The Reasonable Conservative

There is a part of me that expects reasonable conservatives to come on in and save the day at the last minute. McCain won’t stand for torture! Collins cares about civil rights! And my conservative friends are all good, decent people, after all.

But they won’t. Let me tell you a story.

This is a story I have shared in a few places, but given that we’re in the middle of a day where Trump is threatening a city with martial law and making broad, sweeping executive orders dismantling anything with even a whiff of progressivism it seems important to share right now.

Sometime in late 2015 / early 2016, I was having a civil political disagreement online with someone in my fantasy baseball league. This was on his wall, and one of his friends entered the conversation. Instead of engaging with any of the ideas in the thread, the friend jumped right to threatening me with violence.

This, naturally, derailed the conversation… But the person I was initially talking to didn’t moderate or intercede. So I sent a PM to him.

Even though we had wildly different takes about most things political, he was someone who I thought of as reasonable. We’d had a long history of debating each other and had maintained what I thought was a respectful, cordial relationship. He was a champion of the market-place of ideas, he purported to love stimulating and thought provoking debate. He agreed that the threats were out of line and said he’d talk to his friend. Brilliant! A perfectly reasonable response!

But nothing changed, and the crazy guy kept showing up in threads I was in, and continued to threaten me with bodily harm. He went so far as to note that we were in the same city, and was reveling in the prospect of spotting me on the street. So I took matters into my own hands and blocked him.

What I find striking now is that it took my prodding to get the aforementioned “reasonable” person to take action against the crazy guy — even when the crazy guy was threatening violence. When the he finally did take action, it was not in public. It was a private conversation, and it clearly did nothing to alter the behavior.

I’ve been thinking about this episode a lot lately as I watch mainstream Republicans fall into line, not a spine among them. As I do, I find that I’m angrier at them than I am at the blatant Nazis.

The “reasonable conservative” in my story had a misguided sense of tribalism that prevented him from ejecting a crazy person from what could have been a nuanced adult conversation — the “marketplace of ideas” he so vocally claimed to champion. When given the choice between supporting a person he disagreed with but who respected him as a human being, and a psychopath who respected nobody and whose only rhetorical trick was threatening to physically harm others, this “reasonable” guy balked.

He could have moderated his wall, he could have taken steps to prevent the conversation from going into the gutter, but he didn’t. It was his wall, he could have easily deleted the offending comments as they added nothing to any conversation, or he could have blocked the person who was out of line.

At this point, you might say, “so what! You still had productive conversations with the reasonable person. Who cares that his friend was a jerk?”

Inaction is a choice, and in this case it was a telling one. Months later, this “reasonable” individual decided to use a manipulated screenshot of me as an example of how liberals hate freedom and are pro-censorship. Because this guy is a conservative journalist, he has more than a few followers. Followers who are a lot like the crazy friend from the facebook thread. Suddenly I was dealing with right wing trolls coming out of the woodwork. I did a lot of blocking that day including the “reasonable” person.

I want to believe in the Collinses of the world. In the McCains, the Grahams. In the moderate Republican, the #NeverTrump-er. I want desperately to believe that, in the end, they’ll do the right thing.

But I don’t think they will. They’ve been subtly convinced by others on their side that anyone on the left isn’t really a person and isn’t worthy of respect or dignity. Also, they get too much of what they want in their alliance with their extremists. Sure, maybe a handful of people here and there will come to their senses — I do believe transformation is possible. But mostly these so called reasonable Republicans are Nazis already. They just haven’t admitted it to themselves yet.