This piece ran in newspapers at the end of May, 2022.
America’s crisis is systemic. By which I mean that the way the Conservative part of America has developed is connected with the way the Liberal part of America has developed, because they are in interaction with each other and influencing each other.
More specifically, if Liberal America had not been so weak, the Force of Brokenness that has taken over Conservative America would never have been able to grow so strong.
In countless columns here, I’ve illustrated how the force that has taken over Conservative America has been working – increasingly aggressively — to break up what’s good in our nation. Given our two-party system, that inescapably meant that it would fall to Liberal America to protect the nation.
Here, I will offer my understanding of what defects in Liberal America have contributed to its inability to protect the nation adequately from the destructive force that’s hijacked Conservative America.
- An Aversion to Conflict
In Liberal America, there’s a general reluctance to choose the path of combat. In part, it is the result of a genuinely held set of values in which goodwill and cooperation are paramount. In part, it is the result of a lack of “stomach” for the battle.
There are many circumstances in which the world benefits from the liberals’ orientation toward working cooperatively and in good faith with people on “the other side.” But when the other side has no interest in a cooperative outcome, and does not operate in good faith, the contemporary liberal fear of fighting can be disastrous for the world.
(This fear of fighting is not intrinsic to liberalism – FDR would have had no difficulty taking on the necessary battle – but rather has taken hold of the Democratic Party during my lifetime.)
One needs a repertoire of behavioral options to fit diverse circumstances. And Liberal America has been very slow to develop an alternative to working with their “friends across the aisle,” when the other side of the aisle has become inflamed with enmity.
- Confusion about the Profound Reality of “Value”
In Liberal America, a confusion of understanding about matters of Good and Evil, right and wrong, has weakened its ability to stand up to a Force of Brokenness.
On the one hand, liberal culture has genuine values. On the other hand, that culture has absorbed some notions from some philosophies of the past century according to which only what is “objective” is real, and whatever is grounded in lived experience is dismissed as “merely subjective,” and less than real.
(I’ve had students, even Bible-believing students, say things like “What the Nazis did at Auschwitz isn’t what I would have done. But what they did was according to their values, and so it was right for them.”)
The notion that moral judgments are mere matters of opinion, and that one cannot justifiably declare something as simply wrong, weakens a culture’s moral passions.
Such a tentative and tepid commitment to the idea of the Good is a serious handicap in the face of a political party that is being taken over by a Force of Brokenness, becoming willing to trample on whatever gets in the way of its drive for power. That moral confusion led Liberal America to stand aside as the supporters of the conservative party were being misled into mistaking the Evil for the Good.
Indeed, Liberal America has been encumbered with a worldview in which there is no place for “Evil” — i.e. for a Force that consistently acts in ways that makes things worse. So when the other side gets taken over by “a coherent force that consistently spreads a pattern of brokenness” which is how I define “Evil” — Liberal America will be incapable of recognizing what it’s up against. (And thus how the battle must be fought.)
Not Seeing Things Whole
In my lifetime, there’s been a change in American intellectual culture — which is an important part of Liberal culture. While I was getting educated – in the 50s and 60s – there were some Big Picture perspectives on the human world that had widespread followings among thinkers. Now, there’s nothing comparable, nor is there even a market for such integrative understandings. The picture now is piece by piece.
That has disabled Liberal America from perceiving broader patterns. And seeing how the once -respectable Republican Party was being transformed required putting the specific pieces in “today’s news” together to perceive the larger picture.
Repeatedly, over the past 17 years, I’ve asked liberal audiences, “What do we call something that…” and then I provided a list, with items like:
- takes from the poor to give to the rich;
- divides groups of people against each other;
- prefers conflict to cooperation;
- deals consistently in lies; etc.
Without seeing things whole, one can’t see that “coherent force,” nor how it “consistently spreads a pattern of brokenness.”
It’s said in baseball, “You can’t hit what you can’t see.” And Liberal America – disabled from its habits of fragmented thinking – has failed to “see” the Force that’s taken over the political right, and consequently has been unable to “hit” it as the nation has required.
Liberal America – with its heart in the right place, but weakened by these forms of brokenness – has proved a feeble protector of the nation from the destructive force that’s overtaken the right.