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Gaslit by the Institutions: How I Became an Unlikely Populist Conservative

AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

My dear VIP subscribers, I must confess that this column will be rather personal. In most of my writing, I prefer to report on the facts as I see them, rather than explaining my previous experience and the lens through which I see the world. My personal experiences have shed light on a few issues — like wildland fire mitigation and Joe Biden’s absurd promises on climate change — but I will be the first to acknowledge that my paltry 31 years of experience is a rather shallow well from which to draw political wisdom.

As a young man and a member of the millennial generation, I tend to prize the knowledge and wisdom that tradition has afforded me. I lean on the extensive history of the Christian church through the centuries and the political experiments of Israel, Greece, Rome, Britain, and the United States. I tend to trust scientific experts while verifying their claims to the best of my limited ability. I prize social, political, educational, and scientific institutions.

For these and many other reasons, I tend to find the idea of populism slightly distasteful. I trust common sense, but I am skeptical of self-righteous people who reject the authority that experience and wisdom bring. Institutional knowledge is extremely helpful, especially when wisdom from previous centuries can correct the folly of the modern world.

Yet modern American institutions have embraced extremely destructive ideologies, rejecting the wisdom of the past and the common sense of honest working people. Marxist critical race theory dominates academia, the legacy media, and many public discussions. This noxious ideology teaches that American society is fundamentally racist and must be rooted up from its foundations.

Transgender ideology — while occasionally well-meaning — dominates public debate and even the medical field, where it is wreaking havoc on physicians’ ability to truly serve their patients. Like it or not, human beings are male or female down to the level of their DNA, and men and women have different physical aptitudes and needs. Burying this foundational knowledge has already done concrete harm in medicine and women’s sports.

Abortion involves the intentional killing of an unborn baby, and 95 percent of biologists say life begins at the moment of conception. Yet so much of American culture, the legacy media, and academia hail abortion as a “woman’s right to choose,” completely ignoring the central issue that abortion snuffs out a human life.

Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly for me as a biblical Christian, the noxious ideology of the Higher Criticism has dominated much of academia and the mainline Protestant churches. The Higher Criticism denigrates the reliability of the Old and New Testaments and essentially erodes the foundations of Christianity. Influenced by this ideology, mainline Protestants have grown to reject the physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the central claim of the Christian faith.

Each of these noxious ideologies has wreaked havoc on America’s institutions. Marxist critical race theory undermines the university’s ability to provide a truly liberal education — an education fit for a free citizen — because it teaches students to prize racial identity over the Western tradition of freedom. Transgender ideology undermines the medical establishment and Americans’ basic sense of fairness. If Americans will not object to a biological male competing against a biological female in women’s sports, how can they grasp the concept of fair play in general? Abortion activism blinds Americans to the intentional killing of millions. The Higher Criticism eviscerates the Christian faith, which I believe to be the primary engine of true redemption and growth in the world.

In recent years, American politics has boiled down to a new formula: radical leftist institutions propping up a power-crazed Democratic Party and populist backlash invigorating a business-minded and anti-regulation Republican Party.

As a millennial who enjoys exotic foreign food and urban environments, I fit the basic personality profile of a “liberal,” and I find myself identifying more with institutional wisdom than with popular uprisings. Yet the Left is extremely noxious to me, because it props up divisive, destructive, and false ideologies. Conservative populism represents the reaction of common sense against this radical threat, and I find no choice but to embrace it.

In order for America’s institutions to fulfill their basic functions, they must be redeemed from these noxious ideologies. America’s churches need a new Reformation, but so do America’s schools, universities, media outlets, and governments. The institutions are taking themselves down the wrong road, and only a populist backlash can jolt them from their ideological bubbles.

President Donald Trump was the face of that backlash and his story remains unfinished. As Joe Biden drives America even further down into the abyss, the Republican Party will experience another Tea Party wave of populist revolt — and this time, conservatives must make better use of that populism.

Political victories are fleeting. We must retake the commanding heights of American culture. That will require an iron will and a resolve to keep fighting the battle of ideas in every place we can.

That battle is the reason I get out of bed in the morning, the reason I am obsessed with my work even when conservatives lose at the ballot box. It also makes me value our wonderful subscribers here at PJ Media. In an age of cancel culture, you make our work possible.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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