We have obviously lost that level of social consensus. And not just in America. Even in unfailingly polite and decorous Canada, Justin Trudeau interrupted frequently at the recent leaders' debates. That would not have happened in his father's day. Even more striking is that the voters do not seem to punish politicians who behave this way. Trudeau won the election. So did Joe Biden, who behaved exceptionally badly in his debate with Paul Ryan. So, in the primaries, did Donald Trump, against a large field of ladies and gentlemen.
The problem is that nobody any longer believes that the other side is acting in good faith, or has the general good of the country at heart.
This is what comes when one side or the other starts disregarding the basic general principles that bind the nation together. We have seen this over the last thirty or forty years. And the left, frankly, is the side to blame.
Remember motherhood and apple pie? What is feminism if not a direct assault on motherhood? Or, more broadly, what else is the great complex of "gay pride"?
Religion, the traditional reservoir of shared values, is under sustained assault. Even science, its unsatisfactory modern substitute, is under assault by some branches of the left as patriarchal and racist. Liberalism and the doctrine of human rights, on which America was founded, is also under attack: not just the right to freedom of conscience, of association, of speech, but even the most fundamental right, the right to life. Postmodernism even rejects the rules of formal logic, or the possibility of knowing truth.
Granted, the immediate cause of the Trump phenomenon was apparently fear of immigration; this seems fundamental in Europe too. But is immigration just a symbol of something deeper, a sense that the culture is being widely and deliberately subverted by the ruling elite? Is it a symbol of the loss of social consensus?
The next question is, why has the left lost its commitment to moral right, logic, science, religion, the family, and anything else that might check its own power? For the move is itself ultimately self-defeating. Destroy the civilizaton, and you destroy your own part in it just as much as your opponent's: mutually-assured destruction.
It is, I submit, the action of the agitated human conscience. The left at some point knowingly did something morally wrong. Once you do that, and do not repent, you begin the downward path. As the gospel of John avers, those who have knowingly done wrong begin to fear the light as a general principle, for fear it will reveal their deeds. They become enemies of the light. It follows that they become inconsolable enemies of all who follow the light. To accept and believe in truth or moral right becomes intolerable. So much for any possibility of social consensus.
The obvious example of a previous time in American history when this happened was the Civil War. Slavery was such an issue. Nobody could in good conscience accept the institution of chattel slavery. And, no surprise, it was the South, not the North, that cut the social cord, that chose to separate, and it was the South, those in the moral wrong, who fired the first shot. Nor had the northern government proposed to outlaw slavery. Just the awareness of general disapproval was intolerable to a bad conscience.
This time, in the end, I believe that the issue on which the left made its bargain with the devil, for the sake of personal gain, was and is abortion. Abortion, in turn, became necessary in order to allow for free sex.
At such a time, it is folly to pretend nothing is happening, to remain the well-mannered Buchanan or Mitt Romney. There is no common ground left on which to build consent. The sad times demand a terrible swift sword. Trump may not be up to the job, but neither would Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, from all evidence, have been. We need another Lincoln, and none is to be seen.
Then again, at the time, nobody saw Lincoln as a Lincoln either. He had an extremely thin resume, and as not even the favourite for his own party's nomination.
It is in God's hands.