My previous two articles focused on dogmas relating to policy. This one is unique in that it is tied to the tactics used to advocate those policies and is arguably more important.
Conservatism has a strong sense of nostalgia and tradition, which in the positive sense gives it the ability to understand the importance of preserving institutions and avoiding the latest social fad.
The price for this seems to be the tendency to aspire for a fantasy world where men wear frock coats, women wear ball gowns in the important matters of the day are discussed over warm brandies by the fire.
Civility is an important element in culture and I'm particularly fond of it. I've tried to structure my life and educate my children on the finer points of etiquette. At the same time, however, I understand that these rules require mutual consent to function. I'm happy to be charming and polite, but if you push me, I'll be a world-class asshole.
The term for this is reciprocity. It's a simple concept and ironically the British are some of its best practitioners in this respect. These people can go from polished, sophisticated "Oxford Rules" debates to throwing every slur imaginable without missing a beat. The change is fascinating and funny to watch.
"As my esteemed opponent - oh, so that's how it is? Piss off, you bastard!"
American establishment conservatives have lost that ability - assuming they ever had it. Even Saint Bill Buckley once lost it on national television.
This is a problem because the left always takes the cheap shot, gangs up whenever possible and never flinches from a low blow. The conservative establishment refuses to "go there," and insists on playing the left's game. In fact, they've become the left's enforcers, policing their own side for incendiary and "unhelpful" language. They seem to have bought into the fiction that if their own behavior is utterly flawless and their language perfectly modulated, they will inoculate themselves against the usual charges of racism, sexism, etc.
The end result is conservatives have learned to be marvelously polite losers.
The truth is the left will always throw these slurs because they work. They work in large part because the conservative establishment refuses to respond in kind.
Now there is an exception to these rules of civility and we are seeing it play out before us. The writers at the Weekly Standard and National Review have finally opened up their urban dictionaries to dump all manner of insults at Donald Trump.
It must be exhilarating for them to finally use all the gutter language they've been holding in check - against another Republican. So much for high-brow class and civility.
Near the end of his run, establishment champion Marco Rubio started making dick jokes against Trump, and the NRO crowd was giddy, like a bunch of old ladies learning to swear. "Finally, Trump is getting his just deserts!" they swooned.
It was pathetic to watch.
Yesterday I saw Trump utterly destroy - and I mean destroy - Elizabeth Warren. Dilbert creator Scott Adam calls this sort of thing a "linguistic kill shot." Just as "low energy" demolished Jeb Bush, calling the senator from Massachusetts "Pocahontas" pretty much takes her out of the picture. Whenever she speaks, whenever her name is mentioned, people will think: "Pocahontas" which equals "white woman pretended to be an American Indian to get ahead."
Adams calls Trump a master wizard persuader, but it isn't that hard. Newt Gingrich did a little of it in 2012. Mitt Romney could have done it with great effect, but he was too civil, so both Obama and the moderator walked all over him.
Romney is a very experienced and polite loser.
The #NeverTrumpers like to go on about issues and insist that the ideal candidate pays homage to all the right dogma, but in fact none of that matters unless he wins. Their big argument against Trump - that he will damage the movement - is in this sense correct. If Trump wins, more conservative candidates will adopt his tactics and in the short run, politics will be coarsened.
But the left will actually be put on defense for a change. Conservatives will finally be able to take back not only the political leadership of the country but (more importantly) the terms of discussion about its culture.
In that environment, the exquisite neo-Victorian sensibilities of the establishment conservatives will no longer have value. That is why Trump is truly an existential threat to them.