Skip to content
A Christmas Wish for America—Chill the Heck Out
Go to my account

A Christmas Wish for America—Chill the Heck Out

Can we learn to major in the majors and minor in the minors?

Readers, I feel ashamed. Because of important family reasons (the birth of my first grandchild!), I mostly missed an entire bloody political conflict. I was on the sidelines, useless, as two great tribes fought each other to a standstill, a virtual version of the Battle of the Somme. I’m speaking, of course, of the War of Jill Biden’s Degree—a dreadful fight in which (paraphrasing the opening crawl of Revenge of the Sith) there were heroes on both sides, yet evil was everywhere. Long may we remember the valiant Twitter service of its noble veterans!

For those who don’t remember the contours of that conflict, it broke down in the typical attack/counterattack/cry mode of most modern political fights. First came the attack, a rude op-ed Wall Street Journal op-ed by Joseph Epstein that began like this:

Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name?

This, readers, is the textbook definition of trolling. Epstein made his relatively meaningless and unimportant complaint about the use of honorifics in a deliberately insulting way. The obvious intention was to spark outrage.

The piece accomplished its purpose. Though we’re in the midst of both a pandemic and a presidential attack on lawful election results, not only did scorn rain down on the Wall Street Journal, it was as if a signal flare went up across the length and breadth of the internet—“there are clicks to be had!”

And so the conflict raged. There were tweets about sexism, pieces taking apart Biden’s dissertation, and general rage and anger on Biden’s behalf. The Twitter storm grew so intense that the Wall Street Journal felt entitled to make the coveted troll-to-victim 180. After the paper was mean to Biden, the paper yelped that people were mean to it.

Its editorial page editor, Paul Gigot, published an essay called “The Biden Team Strikes Back.” And how did the president-elect’s team “strike back”? With tweets and a phone call. Yet that minimal response prompted this grandiose declaration:

If you disagree with Mr. Epstein, fair enough. Write a letter or shout your objections on Twitter. But these pages aren’t going to stop publishing provocative essays merely because they offend the new administration or the political censors in the media and academe. And since it’s a time to heal, we’ll give the Biden crowd a mulligan for their attacks on us.

In the end, the episode was win-win. Everyone got what they wanted. Everyone’s priors were affirmed. Libs were triggered, grievances were aired, and clicks were had by all. Then, the instant the Biden fury faded, the Very Online readied for the next day’s outrage. After all, a good Twitter warrior never rotates out of the trenches.

What’s my take on this nonsense? Honestly, I barely care enough to have a take. But if you make me care about the substance of the dispute, my response is simple. Use your manners. Absent truly compelling circumstances, address people how they want to be addressed.

I may not care about this dispute, but here’s what I do care about—that important and powerful people went down the rabbit hole of charges, countercharges, and very real anger over a whole pile of nothing. Here’s what I also care about. I fear that one of my favorite movies was wrong.

Perhaps the most-quoted portion of Pixar’s The Incredibles is from the scene in which the villain, Syndrome, revealed his plan. After he demonstrates his power, he’ll sell his technology so that “everyone can be super.” And when everyone is super, he says, “No one will be.”

Conservatives have loved that quote as an indictment of the “everyone gets a trophy” generation (when everyone is great, no one is). But I’ve heard it applied time and again in other contexts, including outrage. “When everything is outrageous, nothing is.”

But for America’s political classes, that’s exactly wrong. When everything is outrageous, then … EVERYTHING IS OUTRAGEOUS.

And so welcome to the life of the modern political hobbyist, where his or her rage can transfer seamlessly and evenly from gross abuses of power to middling breaches of decorum without modulation of tone or even an ounce of perspective. We keep the cultural volume at 11 every darn day.

If you doubt this reality, I’d urge you to listen to one of my favorite podcasts (aside from our marvelous Dispatch offerings, including Advisory Opinions). It’s called “Blocked and Reported,” and its hosts, Jesse Singal and Katie Herzog offer invaluable coverage of the truly volcanic cultural and political fury that is constantly erupting in important American institutions over the most minor of offenses (for example, I’d encourage you to listen to their podcast about the unbelievable cancel culture in young adult literature, an industry in which you must never, ever tell someone to “sit on a tack.”)

I keep thinking about a book I read a few years ago called End of Discussion by Guy Benson and Mary Katharine Ham. It focused mainly on threats to free speech from the left, but it included a cultural recommendation that would do our nation a pile of bipartisan good—they tongue-in-cheek proposed creating a so-called “Coalition to Chill the Hell Out.”

No, you don’t chill out about everything. Of course not. Some things are truly terrible and worth our outrage. But in most cases, chilling out is a public service. “A guy wrote a trollish piece about the future first lady!?!” Oh really? Perhaps we should ignore it so it doesn’t get clicks.

But if the energy (and clicks) are in the outrage, where’s the constituency for calm? It turns out there’s a latent American majority that’s sick and tired of American infighting. The More in Common project’s invaluable “hidden tribes” survey of American politics has identified a so-called “exhausted majority” that reject the political culture created by the angry activist “wings”:

While the story of the Wings may be one of division and conflict, a very different story is found in the rest of America. In fact, the largest group that we uncovered in our research has so far been largely overlooked. It is a group of Americans we call the Exhausted Majority―our collective term for the four tribes, representing a two-thirds majority of Americans, who aren’t part of the Wings. Although they appear in the middle of our charts and graphs, most members of the Exhausted Majority aren’t political centrists or moderates. On specific issues, their views range across the spectrum. But while they hold a variety of views, the members of the Exhausted Majority are also united in important ways:

· They are fed up with the polarization plaguing American government and society

·  They are often forgotten in the public discourse, overlooked because their voices are seldom heard

· They are flexible in their views, willing to endorse different policies according to the precise situation rather than sticking ideologically to a single set of beliefs

· They believe we can find common ground

So that’s good news, right? There’s your chill-out coalition, right there! And it has the sheer numerical power to dominate the wings. 

But there’s a profound problem—in the phrase “exhausted majority” the operative word isn’t “majority.” It’s “exhausted.” Rather than exert their power to dominate the discourse, the members of the exhausted majority throw up their hands and largely retreat from the field—leaving politics to the endlessly angry (and always motivated) minority.

But perhaps there are signs that the exhausted majority is stirring. The wings didn’t win the Democratic primary. The wings didn’t win the general election. And we’re gratified to know that there’s a market for The Dispatch and other publications that resist the partisan pull.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again–I’ve always been a tiny bit peeved that Jonah thought of The Remnant before I did. It’s a great name for a podcast and a proper name for conservatives who seek to preserve what’s best in the movement.

But there’s another name—not as good—for the slice of the exhausted majority that’s growing more energetic. They include members of The Dispatch who seek light and not heat in the words they read.

We’re the small yet defiant band who are willing to shun the outrage cycles and argue for perspective—to major in the majors and minor in the minors. We’re the remnant, yes, but we’re also—with all due apologies to Tobias Funke—The Dozens. May our tribe increase and help heal this land.

One last thing…

The NBA season starts tonight, and you know what that means.

Memphis Grizzlies content. Constantly. So to whet your appetite for the glories to come, let’s remember the glories of the year past. Ladies and gentlemen, refresh yourself on the greatness of 2020 rookie of the year, Ja Morant:

David French is a columnist for the New York Times. He’s a former senior editor of The Dispatch. He’s the author most recently of Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation.