"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, March 17, 2022

A Conservative In Indian Country–War Paint, Tomahawks, And Take No Prisoners

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Parker Hammond lived in Fairmont Park, a leafy enclave of Northwest Washington, DC, a white, upper middle class, professional neighborhood, uniformly progressive and home of No Hate Resides Here, Black Lives Matter, All Are Welcome banners and lawn signs.  There were no chinks in the neighborhood’s armor, no doubts or second thoughts about the gender spectrum, affirmative action, redistribution of wealth, or the evils of capitalism. It was a homogeneous, hermetically sealed, committed place to live.  It was no different than the bland, plump, and prosperous suburbs of the Fifties.

The cars in Fairmont Park were all the same – Prius, Volt, Tesla, or hybrid Toyota.  The dinners were all ethnically eclectic, locally-sourced, and organic. No flags flew on the Fourth  of July or Memorial Day, no floats down Mass Ave in honor of the fallen.  Church on Sunday was desultory and prayer a parents’ thing.  If ever there was a neighborhood of surety and one that slept well, it was Fairmont Park.

For a conservative like Parker Hammond life was as simple, ordinary, and uncomplicated as that of his neighbors as long as he observed decorum, and respected received wisdom and political propriety.  His neighbors never suspected his radical leanings because the ethos of political homogeneity was so universal that they talked to him as openly as if he were one of theirs about the devilishly misogynist, homophobic, demented Donald Trump; about the rise of The Black Man, the heroism of the Transgender Woman, and the solidarity of the Congressional women of color.  They assumed tribal conformity and fidelity to tribal laws, and never expected a contrary word.

Parker had a number of friends whom he had known for the many years he and his family had lived in Fairmont Park, and during those happy years of pre-school, kindergarten, and elementary school talk of children, teachers, playgrounds, and trash pick-up was enough to fill a raft of chicken dinners; but when the birds had flown the nest, little convenient social glue remained, and the cracks in the friendships began to show.  Although Parker had been determined to keep his own counsel and to express his conservative views elsewhere, he was put upon. His neighbors caught the scent of contrariness, of a conservative in the guise of a liberal, and were not content until they had outed the outlier.

To keep calm and to preserve the familiar light chatter of childhood days, he became adept at deflecting pointed remarks about Critical Race Theory, black empowerment, the gender spectrum, and Wall Street greed; and turned every reference to the innocuous. 

“Speaking of curriculum reform”, he said, “what do you think of the new French teacher?”  Language studies were safe, neutral ground, or so Parker thought; but his friends pounced on even that.  “French”, they laughed, “the language of Bourbons, Louis XVI, and the colonialist post-Napoleonic hegemonists.  Why should we impose that language on our children?”

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“Nice weather we’re having”, turned into a diatribe against conservative ignorance about global warming.  The unseasonable warmth was but the first step into an environmental Hades, a final, universal conflagration that conservatives not only did not accept but had caused. 

His comment about the beautiful new gym teacher – young, lithe, runway ready, and Hollywood primed, biding her time until her inevitable trip to the West Coast – was dismissed as antiquated, misogynist, pseudo-patriarchal abuse.  Her declared Hollywood ambition, her proud sexuality and vital sexual spirit she had translated into the grace and enthusiasm of acrobatics were ignored.  Her beauty was to be overlooked, dismissed as irrelevant, and inconsequential – despite the fact that all the girls in the school wanted to be her and all the boys wanted her.

Finally, and long overdue Parker spoke up.  He had had enough of his friends’ cancelling dismissal of the Tudors, the Romanoffs, and the Pahlavis;  their revisionism and historical dimness.  He was magnificent, a Williams Jennings Bryant or Frederick Douglass. He was a demon, a man possessed.  When he drew breath and looked around, he was satisfied.

The Fieldings were nonplussed.  They had, like all Fairmont Park neighbors, thought that science and politics were settled.  How could such unexpected, crude and antagonistic sentiments come from a friend? And how could they not have known or even suspected his true colors?

For his part, he had become increasingly bored with the Fieldings, their rattling on about old political saws, their intellectual insularity and lack of curiosity, their morass.  At his age, far nearer the end of life than the beginning, he was increasingly impatient with the chatter that had occupied him in the hot tub while the kids played on the swings but which the Fieldings continued.  Better a solitary life without meaningless interruption than a nattering one that passed for friendship.

All is supposed to settle as time goes on, find its proper level, which is what retiring and doing nothing is all about.  Reflection, re-consideration, a prayer perhaps; but nothing disruptive.  Life is supposed to end on a glidepath, not a rutted runway or foundered in a tangle of mangroves; so what was all this scrambling of progressive eggs all about?  Why the glee in upsetting apple carts? Or reearranging knick-knacks on the coffee table?

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In such a community of closed doors, it felt good to slam them.  

Where political belief has become an article of faith, disagreement is a sin.  There can be no more difference of opinion about the rightness of climate action, gender fluidity, or the rise of the black man than there can about the nature of the Trinity.  No questions about whether Jesus was God and Man, all God, sometimes one and sometimes the other, borne of he Father, co-existent with the Father, or any of the other apostasies debated during the Second Century.  Life in Fairmont Park was like Christianity after the Council of Nicaea.  Right and wrong had been settled, inquiry and debate were unnecessary and tantamount to heresy.

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So Parker was branded an apostate, a heretic, and an outlier.  He was no longer welcome. This isolation had a kind of purity – shedding snakeskin, the histogenesis of a moth, becoming someone neither defined by others nor by opposition to them.

It was initially hard to adjust to this new life, and each time he passed a front lawn festooned with rainbow signs or schoolchildren in COVID masks the old orneriness returned; and it was definitely orneriness since he had enough of a Tolstoian perspective of history to expect repetitive cycles of political fol-de-rol turned into true belief, territorialism, and war and not to get exercised either way.  Diffidence pissed people off more than deeply held belief ever did.

Diffidence – a layman’s nihilism – was the soft pillow of Parker’s later years.  We all die alone, said Tolstoy, so better get used to the idea, contemplate mortality and leave lunacy behind.  A hard prescription to follow but clarity would come, an ‘aha’ experience like that of Ivan Ilyich; but not yet, by no means not yet.

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