Maladroit in Detroit

One wonders if watching the Republican nomination debates on TV is confessable. Well, not on television, but in jerking, flickery videos in one’s laptop. This may or may not compound the sin, by making it semi-interactive. (At least I don’t post tweets any more.)

Certainly one feels dirty after the experience. I may have mentioned this was less so during the Iowa debate, when Mr Trump for some reason did not turn up. The standard of civility rose several storeys. Now it has descended again, to somewhere in the parking vaults, as Trump’s rivals, such as “Little Marco,” desperately excavate to Trump’s level. And this in the old Foxtown movie theatre, restored to its full original glitz, in the Grand Circus district of “beautiful downtown Detroit.” (It was built on the eve of the great stockmarket crash in the late ’twenties.) What a stage for trumpery!

And I watched this, after earlier in the day watching the Mormon, Romney, telling us that in addition to his being a fraud and a con-man (true, true), should Trump be elected, “America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.” … Pulease, Mr Romney.

Perhaps I have previously imparted what I think, in my Biblical way, of politicians who use “American dream” rhetoric, or the equivalent jingo in every other popular-franchise country, without exceptionalism. Quite frankly, I find the standard of all post-modern epideixis absurdly low. As Aristotle would add, it’s because of the audience.

So why did I make myself part of it?

Well, gentle reader may be thinking: if that is the best you have to confess, go and do it. The priest in his box is getting lonely.


A Canadian friend (of USA origin) forwarded to me the speaking notes of a certain Morton Blackwell, invited up here to explain to a (“conservative”) conference how to win elections, from the grassroots up. It is full of useful suggestions. The American “conservative movement,” only now cracking up after winning then losing its hold on the “mind” of the Republican Party, had a good half-century run. Blackwell explains, to anyone who doubts it, the amount and nature of organized work it takes, or took, with unwilting pharaonic stamina through the decades, to get someone like Reagan elected. From my own cruelly limited knowledge of politics, it is all true, too true. Effete people (like me) think ourselves “above” all this mindbending, backbreaking work — going “door to door” through hyperspace as well as along the street — all to erect one limp windbreak against the Nanny State, and win one lousy Cold War.

But Blackwell is right: that’s what it takes. The millions of sweet young things who utter the cliché, “ideas have consequences,” and therefore think in their soft little heads that the ideas themselves should win — that they need only articulate them — are, shall we say, naïve.

Glancing through his notes (I think I’d seen them before), and admiring their contrast to the electoral methods proposed by the demon, Saul Alinsky, I nevertheless noticed a mistake. This was Blackwell’s assertion that the “technology” used in mass politics is “neutral.” For while he makes good points against yawning arrogance and strumming hubris — sins to which most are tempted — we have a fatal problem. The technology is not neutral. It actually favours the other side, because the other side is glibber — whether one is up against a Clinton, an Obama, or a Trump. (Or a junior Trudeau, as up here in the snows.)

As my countryman Marshall McLuhan once said, “ye medium is ye message,” and it is no coincidence the mass media are overwhelmingly airhead Left.

Our “ideas with consequences” — such as civic freedom and autonomy, voluntarism, subsidiarity, personal responsibility, “traditional values,” and ultimately the Love of God — cannot be readily communicated to a mass audience through mass media, because a mass is not a man.

Swiss democracy flourished because there were Swiss peasants living in high mountain valleys cut off from each other. American democracy worked in small, pioneering, frontier towns, &c. In which the townsfolk could remove a cad from office, with or without an election.

In both of these obvious cases, and in the guided aristocratic British form, “democracy” sort-of worked for a while after various good habits had been formed. In none of these places is it working now. And the cause of this is, mostly, “mass” communications. (Note the limiting adjective; I am hardly against “communication” per se. And anyone who doubts my wholesomeness should observe that I designed this Idleblog expressly to subvert any possibility of a mass audience.)

“All politics are local,” according to another cliché, but we are dealing now with a locality that is, if not global, extremely large; and in which the human atoms become, quite inevitably, statistics. You cannot preach moral nobility, or personal independence, to a statistic.

The people themselves must be previously infused with this spirit of liberty, and disposition to received wisdom, to hear the political call. So aligned, the preaching would be easy. A man in focused relation to a family, to his neighbours, and to God, has no trouble understanding that he doesn’t need “guvmint” to control his life. He does not require a libertarian ideology; he is simply a man with a chest. Or a woman, as may be: free of chimeras, and the delusions of crowds.

Trump is winning because millions of Evangelicals, novus Catholics, mainlining Protestants, and countless others learnt their “conservatism” from mass media. They think and act not as voters, but as masses. One cannot “lead” them for long, and those who think they can be led with fine principles should take a good look at Trump. (Then go to Confession and wash it off.)

Newman had this exactly right: the faith and “values” we treasure are communicated parent to child, person to person, heart to heart; and thus, slowly. Tree-roots, not grassroots, as it were. The very Enemy exerts hisself through the peer pressure of passing fashions. Cor ad cor loquitur — “heart speaks unto heart.” Or else, does not speak, but shrivels.

This is why I think we cannot win in the foreseeable future: there is no there there, in the “heart” of mass society. Against impossible odds, we must re-establish Christ. But He will help if that is our focus, and we are weak but He is strong.

Or let me put this in a profane way. In order to “sell” what is called a “conservative” agenda, we need a “market” predisposed to buy. And the only imaginable way to forge this, is by a route into the heart of each and every social unit or cell. We must appeal, thus, to the Man and not to men, in their scattering. Man to man, or one cell to another.

So far as we take this exercise onto the political stage, the best we can hope is to lose with more dignity, and to a more convincing exemplary effect: by appealing to that small minority of independent mind, who notice when the mocked soul has better manners, and some good arguments.