Shakespeare in the Dark: The Right Falls Prey to Grievance Politics

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By Joe Simonson | 5:46 pm, June 19, 2017
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If there’s always been one thing that I’ve been proud of for being part of the right, it’s the fact that I’m not part of the left.  This might seem a little tautological, but generally I’ve always prided myself in how members of the right never conducted themselves like their leftist counterparts.

My college’s small cohort of right-wing conspirators always laughed at how leftists would wet their pants and march over every contrived injustice that blew through campus like a racist tumbleweed.  We carried an arrogance about us because we really thought that conservatives, despite taking classes from radical professors who taught us, were the real defenders of the Western canon.

While our hipster classmates thumbed their nose at our reverence for dead white men, we similarly scoffed at their hollow love for contemporary art that was almost entirely fueled by identity politics and fitting in with the latest fashionable grievance.

When I saw the news Friday night that self-proclaimed members of the New Right were celebrating the disruption of Shakespeare in the Park’s rendition of “Julius Caesar” because of Caesar’s likeness to President Donald Trump, my heart dropped.  It didn’t drop because I particularly cared about a bunch of snobby liberals having their Friday night mildly inconvenienced for a few minutes (the act of making Caesar a lookalike to Trump was a perfect example of the lame faux-intellectualism and edginess I disdained from my fellow undergrads), but because I knew immediately in that moment that the right had lost something.

I knew immediately after the news broke that there’d be a massive debate within the right over the appropriateness of the act.  The normal lines would be drawn, the old guard conservatives from publications like the National Review and The Weekly Standard would be stuck debating a flood of Twitter users with Pepe avatars who argue that the right should drop all shreds of decency and fight in the mud on the left.

After all, their candidate, Trump, won by dropping all the pretenses of decency the right cherished. Through sheer will to power, Trump and his supporters beat the Clinton Machine into the ground—something the previous generations of conservatives could never do—and rightfully declared a mandate to remake the Republican Party.

Interrupting a play that brutalized the leader of this movement was an act of loyalty, of patriotism, they argued.  Look at what the left has done to us; conservatives can’t even speak at college campuses without riots.  A peaceful interruption isn’t anything but a symbolic gesture of defiance.

As compelling as these arguments may seem, they represent a radical departure from what the right has always stood for.  As conservatives (as elementary as this might seem), we’re supposed to be about conserving things.

After news broke that one of the women who interrupted, Laura Loomer, had launched a funding page right at the beginning of the play, before she had even gotten arrested.  Worse, she continued collecting donations in the tens of thousands of dollars even after she got released and was charged with a misdemeanor.

Yet the anger of Trump supporters remained real—and raw.  While more clear heads would have seen the con job going on right in front of their eyes, Trump’s most diehard supporters demanded action, even if it was as petty as disrupting a public theater’s stupid play and turning their backs on the conservative values they had been defending just months before.

Yes, conservatives have a history of voicing outrage about popular culture (and a certain segment has an ugly tradition of calling for censorship of things that constitute an affront to the nebulous “family values”). But the libertarian wing of the party has always been consistent on understanding the dangers of a culture of censorship.

The left was losing this battle.  Americans saw the scenes of Berkeley aflame and demanded accountability, while other schools with the worst offenders saw enrollment drop.  Reacting against political correctness looked like a winning issue for the right—for good reason.  After all, leftists really did begin sounding insane and the right didn’t need to work very hard to convince the center that they were getting out of control.

With these latest protests, all of that progress will be lost.  There was a time when the right was defending the teaching of Shakespeare in college classrooms, now some of its members don’t want it being shown anywhere.

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