It is easy to forget the Before Time in 2018, but in the not-so-distant past, conservatives were big fans of personal responsibility. Conservative think tanks used to write entire reports on this idea. The way to survive and thrive in America was by pulling one’s self up by one’s bootstraps, despite whatever adversity might be out there in the world. Another part of this credo was owning one’s mistakes and soldiering on regardless.
It does not seem like modern conservatives know how to do this. Consider, for example, Niall Ferguson. In the New Republic, Jeet Heer offers up a useful summary on Ferguson’s rather unusual intervention into Stanford student affairs:
As The Stanford Daily reported on Thursday, newly public emails show that Ferguson’s eagerness to fight off what he saw as encroaching political correctness led the historian to some bizarre extracurricular activity. Ferguson teamed up with a group of student Republicans, led by John Rice-Cameron, to wage a covert political battle against Michael Ocon, a student they viewed as excessively left-wing. In the e-mails they refer to Ocon as “Mr. O” and talk about ways to discredit him. “Some opposition research on Mr. O might also be worthwhile,” Ferguson wrote. Ferguson’s research assistant Max Minshull was tasked with the job of collecting the dirt on Ocon.
When confronted with the emails by the Stanford Daily, Ferguson apologized for his behavior. If he had left it at that, this might have been an example of taking some personal responsibility. As I noted in The Ideas Industry, however, that is not Ferguson’s modus operandi. Sure enough, he tried to explain himself in the Boston Globe:
This fiasco might have been avoided if conservatives at universities did not feel so beleaguered. There is a debate about how far free speech has been restricted on American campuses in recent years. I have no doubt that Jonathan Haidt and Sean Stevens are right: It has. Middle-of-the-road students live in fear that a casual remark will be deemed “offensive” or “triggering” by the progressives and that social media will be unleashed to shame them. Conservative students have to decide whether to remain in the new ideological closet or come out and fight a culture war in which they are hopelessly outnumbered.
It is true that there are not a lot of conservatives in the academy, but come on. Ferguson’s not-so-subtle inference is that because the ivory tower is hostile to those of his ideological ilk, he had no choice but to fight dirty and punch down. Which is odd, because I thought conservatives exhort those who face hard circumstances to soldier on regardless.
Of course, the best current example of conservative victimhood is President Donald Trump. My colleague Philip Rucker noted this on Monday:
Unfair is one of his favorite words, and he has used it in 69 tweets. He calls the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election a rigged witch hunt. He accuses the FBI of infiltrating his campaign with spies. He insists the media is running a sophisticated disinformation operation to discredit him. And he demands apologies for myriad criticisms and slights.
Never mind that Donald Trump was born into extraordinary wealth, emblazoned his name on skyscrapers and golf courses across the globe and now is the elected leader of the free world.
In President Trump’s telling, which can often be more imaginary than real, he is a victim — a long-suffering, tormented victim.
Trump even blames others for the cruel immigration policies that he otherwise brags about:
As NBC noted in its fact check of this tweet:
No law mandates that parents must be separated from their children at the border, and it’s not a policy Democrats have pushed or can change alone as the minority in Congress.
Children are likely being separated from the parents at the border at an accelerated rate because of a new “zero tolerance policy” being implemented by Trump’s own administration.
Conservatives currently control every branch of the federal government, and yet they have never sounded so beleaguered in my lifetime. Elite cues still matter in American politics, and it is hard not to notice that the head of the Republican Party reacts like a toddler to any kind of setback. It seems hard not to conclude that conservative standard-bearers have become the real snowflakes in American politics.