Yesterday I was reading a book review in the New York Times. It was David French’s review of Andrew Sullivan’s collection of essays, “Out on a Limb.” I like both French and Sullivan. They’re good and honest writers, though each is more conservative than I am.
Anyway, I came across this in French’s review: “First, it is crystal clear that Sullivan is not on your team. He’s not on anyone’s team. Even when he endorses a politician and sings his or her praises, you know that praise is contingent. He reserves the right to try any politician, and find him wanting.”
I read that and I thought to myself, subtract millions of readers, much of the talent and all of the national acclaim, and that’s me. I am not on your team.
A few weeks ago, when I was beating up on Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers for signing a thoroughly Republican budget, I heard from some of my dyed-in-the-wool Democratic friends asking me to lay the hell off. He was our governor and he was the best we could do right now.
I was polite. I took the criticism in the best humor I could. But all the while I was thinking, well, he’s not my governor. I don’t have a governor. I’ve never had one in the sense that I would support a governor or any politician, organization or movement right or wrong, for better or worse. I’m for people and institutions when I think they’re right. I’m against them when I think they’re wrong.
I’m a Democrat only in the sense that I always vote for Democrats, not out of any sense of party loyalty, but simply because Democrats match up better with my center-left views. And these days, as the party of Trump, the Republicans are no where close to ever getting my vote. But I wouldn’t defend a Democratic politician for doing something I thought was stupid and I wouldn’t criticize a Republican just because he’s a Republican. So, I don’t mind being identified as a Democrat, but I am in no way a partisan.
That’s not to say there aren’t things worth being loyal to. I try to be loyal to my family and friends and to certain ideas, mostly classical liberal ideas like free speech, the rule of law, pluralism and that kind of thing. I am also loyal to the Milwaukee Brewers, but less so to the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Bucks and the UW teams. I do not know why. I guess I just like baseball more. And I am unwaveringly loyal to my dog, Maple. She returns the favor. She is the best dog ever and I won’t accept an argument.
Now, some of you might see my limited loyalties as a character flaw, but I see it as a virtue. In fact, I’m reading an excellent book right now by another of my favorite writers, Jonah Goldberg. His basic case in “Suicide of the West” is that tribalism is baked in to human nature and that classical liberalism is at war with that. Human nature will always tend toward the rich and powerful rewarding their friends and family members and other members of their expanded tribe. But liberalism asks us to look beyond all that to the merits of the individual, and it calls on us to reward merit regardless of whether or not the person has any tribal connection to us.
That seems to me to be the fundamental thing that the woke left just doesn’t get or maybe just refuses to recognize. The road to equality (and maybe even “equity”) lies precisely in the liberal values that purveyors of Critical Race Theory want to reject. Liberalism doesn’t defend privilege based on race or gender; liberalism’s goal is to break it down entirely and to reward the individual based on his or her own merit. Of course, liberalism hasn’t been perfected. History hasn’t ended. It’s a journey, but one that’s still progressing.
So, in my view, classical liberalism (one thing to which I am truly loyal) is fundamentally opposed to tribalism. And, in that sense, it’s a virtue not to be loyal to politicians or parties, but to evaluate each one and each action on its own merits.
Welcome to the 173rd consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!