We are in love with the apocalypse.
Doomsday thinking justifies anything. If Armageddon lies just beyond the horizon, then all measures are worthwhile in staving it off. Armageddon simplifies the complex. It makes all decisions clear. Judeo-Christian moral qualms are minimized in the face of an implacable enemy bent on bringing hell down to earth.
In an age when nearly nobody has served in the military against an actual existential foe, too many Americans dream of a war that will provide meaning and clarity. They watch The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones and imagine themselves fighting a faceless enemy, making easy moral decisions. They watch comic-book films and thrill to the fictional antics of those saving the world. In war, at least in theory for the layman, all moral decisions boil down to one: Does it help our side win?
The Left has flattered itself with such illusions since the 1960s. They launched wars on drugs and poverty and repressive Judeo-Christian sexual mores. They saw themselves as guerillas in the fight against a racist, imperialist American government. Imbued with the moral superiority of an existential fight, the Left granted itself license to do anything, to justify anything. As Saul Alinsky put it: “In war, the end justifies almost any means.”
For two decades, the warlike mentality of the Left crept into remission. But then, with the war in Iraq, it was reinvigorated. That wartime mentality was exacerbated by President Obama, who divided Americans into political battalions by race, class, and sexual orientation, and activated his electoral army to support his grand strategy. Rioters were treated as shock troops, overzealous but necessary. Violent protesters were tut-tutted on college campuses and at campaign events. The Left said that words were violence — and acted accordingly.
With the rise of President Trump, apocalyptic thinking has increased exponentially.
The Left has declared time and again that the end is imminent: President Trump’s pullout from the Paris accords, ridiculously enough, meant that the planet would turn into an oven, roasting the flesh of babes and swamping cities with rising tides; Trump’s utterly unproven Russian collusion spelled the end of the American democratic experiment; Trumpcare would kill millions. With the end so near, how could the Left be blamed for deploying all of its tactics, from astroturfed boycotts to political intimidation, to stop the oncoming onslaught? A tiny coterie of leftists has even embraced the actual logic of war: In war, people die. In the aftermath of the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.), Joy Reid said on MSNBC, “It’s a delicate thing, because everybody is wishing the congressman well and hoping that he recovers, but Steve Scalise has a history that we’ve all been forced to sort of ignore on race.”
Apocalyptic thinking of the Left — and its commensurately unmoored rhetoric and behavior — drove the rise of doomsday thinking on the right.
The creeping despair of apocalyptic thinking began with President Obama, who utilized his massive popularity to target his political enemies, mobilizing his leftist media allies as a propaganda army willing to ignore his sins and champion his programs. That despair snowballed with the passage of Obamacare and crescendoed with the defeat of Mitt Romney, an honorable man who fell victim to the Left’s troll-based election scheme. The anger reached its apex with the Republican inability to fulfill promises about stopping either Obamacare or President Obama’s executive amnesty.
Conservatives felt that the political apocalypse was upon them. The country was at risk, the Constitution a dead letter. Hillary Clinton, the most corrupt politician of our lifetime, was on the verge of the presidency.
It was the political apocalypse. It was doomsday.
Unlike the Left, however, the Right had a guiding Judeo-Christian moral compass written into its political education. The notion of individually virtuous behavior restrained conservatives from likening political warfare to actual warfare, from applying wartime morality to peacetime politics.
The election of President Trump liberated some conservatives from the shackles of that morality. It wasn’t that Trump won; it wasn’t merely that Hillary lost. It was how Trump won: by dumping the trappings of virtue, by reveling in fibs and vulgarities and superfluous cruelties and violent chatter. Because so many conservatives thought Trump would lose, they were convinced when he won that he won because of his bellicose behavior, not in spite of it. Trump, the Right convinced itself, won because he saw more clearly than anyone else that a war was upon us, and he fought a war like a war.
Trump, the Right convinced itself, won because he saw more clearly than anyone else that a war was upon us, and he fought a war like a war.
All of which meant that the solution to political despair was more political warfare. Toss “muh principles” at the door. An eye for an eye. In fact, a preemptive eye for a prospective eye. To defeat the Left, we must imitate the Left. What’s more, you’re a coward and a spoilsport if you say differently. No more moral struggles. Win! Win at all costs! Rally to your general! The fate of the republic is at stake!
This is dangerous stuff. It’s dangerous when the Left peddles it — but it’s also self-defeating, since most Americans don’t think of the country as irrevocably split. There’s a reason Democrats have lost 1,000 legislative seats across the country, nearly two-thirds of governorships, the House, the Senate, and the presidency.
It’s far more dangerous when the self-stated guardians of Judeo-Christian morality declare war. Then nobody is left to stand for decent behavior — to remind us that we are brothers rather than enemies, that the proper response to an unhinged violent attack on members of Congress isn’t storming a stage at a play in Central Park, and that the proper response to a judicial verdict you don’t like isn’t setting local stores on fire.
This isn’t The Walking Dead. It’s not a Batman movie. It’s a constitutional republic.
When people who have never seen war begin championing wartime tactics with such alacrity, they bring actual violence closer. But this isn’t The Walking Dead. It’s not a Batman movie. It’s a constitutional republic with a social fabric that frays every time we jettison traditional morality for wartime tactics.
— Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of the Daily Wire.