Politics & Policy

When the Enemy of Your Enemy Is — Your Enemy

President Trump takes a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta, February 17, 2017. (Reuters photo: KIm Lamarque)
Ideas and values should matter more than tribal identity.

In November, students at a historically black university in New Orleans led a massive protest against a speaker heavily supportive of Donald Trump. Socially Engaged Dillard University Students, the group organizing against the speaker, wrote an open letter: “His presence on our campus is not welcome, and overtly subjects the entire student body to safety risks and social ridicule. This is simply outrageous.”

The speaker’s safety was guaranteed by the university, and he proceeded to explain, “I will be Donald Trump’s most loyal advocate.”

The protesters were of the political Left; they chanted, “No KKK! No fascist USA!” Protesters were hit with pepper spray, and two were arrested.

So, here’s the question: Did this make inviting the speaker worthwhile?

The answer should be obvious: From this account of events, you don’t have enough information to say. The speaker could have been Sheriff David Clarke or Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich.

But it wasn’t. It was David Duke, who also said, at the same event, “There is a problem in America with a very strong, powerful, tribal group that dominates our media and dominates our international banking. I’m not opposed to all Jews.”

If you did not answer that the story provided too little information for you to judge, it’s time to check your biases. Did you decide that the speaker was on the right because the protesters were on the left? Did you decide that the speaker had something valuable to say if he ticked off the Left enough, if he melted enough snowflakes?

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Unfortunately, many conservatives have embraced this sort of binary thinking: If it angers the Left, it must be virtuous. Undoubtedly, that’s a crude shorthand for political thinking. It means you never have to check the ideas of the speaker, you merely have to check how people respond to him.

That’s dangerous. It leads to supporting bad policies and bad men. The enemy of your enemy isn’t always your friend. Sometimes he’s your enemy. Sometimes he’s just a dude sitting there minding his own business.

You don’t have enough information to know.

The logic of “if he melts snowflakes, he’s one of us” actually hands power to the Left, by allowing leftists to define conservatives’ friends. It gets to choose whom we support. This isn’t speculative. It happened during the 2016 primaries, when the media attacked Trump incessantly, driving Republicans into his outstretched arms. The media’s obvious hatred for Trump was one of the chief arguments for Trump from his advocates: If, as his detractors claimed, he wasn’t conservative, then why would the leftist media hate him so much?

The logic of ‘if he melts snowflakes, he’s one of us’ actually hands power to the Left, by allowing leftists to define conservatives’ friends.

To be fair, after Mitt Romney’s bludgeoning at the hands of the media, there was at least a shred of justification for this logic. Romney wasn’t a hard-core conservative, wasn’t a personal shambles, and got savaged by the media anyway, simply for the sin of having an R after his name. The same happened to John McCain, a “maverick” Republican the leftist media had openly pushed for years. If the media opposed Trump with all their heart and all their soul, that must have been some sort of reaction to Trump himself.

It wasn’t, though. It was a combination of factors, including the fact that Trump was amazing press and the press thought Trump an unusually weak candidate. More-honest leftist commentators openly preferred Trump to more-conservative candidates such as Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

But Trump’s war with the media carried him to the nomination, and from there to the presidency.

In fact, Trump continues to live off of this backward logic. His press conference last week was no ballet of informational expertise and policy knowledge, nor was it a brilliant recasting of his policy successes. It was a blunderbuss attack on the media, entertaining in the extreme, occasionally daft, occasionally ridiculous. Yet many on the right immediately concluded that it was the most successful press conference in world history, not because it was successful with Americans per se — there was no evidence of that — but because it was a successful assault on the media, who had it coming.

Never mind if Trump lied to the media. They were angry. That showed it worked. Watching Chuck Todd fulminate and Chris Wallace rage and Don Lemon bemusedly tut-tut scratched conservatives where they itch — and it made Trump a hero.

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None of this is to argue that Trump is a leftist or that conservatives are wrong to support many of his policy prescriptions. But if your standard of right and wrong is whether the Left hates it, you’re making a category error.

It’s not good enough to just be opposed by the Left – you must actually oppose the Left. We must ask what someone is fighting against, not merely whom. We must ask what tools they’re using — and we must insist they use the truth. Ideas and values matter more than identity.

But not anymore. The Left’s identity politics is focused on racial, ethnic, and sexual identity — aspects of identity that place you somewhere in the hierarchy of intersectionality. The Right’s identity politics comes with a label: enemy of the Left. So long as you’re wearing that button, you’re presumptively on our side and you’re nearly bulletproof.

Until it turns out that you’re not. Until we jump the wrong way because we substituted political laziness for a philosophy. Until we embrace somebody nasty because the other side hated him or her and stop caring about truth so long as the other side is triggered.

Then we become the bad guys. And that’s a problem.

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