Out with ‘left’ and ‘right.’ Who’s a ‘Neville’?

Texarkana Gazette - - OPINION - Reg Henry PITTS­BURGH POST-GAZETTE

A ques­tion for his­tory buffs: In pol­i­tics, where did the terms “left” and “right” orig­i­nate? If you an­swered the French Na­tional Assem­bly of 1789, pat your­self on the back but hold your wal­let in your other hand as politicians could be nearby.

Back then, the del­e­gates sat on the right if they sup­ported the king and on the left if they backed the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. Or what­ever. The del­e­gates could just as well have di­vided on sub­si­dies for crois­sants or pen­sions for mis­tresses.

The point is the po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions of France in 1789 don’t read­ily fit Amer­ica in 2017, al­though it is fun to pre­tend.

For ex­am­ple, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump can be viewed as to­day’s preen­ing monarch. Though pos­ing as a peo­ple’s sov­er­eign, he is sur­rounded by grov­el­ing courtiers, rules by whim and lives in digs that make the Palace of Ver­sailles look like a Mo­tel 6. Heck, he may even wear a pow­dered wig, be­cause what­ever is on his head is not found in na­ture.

It can also be said that those on the left, the lat­ter-day sans-cu­lottes, which trans­lates from the French as ones with­out knee breeches, seek to over­throw the tra­di­tional or­der of so­ci­ety. They mostly don’t, they just want to re­form what we have—but let us al­low con­ser­va­tives their hy­per­bole. Af­ter all, they can’t fault Bernie San­ders for not wear­ing knee-breeches.

Cer­tainly the la­bels did make a rough sense for a while. Left and right were short­hand for those who held dif­fer­ing views of how much power the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should wield, one of the old­est ar­gu­ments in the repub­lic.

But Trump has changed ev­ery­thing.

Many have ar­gued that he is not a true con­ser­va­tive, but like it or not, he has re­made con­ser­vatism in his un­con­ser­va­tive im­age.

While he re­tains some old con­ser­va­tive themes, he has ba­si­cally re­duced the phi­los­o­phy to its gross­est and mean­est com­po­nents and taken it all to ex­tremes. He has made con­ser­vatism into a par­ody of it­self.

Let us all ad­mit that be­ing con­ser­va­tive is not nec­es­sar­ily about bul­ly­ing, boast­ing and se­rial ly­ing.

And surely it is not con­ser­va­tive to con­ceive of deficit-per­pet­u­at­ing plans to lower taxes on the rich while in­creas­ing spend­ing on goofy projects such as a bor­der wall (or, for that mat­ter now, cut­ting fed­eral rev­enue when it is ur­gently needed for hur­ri­cane re­lief).

Surely be­ing con­ser­va­tive is not about kick­ing out 800,000 peo­ple who, through no fault of their own, came to this coun­try when they were 6 or so and be­came Amer­i­cans in all but of­fi­cial pa­pers.

Tell me if I am crazy in be­liev­ing that be­ing con­ser­va­tive is not about a full flight from old-fash­ioned com­mon sense and de­cency.

But noth­ing is sure in the Trump era, ex­cept that we are still wait­ing for the great­ness to be made again.

Of course, I say this as a lib­eral but not one from the far left, where the il­lib­eral lib­er­als live. I be­lieve in equal op­por­tu­nity, hard work and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

I don’t be­lieve in sub­si­dies for crois­sants al­though pen­sions for mis­tresses may have merit. I am some­one from the great mid­dle and I’d be happy to have any sen­si­ble con­ser­va­tive at my side. What name for us?

As the old left and right la­bels have become thread­bare in po­lit­i­cal crazy­land, and even Sen. Ted Cruz has sud­denly dis­cov­ered that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can help suf­fer­ing peo­ple with­out turn­ing them into so­cial­ists, per­haps we should take our po­lit­i­cal terms from an era closer than 1789. How about 1938?

That was the year when a con­ser­va­tive Bri­tish prime min­is­ter came back from Mu­nich wav­ing a piece of pa­per promis­ing “peace for our time” af­ter meet­ing with Adolf Hitler.

The great ap­peaser was a good man in many ways—none other than Win­ston Churchill was to acknowledge this—but he made a his­toric mis­take.

Now, for the pur­pose of this anal­ogy, Don­ald Trump is not a Nazi, but he is a dan­ger­ous au­to­crat driven by ego and bile. What he does not need is ap­pease­ment.

Yet he is sur­rounded by Neville Cham­ber­lains, both in the White House and in the na­tion at large (Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, thy name is Neville). Some are good peo­ple who had re­spectable rea­sons for ini­tially sup­port­ing Trump. But no re­spectable rea­son re­mains to per­sist in a cult-like loy­alty that for­gives him ev­ery­thing.

Not right or left, con­ser­va­tive or lib­eral—the only po­lit­i­cal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that mat­ters to his­tory is who are the Nevilles and who are the Win­stons in this trou­bled time.

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