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Militant normalcy has a number of problems

By Kenneth D. Gough • Oct 15, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Right-wing journalist Kurt Schlichter recently introduced a term to describe the type of people who support Donald Trump — “militant normals.” I’m still trying to figure out exactly what he means, but I get the gist.

These are people who probably leaned to the Democrats in past decades, even when they thought of themselves as small-c conservatives, but in recent years have fled as the party lurched to the radical left. Now they’re aligned uncomfortably with the Republicans, whom they’re not sure they trust.

They are unapologetic patriots, proud to brush away a tear when the flag is raised and the “Star-Spangled Banner” is sung, but they don’t hate or dislike people from other countries and cultures. They believe in live and let live, and for the most part don’t care what your skin color is, or who you sleep with, or where you go to church (or whether you go to church at all) as long as you are well behaved and mind your own business, just like they do.

And because they believe in live and let live, if they do care what your skin color is, or who you sleep with, or where you go to church, they keep their thoughts to themselves and their mouths shut. They deeply resent being denounced as “deplorables” because they aren’t out in the streets demonstrating for changes and behaviors that they believe are wrong.

They are fed up to here with an obnoxious, sanctimonious Left that looks down on them and treats them like morons, a navel-gazing Right that would rather debate what True Conservatism is than actually get small-c conservative things done, and a clueless political class that, regardless of ideology, is lost in its own highly-compensated, privileged existence, oblivious to their daily struggles.

And they are, finally, after decades of being bashed around like balls in a pinball machine, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Cue Donald Trump.

I have a lot of sympathy with this line of thinking, although it’s fair to describe me as a capital-C Conservative (except, I hope, for the navel-gazing part). But the sympathy is limited, because there are significant problems with it.

To start with, there is nothing normal about militancy, and nothing militant about normal people. “Live and let live” isn’t a formal ideology that one has to learn in school. It’s deep in the DNA. Normal folk have to get mad to become militant. It can happen; they’ll fight heroically to protect their own, and they make up the bulk of armies in wartime. But that’s unusual and extreme. Militancy comes and goes as threats come and go; people (like Schlichter) who can stay mad and militant for a long time aren’t normal.

Second, knowing what you’re against, what you don’t like, and what you resent is not a governing agenda. It’s one thing to elect someone who is essentially a sharp stick in the eye as a protest against the ruling class. It’s something completely different to know what to do with the power that’s been won.

All great presidents have come to office knowing what they want to do and having a pretty good idea how to get it done. The sharp stick part applies to Trump; he’s expert at knowing who to jab to elicit the most over-the-top response. The rest, not so much. That’s a big problem. Burning it all down will not Make America Great Again.

Just what will Make America Great Again? Building a wall won’t. We’re made greater by those we let in, not those we keep out, even if we’re talking about the destitute Irish and Chinese laborers who built the nation’s railroads (controlling the flow is a different matter). Killing trade deals? Please. Trade supports millions of jobs in the United Ststes, even after accounting for the very painful changes it has forced, particularly in manufacturing.

How about firing some football players? Nah. As satisfying as it is to humiliate a bunch of rich ingrates and the fat cats they work for, it adds not a penny to GDP or a scintilla to national pride.

The challenge for militant normals isn’t figuring out what they’re against, it’s figuring out what they’re for. So far — and it’s late in the game — they don’t know. If they (meaning their agents, Trump and his people) don’t figure it out soon and turn that knowledge into a practical agenda that can get through Congress, inertia will keep us moving in the same direction they voted to change.

And if there is one thing capital-C Conservatives and militant normals can agree on, it’s that a change in direction is badly needed.

Kenneth D. Gough of Elizabethton is a semi-retired businessman.

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