I am glad I am not THERE anymore

If you have lived a long time, you have held views you no longer hold. Your choice, from the place you are now, is how to regard those views you once held. [1]

I want to emphasize that this is all about narrative-building. You do not, in fact, know why you held the views you once held. Nor is is “true,” exactly, that those views were a stumbling block that you finally surmounted or a scaffolding that enabled you to build the (much superior) views you hold today. Or a sequence of views you held as you served your apprenticeship to your parents, or to your commanding officer, or to your professor, or to your employer.  You can buy this hoodie, apparently.  It means “Control my own narrative.”

All those things are necessary parts of your self-narrative. You can’t really get rid of live there 4them, so you have to assert some functional role for each. We hear this all the time, “Back when I was young and naive….” someone will say, implying that his present views have somehow escaped that naiveté. “My Sunday School teacher always said…” is the beginning of a rejection of that position—or, more likely, a caricature of that position—and a celebration that it has been discarded. [2] Sometimes you hear a narrative placement like, “Our parents always insisted that we…” and this is particularly true if the speaker is trying to assert the continuity of those early practices with his current practices.

I’ve told those stories a lot of times myself. Mostly, they are “love ‘em and leave ‘em” narratives. I say that I grew up with a certain set of views (or a certain way of establishing my views) [3] and they were good for me at the time but eventually, I grew out of them. Or I was forced out. Or I became much more attracted to some other view and found I could not hold both.

I’ve been thinking about a political version of my narrative recently. The most recent turning point is how I used to be a liberal. But I am much more familiar with the religious narrative so I think I’ll start with that one and then move over to the political one when I have built up enough speed. If any of you have been on both of those journeys, you may have comments of your own to make.

Religious Narrative

I was raised in a religiously conservative home. My father and my mother held different, but compatible, ideas of what a good Christian life would look like. Naturally, I absorbed some of each. The conservatism I learned in college [4] was much more systematic and much more Calvinist than anything I had learned at home. Biblical scholarship at Wheaton was recruited to hold its conservative views in place and to give them a solid intellectual backing. It didn’t work that way for me. The more I embraced the scholarship, the less I embraced the conservatism.

live there 3So I became a liberal. Kind of. [5] And like a lot of liberals who had once been conservatives, I belittled the conservative views. This was my first experience with “I’m glad I am not there anymore” (IGIANTA). The liberalism I graduated to had a great deal of anti-conservatism in it and I enjoyed both the breadth of scholarship to which my new liberal appetites directed me and also the regular belittling of the views I once held. [6] I told “fundy” (fundamentalist) jokes the way we used to tell “dumb blonde” jokes.

But I got tired of it, eventually. The views I held then were made up of equal parts rejection of conservatism and attraction to liberal scholarship. [7] Initially, perhaps, even more rejection than attraction. Then I moved on to a commitment to liberal scholarship without having to bash my former colleagues in passing. That is my position now.

So those people who occupy the place where I lived until that last ten years or so, are now “where I used to live” and I have the same rejection of their views that I once had of conservatism. The relentless banging on conservatives—they are stupid, they are racist, they are hypocrites, etc.—-seems so unnecessary. I wish “they”—the people who are still doing what I myself was doing until recently—would just knock it off. There are such wonderful positive engaging things to be learned in scripture and to be celebrated; why waste all that venom on conservatives.

I am well aware that there were people who felt exactly that way about me in my conservative-rejecting liberal phase. I am sure they had every right to. But now I feel that way myself, so it seems so much more reasonable now. I call this the “love ‘em and leave ‘em” mode. I liked being where I was, but now I am somewhere else.

Political Narrative

I was raised conservative politically, too. I didn’t know it until I moved away from home and was able to look back and see my political upbringing as a particular kind, one that fit into a particular category. Colin Woodard in his book American Nations would say that I grew up in Greater Appalachia. When I discovered this, I became a liberal. Of sorts. [8]

And having become a liberal, I disparaged conservatives, particularly conservatives of the kind I was. I had escaped. I was now a butterfly. I exercised my contempt for colleagues who were still caterpillars. I think I did manage to grow out of that phase so far as the damning of conservatives is concerned. “Damning” just isn’t as much fun as it used to be.

But my real problem with liberalism is its break to the left. Continuing to hold the views I held as a “liberal” now make me almost conservative. This is like one of those jokes where everyone else in line takes a step backward and you discover that you have just volunteered for something.

I don’t want to be the one who breaks the news, but partisan politics in our time has live there 6become a blood sport. This isn’t something Donald Trump did. This is the social change that gave us Donald Trump. Years of economic stagnation have left their mark. The effectiveness of ridicule and disparagement of one’s political colleagues pioneered at the national level by Newt Gingrich and widely adopted by Republicans has also left its mark. The moral condemnation of many traditional voters as “haters” of one kind or another has become standard practice by liberals and that, too, has left its mark.

Liberalism, which used to attract me by its hopes and its more generous policies for the welfare of society, seems to have degenerated into angry accusations about the immorality and the stupidity and the racism of conservatives. Liberalism has been weaponized as a political movement and I don’t see that as a way to restore the legitimacy of democratic government.

And that’s what I want. I want to be governed by institutions and leaders that are broadly seen as legitimate. They were properly elected and have the right to govern in what they see as the interest of the public until they are replaced in office by voters. That, in case you have not noticed, is not what we are doing now and I would like to move back in that direction. So the liberalism that broadens and deepens its disparagement of conservatives is why I’m glad I am not there anymore And IGIANTA to you as well.

I haven’t tried to devise a name for my current position yet, but perhaps “post-liberal moderate” would do as a starter. I now run the risk of alienation from my friends who think of their bellicosity as “being true to the cause” and of my hankering for a post-war peace accord as being “untrue to the cause.” And they are right, in a way. If “the cause” is weaponized liberalism, I am not being true to it. It is not going to get me anywhere I want to go.

I’ve already said where I want to go. I want to have a government characterized by respected legitimate institutions and I want a politics that will allow the maintenance and use of those institutions. Maybe an example would help here. Liberals and conservatives have differed for years on tax policy. As a caricature—good enough for this one example—if the liberals, when in office, bent the IRS toward their tax preferences (and the conservatives the same), that would preserve the legitimacy of the IRS. If the elected government thinks of itself as the Mafia and uses whatever tools it has to destroy its enemies, that would not preserve the legitimacy of the IRS.

Partisan political competition has already been weaponized. When the government itself is weaponized, the era of free and fair elections and of legitimate government is over. My liberal friends don’t see it that way. They want to win the political wars, thinking, I suppose that they will govern freely and fairly when they win.

That seems short-sighted to me, for reasons I will have to explore at another time. [9] The point here is that I am having to disparage the people (liberals) whose views represent the achievement of my youth and middle age. I am genuinely attracted to the reconstruction of legitimate government. I know that means de-escalating the political wars. It does not mean unilateral disarmament, but it does mean detente.

So the liberalism of most of my life is somewhere I have had to leave. What I want to do is to continue to value my liberal friends—including those who think that weaponizing politics is the only way to be true to the cause—and to work toward practical cooperation with those conservatives who are tired of teeter-totter. About that liberalism, I have to say IGIANTA.

I’m post-partisan. I’m bipartisan. I think there is no way to have legitimate government without electing people who care more about the public good than they do about cheap partisan victories.

I have no interest in people who care more about the public good than they do about being elected. If they don’t get elected, they are of no use to me at all.

But they can take the honest and difficult path instead of the cheap and easy path.

That’s where I want to be.

[1] This is as nearly true of me as it is of you. I’m just trying to stabilize the pronouns.
[2] It is awkward if you, yourself, hold the view that the speaker attributes to his ignorant, self-righteous, and dogmatic Sunday School teacher, but sometimes that happens.
[3] Experience and authority are the two major ones, especially if you include the results of research in “experience.”
[4] Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. When I was there, Wheaton was still calling itself “the West Point of evangelical Christianity” and both the religious views and the military underpinnings were prominent at Wheaton.
[5] A very friendly evangelical pastor who knew me well maintained that I was not really a liberal. He said I was “a minimalist evangelical.” It was an act of friendship.
[6] Not, as nearly as I could manage it, the people who once marched with me under the flag of conservatism.
[7] There are many “liberalisms,” of course, just as there are many “conservatisms.” I was never attracted to “God is dead” liberalism, or liberation theology or process theology.
[8] In politics, as in religion, there are many different “conservatisms” and many different “liberalisms.” I have always been fairly conservative socially. I call it traditionalism, not conservatism. I am much more progressive on political and economic issues than on social ones.
[9] The short version is that the alternation in power is like being on a teeter-totter. Whoever is down has both the incentive and the means (contact with the ground) to change positions. That means you can’t win at teeter-totter. You need to be playing some other game. And not the merry-go-round if that was your first thought.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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