Not everything in life is either left or right

January 15, 2019

Searching, as we must, for the heart of our current social and political quandary — could it be tribalism, materialism, shallow thinking, greed, bigotry (fear of “the other”)? — here is what we rarely consider: Our penchant for casting almost everything as a binary choice between left and right. Or between liberal and conservative.

I see this everywhere, and in my view it’s toxic and intellectually stifling. In effect the so-called left-right divide is a false matrix — the wrong way of looking at reality.

In a recent issue of the Billy Graham magazine “Decision,” I noticed an article blasting students of an evangelical college in suburban Chicagoland — Wheaton — for protesting against a speaker who was critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The article suggested that Wheaton, by “allowing” its students to stage such a protest, was “drifting to the left.” Ridiculous. As if people who call themselves “conservative” were supposed to throttle free speech on campus. And also, as if evangelicals were supposed to embrace all measures that were paraded out under the banner of “conservative.”

The doctrinaire apostles of the left fume and sputter in similar fashion when a Democratic congressman or senator parts company with the proabortion-rights crowd. Of all people, self-proclaimed liberals ought to grant others the right to think for themselves and not force their peers to hop aboard the bandwagon of political correctness.

Much of our political furor these days centers on whether to back or whether to blast our sitting president, Donald J. Trump. As a Republican chief executive, Trump represents according to our entrenched manner of thinking, “conservative values.” Apparently this is why 86 percent or more of registered Republican voters continue to offer Trump their support.

The truth is, however, that many of Trump’s ideas and policies cut directly against the grain of traditional Republican (read “conservative”) approaches. Standing strong with our NATO allies is a case in point. Ronald Reagan and both Bushes would be appalled over Trump’s siding with virtual dictators such as Vladimir Putin over and against European leaders such as the UK’s Teresa May or France’s Emmanuel Macron.

In a recent totally off-therails declaration, Trump even spouted the Russian version of history, that the Soviet Union was “right” to invade Afghanistan in December 1979, instead of — reality check! — an illegal aggressor. What Trump said was not “right-wing” or “conservative”; it was plain crazy or aberrational. Yet the “conservative thing to do” was seen as “not criticizing the president.”

The cable news shows on MSNBC and CNN over the past two years have featured quite an array of mainstream Republicans, strategists, former White House aides and even former officeholders. They are regularly quite critical of Trump, not because they have turned “liberal” but because they view the president as betraying conservatism.

Just to name a few, the group includes former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, former John McCain campaign chairman Steve Schmidt, former George W. Bush White House aide Michelle Wallace, former G.W. Bush ethics czar Richard Painter, longtime GOP strategist Rick Wilson, and conservative columnists George Will and Jennifer Rubin.

I’ll wrap up here by stating for the record that I am pro-life on the abortion issue but do not see repealing Roe v. Wade as the best way to reduce abortions in our country. I am pro-LGBT rights in many areas but firmly opposed to the concept of “gay marriage” (as are a number of gays and lesbians ). I am for comprehensive immigration reform but firmly against Trump’s wall (a waste of money). None of that breaks as left or right. I just call it “thinking for yourself.”

John Patrick Grace likes to say, along with John F. Kennedy, “Ah, don’t call me a conservative; don’t call me a liberal; if you must use a label, call me a pragmatist.” Grace’s column appears Tuesdays in The Herald-Dispatch.

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