an adult working in a skeptical profession. If I think I’ve been conditioned to a certain response, I challenge it and see if it holds up. If it doesn’t, I don’t advocate it. Mark can call that “intellectualizing feelings,” I suppose, but I have a pretty sensitive B.S. detector.

            When I wrote earlier about things I learned at an early age, I was referring to basic things that underlie the way we approach other people and deal with them — regardless of our views on political issues.

            Somewhere, it was internalized in me that it’s important to show respect for things that other people hold dear. This is sometimes a challenge for me, such as when we’re talking about football — I know most of y’all are fond of it, so I’m not quite as dismissive of it as I want to be.

            But I also understand that what one thinks and feels about football is a relatively unimportant matter. How people feel about their religion, their country, their flag, or their family is a place where you have to tread especially lightly. And you don’t win friends and influence people by insulting people’s sensibilities in those realms. Civilized people don’t do that…

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            1. Doug Ross

              Is marriage defined as only between a man and woman one of the fundamental institutions that must be respected in a civilized world?

              How about interracial marriage? women in the workplace? gay adoption? Opposing all of these was at one point (about the time you pine for) considered a fundamental institutional viewpoint.

              Things change… it usually requires getting old folks to give up on their unwavering fundamental beliefs.

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                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I’m trying to decide, as I often do during discussions with Doug, whether he is being deliberately obtuse…

                  How hard is it to understand that disrespecting the symbol of the ENTIRE COUNTRY is a bad first step toward achieving understanding?

                  How hard is it, really, to understand that you don’t get anywhere with people by showing disrespect to symbols, institutions and concepts that are held dear?

                  You want to bring up demographic subgroups? OK… How far do you think you get with gay Americans if you go around talking about how you hate the rainbow flag and everything it stands for? You get nowhere. (Not quite the same thing to gay people as the U.S. flag is to Americans in general, but it was the best analogy I could think of.)

                  Similarly, you don’t get anywhere with the majority of Americans — not hopelessly out-of-it old guys, you way you like to characterize me (based on misreprentations of what I’ve said), but the majority of Americans — by dissing a symbol that stands for the ENTIRE COUNTRY.

                  Right off the bat, you’ve created a huge barrier to people listening to you and considering the merits of your concerns.

                  What do you get with gestures such as this? One thing, and one thing only — attaboys from the choir that thinks just exactly the way you do. That’s about it….

                2. bud

                  “Symbol of the ENTIRE COUNTRY.”

                  Herein lies the rub. Brad you are yet again obsessing, foaming at the mouth really, about a symbol. It’s just not that important. It’s just not.

              1. Doug Ross

                Kneeling or sitting during the anthem is a passive act that others treat as hostile (ref: Mr. Van Loan and your response to it).

                You want Kaepernick to conform first before you’ll consider his grievances (right or wrong). It’s a great diversionary tactic.

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                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Wow, THAT was a weird twist you just put on logic. I think I got whiplash….

                  Anyway, speaking of conformity: Jack criticized Kaepernick for being “long-haired.”

                  Actually, I look at his huge natural and think, That makes a lot of sense. If I were a football player — not that I ever would be (and y’all should stop laughing), but if I were — I’d definitely want that extra shock-absorption between my head and the helmet. Seems pretty smart to me…

  4. bud

    Brad we agree on some things, single payer for example. But I respectfully maintain that you are over-reacting on this kneeling-during-the-national-anthem thing. It’s really just a minor protest over a percieved cultural disrespect by the American majority toward people of color. Kapernick chooses this forum rather than writing an op ed or giving a speech. That’s all he did. He didn’t blow things up or incite a riot for crying out loud. I suggest exaggerating this event could be dangerous. You’ve claimed words are important, so perhaps it would be prudent not to blow this small protest out of proportion.

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    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I haven’t. All I’ve said is that while I probably don’t feel about it the way Jack does, I’m more sympathetic to his view of it than Kaepernick’s. And then I wrote a separate post explaining why, because it occurred to me that it would help explain my approach on a lot of issues — for instance, my belief that street demonstrations are often unhelpful in constructively addressing an issue.

      I’ve hardly said anything about Kaepernick’s specific instance at all.

      And I’ll even say this in Kaepernick’s defense: In a vain attempt to show concern for military veterans’ feelings, he switched from sitting to kneeling. I applaud his intent in doing that, but I will continue to believe that overall, he went about it the wrong way.

      Dramatic gestures that stir emotions without making coherent, specific arguments quite often make things worse, not better. I’m quite convinced of that. I have, after all, devoted the better part of my life to the power of words, and the idea that carefully chosen words are far more constructive than inarticulate, emotional gestures…

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      1. bud

        It’s outrageous. It’s completely uncivilized behavior. I don’t care what your issue is, you don’t do something that amounts to a general “F___ You!” to the entire nation over that one issue.
        -Brad

        Hmmm. Seems like an over-reaction to me. If those are “carefully chosen words” I’d had to see your writing in a drunken rant.

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        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          That was just harrumphing. I rant sometimes, but not in writing. Another reason why it’s best to express controversial ideas in writing. Everything I said in that passage is backed up in the rest of the post.

          If you have something to say, say it. And try to put it in terms that might persuade somebody. Don’t go out of your way to shock people, to disrespect something that they respect deeply, and THEN expect to get a sympathetic reaction. Flipping off something others revere IS outrageous — it’s intended to be. And it’s completely uncivilized to be outrageous in that manner.

          You can’t HAVE a civilization if, instead of engaging in civil discourse, you start difficult conversations by outraging people. If you think that’s constructive, make an argument in favor of it. But you’re going to have to go some to convince me…

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          1. Claus2

            I sense Brad is about to get even more bent out of shape than he already is… the world is not going back to the way it was in the 1950’s when you could tell those who were uncivilized by their leather jackets and slicked back hair. I sense Brad’s been reading a 1940’s copy of Ms. Manner’s book. Pretty soon we’ll be holding doors open for old ladies and only using our middle finger to retrieve that last pickle in the jar.

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            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              OK, now Doug’s got Claus doing it.

              Folks, Brad has said nothing to suggest he wants to “go back to the way things were in the 1950s” — at least, not in this thread.

              Nor am I talking about everyone conforming, or agreeing with me. In fact, I’ve been very clear that I’m talking about people having consideration for the attitudes of OTHER PEOPLE. I’ve been extremely clear about that from the start.

              What I’ve been talking about is the basic building blocks of civil society in this evolving liberal, pluralistic democracy in which we live. I’m talking about the fundamental institutions, ideas and principles that have made the United States the most successful experiment ever in creating a society that insists on tolerance and freedom of conscience. This is NOT some concept frozen in time in the past, but a grown, developing, evolving experiment.

              And yeah, I insist on a basic modicum of respect for that thing and that process, and for the thing that most clearly symbolizes all of that tolerance and freedom of conscience. Otherwise, you lose me. And the purpose of this thread was to explain WHY you lose me. I’m sorry that I didn’t communicate it clearly enough to some of you.

              And that’s what this is about.

              I would never, ever advocate having a law saying you have to stand for the flag. Nor would I advocate for a law against burning the flag. But just as I will defend the right of Colin Kaepernick to express himself by not standing, or someone else to do so by burning the flag, I am equally free to decide, here in the marketplace of ideas, that someone who chooses that mode of expression is being a jerk.

              That’s the way it works. That’s the way it always works, works now and will work in the future. Has nothing to do with the 1950s or the 1850s or anything else.

              Oh, and if you think the institutions that I — as a guy with conservative impulses, as I explained — mentioned here are something confined to the distant past, then maybe you can explain to me what institutions have replaced them? Because without institutions playing those roles, and without a modicum of respect for them, you have nothing but chaos. You no longer have a civilization.

              Now, has respect for those institutions declined in recent years? You bet. And that is a very, very bad thing. It leads us to the very bad place where almost half of voters in the country pull the lever for Trump, the nightmare. Trump is THE embodiment of that disrespect — a guy who cares NOTHING about the institutions or guiding principles of this nation, or anything else. But you can see it in other segments of the society as well — among the neoNazis and the “Antifa” movement (which is NOT the same as asserting they are morally the same, as Trump would say — I’m just pointing out that you see lack of faith in institutions among both), among the Tea Party and Black Lives Matter, and certainly among the people who voted for Bernie Sanders.

              The less respect there is for the nation’s fundamental institutions and principles, the more things will spin out of control. I have no idea what could possibly be worse than a President Trump, but if we continue to give countenance to such lack of civic (secular) faith and respect, things WILL get worse…

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              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Speaking of which, while I’m on this particular tangent…

                A little while ago, I heard an Arizona state legislator being interviewed on NPR. He was asked what he thought of Trump’s speech last night.

                He said an idiotic thing. He said, “Well, I’m a conservative Republican, so I liked it.”

                No, sir. A conservative Republican hears his party’s leader going off the rails the way Trump was doing, and it makes his head want to explode. (Or her head. I refer you to Jennifer Rubin’s, piece on the subject, “Trump in Arizona shows just how unfit he is“)…

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                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  And now, a digression from the digression (enough caffeine, ya think?)…

                  As I often do in listening to people on the radio, I found myself distracted by this guy’s accent. It wasn’t an Arizona accent, I didn’t think. Not that I know what an Arizona accent sounds like.

                  What I mean is that he sounded distinctly Northeastern, which told me he was a transplant. I thought maybe he was from somewhere around Boston. I was concentrating on the way he spoke of Trump’s wall, which he pronounced, “wole” or something along those lines. The guys on “Car Talk” would say it that way. He didn’t have a THICK accent, which made me think it had been softened by his time in Arizona. But there were those little quirks…

                  Nope. He’s from Queens, I found when I looked him up. Oh, well. I’m not always right, as some of you may have noticed…

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  But where would I hear guys like this one?

                  Call it “liberal” all you want, but I’ve never in my life encountered a broadcast news outlet that is more thorough, fair and professional than NPR.

                  They’re the best. They’re even better than most print media…

                3. Richard

                  “Call it “liberal” all you want, but I’ve never in my life encountered a broadcast news outlet that is more thorough, fair and professional than NPR.”

                  Because conservatives are such big NPR listeners.

              2. Claus2

                Got me doing what? Am I doing something I haven’t been doing before?

                Fact is, you’ve talked for years about “civility” and point back to times where men wore plaid hats with little feathers in them outdoors and women wore aprons and stayed at home raising their kids. Times have changed, we’re at a point where in society we hear about people shooting each other in the head on the well into the news stories of the day and it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. We’re in the “Me Generation”, screw everyone else, we’re only worried about how things affect “me”. And as the old saying goes, it’ll get worse before it gets better… likely longer than we’ll be around.

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  5. Bart Rogers

    I guess my reptilian nature surfaced when Kaepernick kneeled and did not stand and honor the flag. As a reptilian, I watch the NFL for the sports entertainment aspect, nothing else, not one damn thing else. If I want to watch or read about someone protesting, there are sources that specialize in bringing the news about protests, etc. It is or was refreshing to be able to sit down and watch a football game without the social aspect interfering with what is honestly, take your head off, sit it on the coffee table, and relax (if you can while your team is losing) for a few hours.

    Now that the NAACP is calling for a boycott if Kap is not signed by a team, it is sucking the life and joy out of what was once something to act as a distraction from the never ending complaints about someone doing something to insult, discriminate against, a freaking Trump tweet, or anything concerning the never ending list of grievances by SJWs.

    Personally, I believe it is disrespectful to not honor the flag when the national anthem is played. But, it is their choice and I have a choice to watch or not. At this point, not watching is in the lead if the Browns, Raiders, and other teams are playing and some players sit or kneel during the anthem. Again, my choice.

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  6. Harry Harris

    I’ve seen as many scoundrels wrap themselves in the flag as I’ve seen dissidents protest the flag and anthem combined. It depends on perspective. I would have thought you, Brad, would consider exactly what Kapernick has done and said rather than read into it and characterize it in extreme terms. I find making clothing out of the flag disrespectful to the flag and flag protocol, but I don’t let it bother me. I can’t see why you want to fan flames over issues and actions that are more distraction than substance. I’ve said before that I think Kapernick has chosen a foolish and counterproductive way to address some real problems, but I don’t get to determine what he does – and I’m not going to try to use economic or social force to try to control him. I’ll just tell him if he asks.

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  7. Bryan Caskey

    “I feel the same way about other institutions of our civilization (and whatever civilization I’m visiting) — the government, our courts, public schools, the Constitution, the Rule of Law, the military, the national anthem, the flag, and yes, motherhood, the girl next door and apple pie (even though I am allergic to apple pie, so that it benefits me on no way). And I expect a modicum of respect for these things from my fellow citizens. They don’t have to exert themselves; they just need to not go out of their way to insult these things.”

    You would have been right about these things maybe 25-30 years ago. We used to have an overarching sense of Americanism that included these things. These things pulled us together to overcome our differences.

    That overarching sense of Americanism is being destroyed, which leaves us as balkanized little interest groups competing for social acceptance and quite frankly, social power. We are being segmented into little individual competing groups with no sense of common identity.

    Kapernick is symptomatic of that.

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      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, that’s been on my mind during this whole discussion. I’m older than you, and remember it clearly. I was just as opposed to that gesture as well.

        As a former board member of the Columbia Urban League and current member of the Community Relations Council, I take a back seat to no one in seeking social justice, with particular attention to the central struggle of U.S. history, the issue of justice to black Americans.

        But being sympathetic to the overall cause makes me, if anything, even angrier at counterproductive gestures such as that. Don’t slap people in the face; persuade them of the justice of your cause…

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        1. Claus2

          “social justice”… one of those PC feel-good terms that really doesn’t do anything other than look good in print.

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              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Actually, here’s a coincidence for you… not an hour after I typed that, my pastor called me to ask if I’d be willing to represent the parish at a meeting about a new citywide “social justice ministry.”

                How’s that for coincidences?

                Maybe he was reading the blog…

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                1. Richard

                  What was your response? I mean other than asking him what he meant by “social justice ministry”. Sounds like something BLM protestors could do better than a blogger.

                2. Richard

                  So in other words, you don’t have a clue as to what this is all about… except that it’s likely to have a liberal agenda.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I know nothing of the kind. Unless social justice is not a conservative value, and as far as I am concerned it is. Peace is a conservative value (war most certainly is not), and as Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice…”

        2. bud

          You’re only a year or 2 older than me. I remember the 68 Olympics very well. The tragedy of the Israeli athletes getting slaughtered is still fresh in my memory. And we’re still fighting terrorists. ( Just looked that up and it occurred in 72 not 68. Still a long time ago.)

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  8. Mark Stewart

    I don’t think I agree with a single one of the comments on this topic; nor the post itself.

    I am reminded of someone insightfully quipping recently “you are intellectualizing feelings.” I was; it’s a surfire way to miss some important stuff in life…

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  9. Claus2

    You’re fighting a losing battle if you’re looking for civility. Look at television, music, entertainment in general… PBS is probably using words that would have gotten a major network kicked off the air 40 years ago. Look at schools, how do kids today act in comparison to when you were in school… did students tell the teacher or administration to “F#%& Off” if they disagreed with them? And they don’t even so much as get kicked out of class for saying it. YouTube is full of “inner city kids” who are being raised to disrespect, it’s funny to them to see a toddler flipping people off and to act and talk like an street thug. Helicopter parents are allowing their precious prince and princess to get away with anything and everything and we’re raising a generation of spoiled brats. I don’t see us returning to the days of Father Knows Best or Leave It To Beaver where kids get sent to the principals office or to their room for saying “Dang it” or “Gosh”.

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      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yep, I’ve done it again — spent what little time I had available today for blogging responding to comments rather than posting new material.

        Not what anyone would call a smart SEO strategy…

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  10. Phillip

    The whole national anthem thing at sporting events long ago became (in the marquee events like NFL games and NBA playoffs, World Series, etc) somewhat tawdry and certainly disrespectful to the anthem and the aspirational spirit I think it represents, nothing to do with Kaepernick or Tommie Smith and John Carlos or Marshawn Lynch. At these events the singing of the anthem has turned into an episode of American Idol or The Voice—where pop icons vie to “make the anthem their own” to the point of distorting the original. The main problem is that the anthem has become a moment to focus on the performer and the performance rather than the actual purpose of coming together to sing the anthem.

    So that makes it a little harder for me to get worked up about Kaepernick or to totally sign on to the outrage over his disgracing a ritual which for me seems frequently disrespected already. Having said that, I think there are many other ways Kaepernick or others in his position can effectively bring attention to the issues about which they are passionate, and I would probably agree with him about most of those issues…but as for me I stand for the anthem because it represents the aspiration of the country to continue to strive to live up to its ideals. Maybe that’s the “overarching sense of Americanism” to which Bryan referred above.

    Reply
    1. bud

      Overarching sense of Americanism. Now that’s a phrase I can embrace. Certainly far superior to the smug, condescending American exceptionalism. Either way I think it’s a mistake to believe we ever realized this ideal state of existence. Romanticizing the past can be dangerous.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        There’s nothing smug or condescending about American exceptionalism. It’s a fact — or it was all my life until Trump was elected — and it is a call to responsibility, not something you put on a pedestal and admire.

        And what “ideal state of existence” are you talking about? And what “romanticizing the past?”

        Speaking of which… noticing that “Gone With the Wind” was available for free via Amazon Prime, I started streaming it. Then I left the room during the “Overture” (what tedious pomposity) and came back in time to read the words that introduce the movie:

        There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South…
        Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow..
        Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies, of Master and of Slave…
        Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered.

        A Civilization gone with the wind…

        Take note: That is romanticizing the past…

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Note that phrase… “of Knights and their Ladies, of Master and of Slave.”

          The implication is that “Master and Slave” is somehow just as romantic as “Knights and their Ladies.”

          That was 1939.

          Also, a thing only an editor would notice… the intro really did put two dots after “bow.” So you had neither a period nor an ellipsis. This jumps out at me more than it would most editors because as you will have noticed, I have an affinity for the generous use of ellipses…. (My youngest daughter once asked why I do that so much. I explained that it’s my way of saying that much more could be said, that what I have written is not the last word…)

          When I see stuff like that — in books, or in movies that I know many, many people have worked hard on — I marvel at them. A typo in a blog or in a daily newspaper (where everything is done in a rush) is one thing. But in a movie that was as big a production as “Gone With the Wind?” The carelessness is amazing…

          Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        This is another one of those things I was talking about earlier today when I referred to the complexity of history.

        America’s role in the world just is, as a result of the history of the past century. To pretend that it’s not there — the way Trump has done with the Paris accord and TPP — is to abdicate a real responsibility that we have as the world’s leading power…

        Reply
      2. Doug Ross

        Aside from people living in third world countries, which other countries’ residents recognize that exceptionalism and are trying to migrate here?

        Calling yourself exceptional is a good way to get others to look at you sideways and say “Oh, really?”

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And you’ll get that attitude out on the street in a lot of countries sometimes. But you won’t find it so much in the halls of power, or anywhere there are people who know the score and have to deal with realities. (You know, EXPERTS — the kind of people the Trumpistas hate.)

          And we’re talking First World here, not Third. (I think you’re talking about a different thing — the lure of the American Dream to so many people around the globe, making them want to be Americans.)

          Of course, the fact that so many policymakers in allied countries rely on U.S. leadership (and burden-shouldering) is something that sticks in the craw of Trump and his supporters, who think this means America gets a raw deal.

          But you want to see raw deals, just pull back and leave a vacuum — the way we’re doing with withdrawal from TPP, inviting the nations of the western Pacific to turn to China as the dominant force in their affairs….

          Of course, I know that not one word of anything I’m saying will have any effect on the fact that you and bud utterly and completely reject ALL of the underlying assumptions. Which is why I don’t want to waste time getting into it with you at length. But I’m less worried about y’all, and infinitely more worried about the fact that for the first time in my life, people with no clue about these things and couldn’t care less about them are IN CHARGE… Compared to that, the fact that I can’t get y’all to agree is a pretty small thing…

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Speaking of which… Foreign Affairs has a piece this month headlined “Trump and the Allies.”

            I like the way it starts, which can serve as a primer to folks who don’t normally think about such things, not that it will change their views:

            In the 1940s, after two world wars and a depression, Western policymakers decided enough was enough. Unless international politics changed in some fundamental way, humanity itself might not survive much longer.

            A strain of liberal idealism had been integral to U.S. identity from the American founding onward, but now power could be put behind principle. Woodrow Wilson had fought “to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles.” Keeping his goals while noting his failures, the next generation tried again with a revised strategy, and this time they succeeded. The result became known as the postwar liberal international order.

            The founders of the order embraced cooperation with like-minded powers, rejecting isolationism and casting themselves as player-managers of an ever-expanding team. They bailed out the United Kingdom, liberated France, rehabilitated Germany and Japan, bound themselves to Canada and Mexico, and more. And for seven decades, the allies were fruitful, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty.

            Then arose up a new king who knew not Joseph….

            … and that’s what the world is dealing with now…

            Anyway, I thought that was a nice, neat description of the world order that Trump would destroy…

            Reply
          2. Doug Ross

            Usually things that are exceptional don’t require defending the categorization. The U.S. had had some exceptional moments and some horrendous ones.

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              That’s kind of not what is meant when we say “exceptionalism.”

              The Wikipedia definition comes close to what I mean, if you change a couple of words:

              American exceptionalism is one of three related ideas. The first is that the history of the United States is inherently different from that of other nations.[2] In this view, American exceptionalism stems from the American Revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation”[3] and developing the uniquely American ideology of “Americanism”, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy, and laissez-faire economics. This ideology itself is often referred to as “American exceptionalism.”[4] Second is the idea that the U.S. has a unique mission to transform the world. Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg address (1863), that Americans have a duty to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Third is the sense that the United States’ history and mission gives it a superiority over other nations.

              The couple of words you change are “superiority over.” You change those to “unique responsibility among.” That gets you toward what Madeleine Albright was on about with the “indispensable nation” thing.

              If you keep in the “superiority over,” then you’re using the definition of two groups of people: First, those who OPPOSE the idea of American exceptionalism, and wish to defne it in a way that gives them an excuse to object to it. Second, the kinds of jerks who believe in that sort of exceptionalism — the kind that the opponents of exceptionalism like to claim all of us are…

              Reply
  11. Phillip

    Your preference for “unique responsibility among” rather than “superiority over” in the definition of “exceptionalism” is just a feat of semantic gymnastics designed to make yourself feel more virtuous about your viewpoint. “Responsibility” in this case is self-assigned, that is, the United States arrogates for itself this “responsibility” globally.

    Then, “unique”: The US continues to go to enormous lengths, at the expense of other needs of our nation and society, to ensure that we are the most powerful and dominant military force in the history of the planet. It does so in order to preserve the “uniqueness” of the ability to carry out the “responsibility” that it designates for itself. Both ends of the equation (“unique,” “responsibility”) justify each other, in this ingenious, circular construction. And it sounds so much nobler than “superiority over.”

    But as one commenter on a recent Bret Stephens waste-of-space-column put it so succinctly, “The rules that apply to other nations are irrelevant to us since we are the indispensable and exceptional superpower.” We self-grant the right to actions on the world stage that we generally would not accept or tolerate from any other nation.

    The American “ideal” as originally conceived was rather exceptional in its time. When we strive to make our own society get ever closer to those ideals of equality and liberty and justice for all, when we serve as a beacon to others in the world because of the example we set on our own soil, that’s when we honor those exceptional ideals.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey

      I know that most people consider Blonde on Blonde Bob Dylan’s best album, but I think his later album, Semantic Gymnastics is underrated and deserves more critical acclaim.

      Reply
    2. Doug Ross

      Phillip all too often expresses so much better what I am trying to say. Please run for Senator, Phillip! The debates with Lindsey would be glorious.

      Reply
    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Seeing as it’s Phillip and I have the greatest respect for him, I’m not going to send my seconds to confer with his seconds over his having called me a liar. Which is the only way I know to take “a feat of semantic gymnastics designed to make yourself feel more virtuous about your viewpoint.”

      I’ll just say, actually, no. There are no gymnastics involved when you’re saying exactly what you mean, and I’m saying exactly what I mean. As I suggested, there are people who DO think that way — the “superiority over” way. As I also said, people who dislike the phrase “American exceptionalism” — generally post-Vietnam liberals (as opposed to pre-Vietnam liberals, who saw things as I do) — like to paint the rest of us with that same brush, as a way of dismissing our views. As though we were a bunch of Steve Bannons or something.

      But that’s not the main point I wish to argue. The larger point is that this assertion is completely wrong: “‘Responsibility’ in this case is self-assigned, that is, the United States arrogates for itself this ‘responsibility’ globally.”

      Not at all. Through various security and other diplomatic arrangements, other liberal democracies have looked to the United States for leadership and support in many ways since 1945. This is most obvious through NATO, but through other arrangements as well.

      Again, I refer y’all to the start of that Foreign Affairs piece:

      In the 1940s, after two world wars and a depression, Western policymakers decided enough was enough. Unless international politics changed in some fundamental way, humanity itself might not survive much longer.

      A strain of liberal idealism had been integral to U.S. identity from the American founding onward, but now power could be put behind principle. Woodrow Wilson had fought “to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles.” Keeping his goals while noting his failures, the next generation tried again with a revised strategy, and this time they succeeded. The result became known as the postwar liberal international order.

      The founders of the order embraced cooperation with like-minded powers, rejecting isolationism and casting themselves as player-managers of an ever-expanding team. They bailed out the United Kingdom, liberated France, rehabilitated Germany and Japan, bound themselves to Canada and Mexico, and more. And for seven decades, the allies were fruitful, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty.

      Then arose up a new king who knew not Joseph….

      And we know who that king is.

      But it’s not just about him. A startling array of people coming from many places on the political spectrum simply don’t believe in the postwar consensus that formed under FDR and Truman.

      For a generation, that consensus stayed strong and almost unchallenged, with Democrats and Republicans differing mainly over how best to fulfill that role. Then things started breaking up over Vietnam, but the basic assumption that this country had obligations in the world continued, with variations in emphasis, through the Obama administration.

      Now, it’s really under siege.

      I mentioned Steve Bannon earlier. He, of course, doesn’t believe in our international obligations in part BECAUSE he believes the U.S. is inherently superior. He’s sort of like those Chinese emperors who, with China poised at least as well as Portugal and Spain to become a global trading and naval power, suddenly closed their country off to the world, under the theory that China was the center of the universe and superior to all other nations, so why have dealings with them?

      Then there are the post-Vietnam liberals to whom I referred, and I hope Phillip doesn’t mind if I put him roughly in that category — I stand ready to be corrected if I’m being presumptuous.

      Then there are the libertarians like Doug and the Pauls, Ron and Rand. They hate the idea of the United States having a military for anything much beyond patrolling the border with Mexico. (No, wait — that last part took me back to Bannon.)

      Then there are the socialists, the Bernie Sanders types, who in opposition to the libertarians WANT a big state, but they only want it to exist to shower blessings on the populace domestically. They get impatient at the very idea of talking foreign affairs. This is in some ways like the post-Vietnam liberals, only much more so.

      Then there are the ideological yahoos who have taken over the Republican Party, sharing some characteristics with the Bannon types and some with the libertarians. They can’t see over the edges of the narrow boxes they build around themselves, much less see beyond our borders.

      The all have their motivations. One group just wants the U.S. to strut, out of the world’s reach. Another want America to be humble. Another wants it to be small. Another wants it to be inward-looking in a solipsistic manner. Another can’t see anything past the next GOP primary.

      There’s no room in any of their views for a United States that would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

      Anyway, that thing that JFK said there? That’s American exceptionalism.

      Reply

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