I am teaching the American Revolution this semester. The other day, as we were reading and interpreting some primary documents, I asked the students to notice how the writers of these documents all seemed to use a similar political language. There was a shared vocabulary that historians describe as “Whig.” It was a British political language that the colonists applied to their own political reality in the 1760s and 1770s.
After a few weeks, my students started to identify this language through vocabulary words and phrases such as “liberty,” “power,” “arbitrary government,” “slavery,” “tyranny,” “standing armies,” and “political jealousy.”
I thought about my class today while watching the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Like the 18th-century patriots, these Trump conservatives have developed a “revolutionary” language of their own. (Ted Cruz, in yesterday’s CPAC speech, referred to the Trump movement as a revolution). This language, from what I have seen so far at CPAC, includes the following vocabulary words:
Wokeness: At CPAC, this word is usually applied to people concerned about civil rights for all citizens or those who want to address systemic injustices in American life. It is often used to describe those who champion human dignity and believe that such human dignity should inform the stories we tell about the United States and its past. Most CPAC attendees are correct when they say that the Founding Fathers were not “woke.” It is also true that many of the founders’ ideas have led to “wokeness” in later reform movements such as the women’s right movement or the civil rights movement.
Cancel culture: This phrase is usually applied to a political culture that does not allow free public discourse. At CPAC, however, it applies to a culture that does not give free speech to people who peddle lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election.
The Left: Anyone who is not at CPAC is part of this group. The Left hates the American family, wants to abolish the First and Second Amendments, loves killing babies, and believes in Marxism. We should be afraid of the Left and be prepared to “fight” and “wage war” against it.
Elites: See “The Left” above. These “elites” also hate working people and want to do everything in their power to mute their voices.
Socialism: This is a label used to describe the beliefs of any Democrat and maybe even a few Republicans. It is applied to anyone who believes, like the founding fathers, that individual rights must always be understood in the context of the public good.
Gun rights: This is the “God-given” right to own an AK-47 and other automatic weapons. One does not need to make a theological argument as to whether or not the right to own an AK-47 is God-given. Instead, all one needs to do is quote Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States. Jefferson, you may recall, is the founding father who rejected the inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, and the resurrection of Jesus.
Big Tech: A phrase used to describe social media companies that will not permit lies and conspiracy theories on their platforms. Ironically, these companies have obtained an immense amount of power because the Republican Party and other conservatives have historically championed free markets and deregulation. Those watching CPAC should remember this every time the speakers invoke Ronald Reagan.
Freedom: The ability to exercise one’s rights no matter how the exercise of those rights affect other members of one’s community. The founders would not recognize much of CPAC’s understanding of freedom. Nor would Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and the rest of the authors of the New Testament. Of course this will not stop CPAC speakers from boldly referencing the Bible this weekend.