Rightwing Rules of Engagement


It’s true that, at this point in American history, our future looks bleak; the media is backing an unconstitutional president, the moral fiber of the nation has gone slack, and the economy does not look hopeful. Yet, the tide just might be turning.

I get such a kick out of arguing with those on the left. Nearly every move they make waves a white flag of surrender, and they don’t even know it. All of their weapons have been knocked out of their hands – either by clear-thinking, articulate conservatives, or, more likely, by the jaw-dropping, visible failures of their own policies. The government, as it sidles ever leftward, trips over the smallest stumbling blocks – failing to build a workable web site, or to successfully make a desert rancher pay his grazing fees. The left has turned into the keystone cops, staggering about in a dark of their own making, and I have to feel a little sorry for those afflicted with such a hollow and contradictory point of view.

These folk have nothing of substance left (pun unavoidable) with which to argue. They have to call us names, fill their voices with condescension, lump others into mindless wads of segregated humanity, and point haughty fingers. There is nothing else for them to do. I know that nothing I or anyone else can say will cause any Marxist to do the necessary face-palm salute and say, “Duh. How’d I miss that? You guys have been right all along.” But we can call trump and we can do it with kindness.

Little by little as I’ve been writing these last few years I’ve developed a mental list of stances to which I will not resort. I think it not an unusual list – it grows naturally out of a conservative, Christian mind-set, but I find it useful to write it all down. I hope you will find it helpful to read:

The no-lump rule:  While, yes, the human brain is a pattern-seeking device, and we will look for similarities and motifs, we still must be leery of slapping people – each a unique product of the love and ingenuity of God -- into unwarranted categories. I’ve known more than a few black people in my life, but so far as I can tell, they don’t seem to be any more homogeneous than any random bunch of white people. Though Christians theoretically have some beliefs in common, we are each very different – hence the huge number of Christian denominations and the refusal of many Christian churches to affiliate with denominations at all. We, as conservatives, must be so careful not to fall into the leftist trap of saying things like, “all you people.” Statements like that are rarely useful and even more rarely true.

The no name-calling rule: This is a corollary to the no-lump rule, but it goes a step further: names, like all nouns, can have either negative or positive connotations, but when we are being so arrogant that we feel we can herd people into groups (generally, people who have less power than we do), we rarely use positive terms. Avoiding the use of collective nouns is tricky and I don’t always find a way out of it, but I find the best approach is to stick to discussing the ideas and not the people. Some of my favorite people are liberals so I try to keep in mind their good points as I argue against them. We can talk about what the leftist mindset is, or what the left’s “morality” might be, but not about what all liberals are or do. We must limit ourselves to attacking the ideas, not the individuals who hold those ideas.

The watch-your-tone rule: I was listening to a West Coast radio talk show the other day – the host was interviewing people he encountered on a university campus. One of the people interviewed was a college professor and one, a student. Neither appeared to make any effort to control the tone of derision  in their voices – it was like venom, drippy and thick. The professor – a specialist in environmental science – leaked a goo of condescension, though she made no effort to present convincing global warming information. The student delighted in referring to Fox News as “Faux News.” The talk show host asked for a specific instance of Fox fabricating a news story. This, the student couldn’t do, but he continued the name-calling as if he were really proud of having come up with it. I was appalled. I can’t remember the last time I heard a conservative speak in such snide terms.  You do hear Rush Limbaugh tease about “Dingey Harry,” or Greg Gutfeld crack his crazy jokes about the latest left-wing debacle, but you don’t hear them sneer. Conservatives don’t need to sneer.

The check-your-facts rule: This one is hard to do – every fact has buried within it another layer and then another layer until it appears to be “turtles all the way down.” We’ve all been inadvertently mistaken about something we thought we knew, but as best we can, we need to know. We have the facts on our side and we don’t need to lie.

The every-person-is-God’s-creation rule: Right or wrong, we all belong to        Him. I’m sure that there are evil people, but not many folk are actually in league with the devil. Many are deluded, mistaken, or just not awake. None of them need to be hated – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34). If Jesus could say that mid-crucifixion, then we can adopt that attitude about those who merely indulge in erroneous politics. Eventually this nation will need to heal and that process will be easier if we haven’t done too much emotional damage to begin with. Just because the left can’t discuss things calmly and graciously doesn’t mean we have to follow suit. We can be firm without being nasty; it’s not easy and I don’t always manage as well as I might, being able to do that is a goal I hold dear.

The use-your-own-words rule: If all I can do I spout talking points and slogans, I find myself out on a rotted branch where I have no support when the winds of argument start to blow. If, on the other hand, I think ideas through and then carefully choose the words I use so that they line up as closely as possible with what I’m thinking, then I can support what I say, I can restate my ideas if my first attempt doesn’t adequately connect with my audience, I can answer questions. If I use my own words then I own the argument and I can mold it into a point of view that might be winning enough to convince someone; I can avoid the kind of vituperative viciousness the left so often falls into.

Do I always live up to these guidelines? No. There is, with each piece I write, room for improvement. It would be pleasant if both sides adhered to these standards, but it can’t happen – the left is standing on an entirely different footing and it’s getting shaky. It does no good to complain about the double standards in the media, or to bemoan the invective that pollutes the political air. It does, however, get us somewhere when we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards. We can’t win the race by tripping our opponent; we can only train harder and run faster and straighter. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)