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Smoke and some fire

Election 2018: From Reagan Democrats to Edmund Burke Independents

Smoke and some fire

A voting station in Noblesville, Ind. (Michael Conroy/AP)

Edmund Burke was a Whig member of the House of Commons between 1766 and 1794, when Great Britain became less great. He thought the American colonies had right on their side and Warren Hastings, the Trump-like governor-general of Bengal (India), deserved impeachment. (The House of Commons did impeach Hastings, but the House of Lords acquitted him.)

In short, given the political context of the time, many saw Burke as a progressive.

But that view changed when Burke came out strongly against the French Revolution: He wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), “In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.”

Forget Patrick/

A sculpture of Edmund Burke in front of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland (Forget Patrick/

Nearly two centuries later, Republicans won big in America’s 1980 election because 1 in 10 Democrats was so upset by Jimmy Carter’s support of abortion and appeasement that he or she voted for Ronald Reagan. This year, the middle two weeks of October made it appear that the 2018 election will hang on whether 1 in 10 anti-Trump voters fears the prospect of Democratic extremism enough to vote for Republicans.

Those Edmund Burke independents early in October watched desperate Democrats go too far in trying to stop a fifth conservative from joining the Supreme Court. One of Karl Marx’s few sensible statements—that history repeats itself, with new developments coming “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”—gained backing as Julie Swetnick’s extreme accusations of gang rape followed Christine Blasey Ford’s tragic memories of assault.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Eric Holder (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Polls since then suggest that Democratic recklessness lit a fire under independent voters worried that some day they might also be declared guilty until proven innocent. Obama attorney general Eric Holder didn’t help on Oct. 7 when he dismissed the rule of law and said regarding Republicans, “When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party’s about.”

The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, probably newspaperdom’s most influential pundit, led one of his October columns this way: “I began my journalism career covering a civil war in Lebanon. I never thought I’d end my career covering a civil war in America. We may not be there yet, but if we don’t turn around now, we will surely get where we’re going.”

I tend to see our current battles as smoke but not fire. Smoke is stealing opponents’ political yard signs, which happens in every election. Republicans and Democrats were both culpable, judging by reports from north, south, east, and west (Minnesota, Texas, North Carolina, and California). In the latter state, Fullerton City Council candidate Paulette Marshall Chaffee, the wife of the mayor, suspended her campaign after bloggers posted two videos of her allegedly removing opposition signs.

Andrew Harnik/AP

Ben Sasse (Andrew Harnik/AP)

But what about The Fire Next Time, to steal a book title from James Baldwin, who wrote, “There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.” On Oct. 12 Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., described two of them: “ever more ferocious political tribalism and mutual hatred.” He’s right to say we create fire-prone underbrush as we lose contact with “people who don’t share our socioeconomic background. … The only way out is to rebuild our communities and launch new ones—one person-to-person relationship and one local institution at a time.”

Some fire this time was visible. Police in Minnesota arrested two people for allegedly stealing political yard signs and setting them on fire. On Oct. 15 other Minnesota police sought a man who allegedly attacked state Rep. Sarah Anderson when she found him kicking down several of her yard signs. A GOP candidate for the Minnesota Legislature, Shane Mekeland, reported an attack on him by a “much bigger person” who left him with a concussion.

In Portland, Ore., once known as “the Rose City” and now nicknamed “Little Beirut,” right-wing marchers calling themselves “Patriot Prayer” faced off against left-wing protesters calling themselves anti-fascists. Some of the battlers wore Boba Fett helmets and body armor. Others wore black clothing and ski masks. This was the 15th confrontation in the past year and a half: Police now use explosive devices and chemical irritants to keep the militants from killing each other.

Happily, Nov. 6 brings one of our solemn traditions, as millions peacefully go to the polls. I’m not writing about specific political contests here, because while most WORLD members should receive this issue before the Nov. 6 election, others may receive it afterward. By the way, WORLD will have real-time vote-total tracking at That page goes live on Election Day.

Christians will watch those results eagerly, while realizing that politics will not save us. As we vote, perhaps against some candidates rather than enthusiastically for others, it’s good and right to keep in mind these hopeful words from singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken: “We will feast in the house of Zion / We will sing with our hearts restored / He has done great things, we will say together / We will feast and weep no more.”

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.