Of late, I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell to do with this blog. When I started it back in December of ’15, the idea was to continue the tradition started on my good ol’ Blurty blog. That was just a potpourri of politics, pop culture and personal observations.
As Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad. We still have the pop culture and personal observations, but Trump took my aspirations of political ruminations, wiped his carrot-orange bum with them, and flushed.
My desire to write about specific political issues has waned. Any half-baked idiot can sit at a keyboard and bang out a political manifesto. In today’s climate, he/she would have more of a chance of it being taken seriously than at any other point in our history, thanks to the instantaneous nature of the digital era. Why should I add my voice to the chorus of those who, by in large, say it better than I could.
That line of thought lead me to that now-famous phrase. Rather than targeting an individual issue, what about larger concepts? That seems to settle nicely in my gut for now, and it may render an outline of my journey along the path of conservatism.
This concept is best illustrated by a conversation I had with my mother and nephew on Christmas weekend of last year. We were in the kitchen eating hors d’oeuvres and I was asking my nephew the obligatory question that all older people always ask the younger college set. “What classes are you taking this semester?”
He responded with the usual assortment (none of which I can recall), but then he said, “Native-American Studies.”
“Oh boy,” I said.
“Yeah,” he answered with a weary tone. “My professor told us that many of the white students in the class would come to hate their own race after they finished the class.”
“I love the objectivity there,” I said as I fingered a chicken wing.
“That’s appropriate,” Mom chimed in. “We did terrible things to the Indians. We stole their land, slaughtered them, spread disease throughout their tribes. It was terrible!”
“Therefore, what?” I asked. Mom stood there in silence.
“What does that mean, Ryan?” she challenged.
“Therefore, what?” I repeated. “Assuming all of that is true, what should we do with the knowledge?”
“We need to understand what we did to the Natives,” Mom said, her tone becoming more severe.
“And what does that understanding look like?” I asked.
“Ryan!” Mom snapped, adopting the same tone she used when she caught me with my nose in the peanut butter jar late at night when I was a kid.
“I get it, Mom. You’ve been bleeding over the American Indians ever since we all went to see Dances With Wolves in 1990.” Out loud, I said… Nothing. I just ate the chicken wing. She was already mad at me for sneaking off in an Uber to get a haircut, so unlike General Custer, I chose to pick my battles.
In truth, Mom had no idea how to respond to my question because she’s never been asked it in that context before. When it comes to grievances and the grievance industry, it’s always so easy to recite a long list of problems and complaints without bringing forth solutions. “Therefore, what?” forces that conversation to occur. Either that, or it forces the person airing the grievance to admit that they are not interested in solutions, but only in stirring up anger, resentment and guilt. There are times when anger and guilt are appropriate, but not when it comes to the forging of public policy, and public policy is always the pot of gold at the end of the “therefore, what?” rainbow.
It applies to any grievance group in existence. How do we understand the plight of the American Indians? Depends on the day and the spokesperson. I’ve heard that it’s impossible for us as white people to understand the Indians. I’ve also been told that we need to understand them. So which is it? I can read about everything from the Indian Child Welfare Act to U.S. v. Antelope and am not sure I could ever fully understand. But such studies may give me a better answer to the question of, therefore, what?
When African-Americans say, “America was founded on slavery!” you ask, “Therefore, what?” Reparations? An official apology from the government? A separate island populated only by blacks? All of those ideas have already been discussed.
When feminists say, “Time’s up! No more sexual harassment!” you say, “Therefore, what? Do we have a concrete standard as to what constitutes sexual harassment? To whom does it apply and in what situations?” It’s not as sexy as money-soaked stars at the Oscars beating their chests with righteous indignation, but it will ultimately result in public policy that can be held up for scrutiny.
The concept of, “Therefore, what?” also works very well against political slogans and sloganeers.
When thousands of teenagers (covertly backed by the Women’s March), storm across the country yesterday and chant,
“NO MORE GUNS! NO MORE GUNS!” you ask,
“Therefore, what?” They retort, “Ban all assault weapons?” You ask, “What constitutes an assault weapon?” This is where the conversation gets more murky… And less sexy, because there is no real, official, legal definition of an assault weapon at this time.
The left love their slogans, but they don’t own them. For three years, I’ve been hearing, “Make America great again!”
“Therefore, what? What will it take to make America great again?”
“Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!”
“How do we accomplish that? How do we compel another country to pay for our border security?”
“Put it in the budget, stupid!”
“We just passed another massive spending bill, and no mention of the border wall.”
“A trade war! That’s how we’re gonna make America great again?”
I first learned of the concept of, “Therefore, what?” when observing the passage of resolutions at the various conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. Many found the resolutions boring, but they were always my favorite part of the convention agenda because they served as our public policy statements. Later, I became more cynical about them because the leadership seemed to cherry pick which resolutions they would act upon and which were put upon the shelf to gather dust, but they still served a concrete purpose.
It was only later that I applied the same concept to mainstream politics. This was thanks to Denver conservative talk show host, Mike Rosen. If Rush Limbaugh was the guy at the dinner party holding forth with his opinions, Rosen was the professor at the head of the classroom.
After the release of the movie, 12 Years a Slave, Rosen reviewed it and said, “I watch a movie like that and it is a worthwhile, if punishing experience. But I come out of the theater and ask myself, therefore, what? We got a good story, but what was McQueen’s ultimate goal in making the film?”
Rosen applied this to callers (usually leftist) who were intent upon airing a long list of grievances or complaints. He would cut them off by saying, “Therefore, what?! What do you think we should do about this?”
This tactic would produce the result of furthering the conversation beyond mere gripes and handwringing. It would force the caller to take a position. Not only would it provide direction and focus for the topic, but it would give Rosen and insight into the caller’s personality and worldview.
Does the caller want higher taxes to pay for improved infrastructure? If so, he is likely a Democrat. The greater the amount of taxation he wants to employ, the more he probably leans toward a socialist view. Glimpses into the caller’s mind then gives Rosen a line of counter argument. If you don’t happen to be a talk show host whose job it is to engage callers of all political and intellectual stripes, you can either choose to engage, or withdraw from the discussion.
My growth beyond mere conservative talking points and reactions to the pronouncements of politicians to the realm of substantive ideology has lead me from Rosen, who retired at the end of 2015, to the National Review, the Weekly Standard, Commentary Magazine, to Ben Shapiro and others. They are certainly gladiators, fighting in a time when conflict seems to be the dominant form of politicking, but they battle with their brains.
It occurs to me that “Therefore, what?” is not solely a conservative concept; not in the manner of supply side economics or the pro-life agenda. Yet, it seems to fit hand-in-glove with our methodology. There are certainly many leftists who are thinkers, just as there are many on the right who are too reactionary for their own good. Yet, in our world where our pop culture and media are dominated more and more by emotion, and given the fact that emotion holds sway in the classroom, a good dose of pragmatism is as welcome as a drink from a garden hose on a hot, humid summer day.