Perhaps the most under-discussed source of disillusionment is the loss of the marriage fight. To many, this most recent chapter in our culture wars stands as a stunning lesson in the absolute futility of fighting fair. Neither millennia of human tradition, nor overwhelming popular numbers, nor reams of sociological evidence seemed to count for anything once the progressive elite had spoken. It was scarring and embittering. It’s unsurprising that a populist backlash would follow in its wake.
Despite all that, it’s still disconcerting to see conservatism bobbing crazily on such emotional seas. Liberals are more used to this, since they’re routinely dashing around like headless chickens, rallying to the flag of whatever interest group seems neediest at the moment. Conservatives are normally more grounded, preferring principle-based causes that conduce to fairness, order, and tradition. (If conservative advocacy on behalf of the unborn is an exception, it is the exception that proves the rule: Because they are nameless, faceless, and not yet integrated into human society, the unborn are the unlikeliest of interest groups. That makes them uniquely vulnerable, as lovers of fairness, order, and tradition can clearly see.)
It’s worrisome, therefore, to see conservatives hunting for interest-group champions. Only in a truly demoralized conservative movement could the crass materialism of Donald Trump find a foothold. That kind of nihilistic energy reflects more than just economic anxiety. It evidences a deeper sense of despair about the moral and cultural trajectory of our society. Trump’s promises are transparently empty; like a nanny in He-Man pajamas, the substance of his message belies his brash exterior. But his promise to restore American greatness has struck a chord with many voters. They fear that our society is in terminal decline, and many prominent conservatives are happy to underscore that fear.
This is ludicrously overdrawn. To be sure, our cultural and moral challenges are significant, but it’s time to face a hard truth. The sky isn’t falling. Our doomsday rhetoric is becoming self-indulgent. And it’s a shame to be wasting all this energy on a collective panic attack, when we’ve got miles to go before we sleep.