Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
Some words of advice for Jim Banks’s new anti-woke caucus.
Indiana congressman Jim Banks recently announced the formation of an anti-woke caucus. Good. Banks is acknowledging, for the first time at a congressional level, the danger of woke tyranny. National Socialism (Nazism) and Communism were the challenges for prior generations of Americans. “Wokeism” is the challenge of our generation. We have reason to believe that Banks intends to put anti-wokeism at the center of Republican politics, which today has no center.
America is in the middle of a Cold Civil War between woke revolutionaries—who believe America is and has always been systemically racist (evil), so that it must be deconstructed, de-legitimized (i.e., destroyed)—and those who believe that America is good, that its principles are the greatest antidote to racism ever created, and that preserving America and its principles is the highest and most urgent political calling. Let’s call these patriots “Americanists.”
The Need for a Rhetorical Strategy
What should the anti-woke caucus do? Banks rightly says that the first order of business is for the caucus to learn in detail about the woke regime and how it has taken control of major American institutions at every level. And next? The temptation will be to draw up a policy agenda. But before devising a policy strategy, we think it is necessary to provide the moral justification for one.
In any political conflict, the side that seizes the moral high ground is the ultimate victor. The art of seizing the moral high ground—i.e., of persuasion—belongs to the discipline of rhetorical strategy. If there is one thing we hope caucus members will take away from this essay, it is the importance of moral argument and rhetoric.
Often a politician responds to existing “public sentiment,” as Lincoln called it. But when politics becomes especially confusing, when the public is not thinking as clearly as it might, the statesman must give shape to public sentiment. He must sculpt unformed opinions and refine inchoate ones.
Glenn Ellmers, in a recent essay, made this point well. He was writing about Governor Ron DeSantis, but he just as well could have been writing about all Republicans, virtually all of whom fail to appreciate the importance of providing a moral justification for their actions through effective rhetoric. Ellmers writes:
DeSantis’s other problem—to exaggerate for the sake of argument—is that he’s all action and no talk. (This is not necessarily worse than Trump’s opposite vice.) That might sound like another strange criticism, but this is something that has always been true in politics: rhetoric matters. After all, to the degree that elections still have some efficacy, voters have to be persuaded, and that means words are as important as deeds. You can’t merely do the right thing, you have to explain it. DeSantis gives speeches, of course, and they are good as far as they go. But they need to be great. He needs to appreciate that even the most momentous results sometimes don’t speak for themselves. Consider Lincoln at Gettysburg.
Indeed, Lincoln, in large part, won the Civil War by the power of his rhetoric. The kind of speeches Ellmers calls for are inspirational and eternal. We need a rhetoric that rises to the level of our crisis. It needs to be Lincolnian, Churchillian—a powerful strategic weapon in the immediate war, and an inspiration for times to come.
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