The saying is that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but the impulse to throw stones is not just strong, but strengthened by the cheers of all the other people in the same glass house as you throwing stones of their own. When everyone around you is throwing stones, why shouldn’t you?
Mona Charen had stones to throw, but she also had principles. Her first was to build a house that wasn’t glass.
I’ve been a conservative my entire life.
You may not be a conservative. Not for your entire life. Not for a minute of your life. That’s fine. No one says you should be. You be you. And Mona Charen gets to be her.
So you’d think that the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, would be a natural fit. It once was. But on Saturday, after speaking to this year’s gathering, I had to be escorted from the premises by several guards who seemed genuinely concerned for my safety.
What could she have done that was so outrageous, so offensive, to others in attendance at CPAC that would give rise to a threat to her safety? She reluctantly accepted a seat on a panel about the #MeToo movement. She was reluctant because the same stage would host people who were not intelligent ideological conservatives, but flaming nutjobs of the right.
While there were reasonable, mainstream Republican speakers at CPAC, the lineup also featured demagogues like Sheriff David Clarke Jr. While he oversaw the Milwaukee County jail, one pregnant prisoner was repeatedly raped, and several prisoners died in the space of just six months. One was a mentally ill man who was denied water for seven days. No matter. The sheriff was cheered by the CPAC crowd.
Any crowd who would cheer Clarke was a dangerous crowd. But Charen refused to give up on her conservative beliefs, and chose to do something she realized would displease the tribe. She would tell them that they can’t criticize the other tribe’s house When their own was made of glass.
But this time, and particularly in front of this crowd, it felt far more urgent to point out the hypocrisy of our side. How can conservative women hope to have any credibility on the subject of sexual harassment or relations between the sexes when they excuse the behavior of President Trump? And how can we participate in any conversation about sexual ethics when the Republican president and the Republican Party backed a man credibly accused of child molestation for the United States Senate?
I watched my fellow panelists’ eyes widen. And then the booing began.
Who goes to the high school football team rally and calls out their own team for cheating? Surely, the reception won’t be warm and fuzzy. But if the only way you can win the game is by deflating the ball in violation of the rules, then can you really win? Even if the other team cheats too, it doesn’t make your team’s cheating any less cheating. You can be as bad as them, but the point is to be better than them. The team that’s wrong is not the measure of what’s right.
I’d been dreading it for days, but when it came, I almost welcomed it. There is nothing more freeing than telling the truth. And it must be done, again and again, by those of us who refuse to be absorbed into this brainless, sinister, clownish thing called Trumpism, by those of us who refuse to overlook the fools, frauds and fascists attempting to glide along in his slipstream into respectability.
I spoke to a hostile audience for the sake of every person who has watched this spectacle of mendacity in disbelief and misery for the past two years. Just hearing the words you know are true can serve as ballast, steadying your mind when so much seems unreal.
Mona Charen won’t be invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention, and even if she was, it’s unlikely she would do it. She isn’t shedding her conservative beliefs at all. She’s shedding the facade of unprincipled ignorance that’s grown around her beliefs because Darth Cheeto got elected and, theoretically at least, he’s the captain of her football team.
Did it matter that the team captain was a moron, that what he did, what he said, what he twitted, was invariably moronic and contrary to the principles the team was supposed to uphold? It mattered to Mona Charen. Not so much to the groundlings at CPAC, who would cheer for their team even as it cheated its way to a touchdown.
For traditional conservatives, the past two years have felt like a Twilight Zone episode. Politicians, activists and intellectuals have succumbed with numbing regularity, betraying every principle they once claimed to uphold. But there remains a vigorous remnant of dissenters. I hear from them. There were even some at CPAC.
For many “politicians, activists and intellectuals,” throwing stones at the other team is sufficiently satisfying that they can slough off their own glass house. Hypocrisy is no longer a shameful state of affairs, but the normal one, to be overcome by simplistic ad hominem attacks, the occasional meme or gif, and loud ridicule. As if the team that shrieked the loudest was the team that won, even though nobody ever really wins anymore. And nobody loses as far as their team is concerned.
Mona Charen chose to take a seat in her own glass house and tell the audience that it was unprincipled to throw stones at the other tribes house while its own was made of glass. She was not siding with the other team. She would never do such a thing, and they were certainly worse than her side or she would switch sides.
But Mona Charen sought to clean up her own house of its lies, disgraces and hypocrisy first, because they were in no position to throw stones, as much as stones may need to be thrown, until their house was built of sterner stuff than glass.
Maybe the tribes shouldn’t be conservative versus progressive.* Maybe the tribes are the principled and the unprincipled, the ones who will clean up their own houses before they bask in the hypocrisy of throwing stones at the other house. For the principled, there is nothing to cheer at, and they will be booed by the other team from their glass houses.
*There is no longer a tribe for liberals, for moderates, even if the descriptors get mangled and abused.