In his latest column, David Brooks berates the Republican Party for betraying true conservatism — which, he says, “stands for intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible.”
Brooks, the closest thing in American punditry to an old-time British Tory, wags his finger not at one actor or action but at “a thousand small betrayals” beginning some 30 years ago. Since then, “the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced.” GOP politicians have become “addicted to a crisis mentality,” with civilization always on the brink of collapse and every setback tantamount to the ruination of the Republic.
Where does this style come from? In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it comes from the Prophet Jeremiah, who was wont to bitterly lament contemporary mores and to predict the imminent collapse of society because Israelite rulers had broken their Covenant with the Lord. But there was always a chance that the evil decree could be averted by repentance and conversion.
As scholars beginning with Perry Miller have shown, Puritan ministers made the jeremiad a favorite rhetorical mode in the 17th century, and bequeathed it to American civilization generally. But at no time has it been so warmly and enthusiastically embraced as by the Religious Right — which, yes, bonded with the Republican Party some 30 years ago. And let’s just say that jeremiads don’t make for political compromise or for functional governance in a system of checks and balances like ours.
Over the past generation, the jeremiads of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have become the stock in trade of all Republican politicians, not just the House Freedom Caucus. They bitterly lament not only the “rulers” of the Democratic Party but also the Republicans who negotiate with them — the John Boehners and Mitch McConnells and Paul Ryans who have thereby broken their Covenant with the Constitution.
A few months ago, columnist Brooks urged social conservatives to stop fighting a lost cause against same-sex marriage and take up the “more practical struggle is to repair a society rendered atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable.” Comes now Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, with a new book urging Christians not to attend a same-sex wedding of even their own child because it “signals moral approval” of the union.
A House Republican caucus willing to hold the nation hostage over funding for Planned Parenthood is a House Republican caucus following Mohler, not Brooks. If the GOP has betrayed true conservatism, the Religious Right can take a big share of the credit.