What Should Conservatives Learn from Frederick Douglass
Several days ago, I left a comment on the Illinois Review website following a story about a full-page open letter/ad in the Chicago Tribune promoting Bruce Rauner’s “pro-choice” position, which was signed by Mark Kirk and paid for in part by Diana Rauner. I used a metaphor to describe Rauner’s increasingly aggressive rejection of conservatives:
Rauner and his accomplices are going to double-down on conservatives, kicking them in the teeth and then grinding muddy boots into the ivory rubble left swimming in a pool of our blood. We need some mouth guards, boxing gloves, and spines.
In thinking about the criticism, I modified my words, leaving this comment:
Maybe the language I used is not appropriate to describe the actions perpetrated by the Rauners, Tom Cross, and Mark Kirk—who campaigned on his fealty to Planned Parenthood and who signed this open letter/ad—against conservatives. Maybe the ivory rubble swimming in a pool of blood is not from the teeth of conservatives but the bones of babies.
My critic viewed this comment as “over the top” and feared that “progressives” will view me and by extension all conservatives as kooky, fringy, crazy loons.
And what do conservatives do when faced with epithets, ridicule, and calumny from the Left? We obsequiously and freely relinquish one of the most powerful political tools we have: fiery rhetoric.
We must use language commensurate in intensity with the nature of the issue under debate. We must use language that inspires both passion and action. Emasculated, dispassionate discourse—though necessary—is not sufficient for effecting radical cultural change, which is what is required right now.
Killing babies in the womb is an unequivocal and sickening evil. Dismantling marriage by legally recognizing non-marital unions as marriages is destructive and pernicious. We need to talk about these issues truthfully and passionately.
Perhaps conservatives can learn something about unequivocal fiery political rhetoric from Frederick Douglass whose speech on July 5, 1852 illuminates how embarrassingly pallid, jejune, and neutered the rhetoric of so many conservatives is today. Think about abortion as you read this excerpt from his speech, and pay attention too to the unabashed religious sentiments Douglass expresses:
I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command.
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer…. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens….Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic….My soul sickens at the sight.
But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented. By an act of the American Congress [substitute Roe v. Wade]… slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form.
By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime.
I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.
At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness.
These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throng of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form.
The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission.
The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!
Frederick Douglass sounds downright crazy.
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