Nikki Nostalgia

Can’t believe I have Nimarata “Nikki” Haley to thank for the following disquisition. Don’t worry, token “Little Mermaid” remake fans, it has little to do with her desperate fluffing of Mickey Mouse.

The future Iowa caucus loser tweeted out an underappreciated political paradigm: “Do you remember when you were growing up, do you remember how simple life was, how easy it felt? It was about faith, family, and country. We can have that again, but to do that, we must vote Joe Biden out.”

Ignore the “vote the libs out” prescription append, meant to stoke righteous plebiscital fury within Road to Majority Policy Conference attendees. Voting down-the-line Republican has failed to bring back “the good old days” for a century running. Charlie Brown has a higher place-kick success rate than conservatives do at conserving anything by playing pachyderm every election day.

But darn it if we don’t try anyway.

More importantly, what Haley touches on is a critical cosmovisionary divide that forms political ideology. Her Rosebud-ish prompt: “Do you remember when you were growing up, do you remember how simple life was, how easy it felt?” (How easy it felt is lovelily invocative, like the Instagram memes with feathery music imploring users to “remember when?” with screenshots of fuzzed out summer backyard scenes.)

The answer to Haley’s question is the answer to all questions: it depends.

Experiential subjectivism brings out the nastiest, most untempered reactions to general observations. (Remeber Yanny vs. Laurel?) Twitter doesn’t help either. Haley was predictably taken to task for romanticizing the past, with various rejoinders repeating, in essence, “quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis reciptur.” Then topped with a bile pile of grievance buzzphrases like “but racism!”, “but slavery!”, “but Jim Crow!” and “shut up and quit actin’ white!”. The haggish blog Jezebel summed up the outrage nicely: “Nikki Haley Is Dragged to Hell for Harkening Back to America’s ‘Simple, Easy’ Past.” (Oh no! Now, she’ll never crack 4% in primary polling!)

The caterwauling was expected—fitting, actually—for progressives, who, in meeting the demands of nominative determinism, prize progress over stasis. Conservatives like Haley (right-liberal though she is) venerate the past, not resent it.

Thus, my grand theory of ideological orientation (take note journalists, pollsters, and academics!): your politics is determined by how much you enjoyed childhood. Someone who fondly remembers beach trips with family, sleepovers with friends, and staying up late to trash talk and pwn strangers in Halo 2 is on the right. Someone who hates remembering school days full of bullying, taunting, and fretting about wearing ill-fitting, non-name-brand clothes is on the left. Of course, nobody lives perfectly content or absolutely abysmal lives—good days and bad days and cosmic luck and all that. It’s a question of comparison: did you enjoy coming of age more than loathe it? Are your childhood years more rose-tinted than clouded over? Do you still speak regularly to your parents, or insolently endure Christmas dinner and gift-exchange before zooming back to your one-bedroom?

Leftist militancy can be measured in direct proportion to formative-years detachment. And the more removed, whether physically or emotionally, a fist-pumping liberal is from home, the more he or she or ze or zir longs to smother history—including their ancestors’ beliefs and practices—in the name of a higher justice. Rebellion against the status quo ante takes precedence over filial loyalty. As Douglas Murray puts it, the anti-bourgeoisie left means to right former wrongs by clearing “the cultural landscape of the past,” and thus engineer something newer, fairer, and unrecognizable compared to what came before.

And if a little blood needs to be spilt to immanentize Year Zero? Well, that’s what the world deserves because Chad mocked my knockoff Nikes in 5th grade. And because mommy wouldn’t let me stay up longer to defeat Bowser even though I just knocked off the last batch of pinwheel Reznors! It was all so unfair. Now the political system that enabled my mom to put Super Nintendo on an impossible-to-reach shelf must be wiped from the earth.

Faulkner was right about the past never being dead. As was Tennyson who, soliloquizing as a restless Ulysses, realized, “I am a part of all that I have met.” And as Catholic academic Francis Maier wrote, “memory is the foundation of identity.” (Pardon the overreliance on my aide-memoire for supporting quotes—all grand theories require reference to famous thinkers and writers. It’s called appealing to authority and it works!)

Nikki Haley once admitted her upbringing wasn’t all bunting and warm apple pie feelings. “We faced discrimination and hardship,” she said of her early family life in South Carolina, where her parents donned traditional Indian garb. Yet she got over it, which is what growing up ultimately is: getting over childish resentment. California congressman Ted Lieu took the opposite, more pouty approach. Despite a successful military career and earning a JD from Georgetown, the Twitter-addicted rep. insisted that his childhood was defined by one racist episode after another, where toothless rednecks “called the police on us because they thought Asians like us were stealing wild ducks for food.” And, more importantly, “no one in government looked like me.” (America’s population was less than .5% Taiwanese when Lieu was romping around Cleveland in the ‘70s—why would anyone in elected government look like him?) “Life sure was simple,” Lieu snarks, the bitter taste of memberberries in his mouth.

Want a better predictor of voting patterns than reductive racial essentialism or calculating the mean savings-account rate? See how many “If you drank from the hose as a kid, your childhood was awesome!” memes have been shared in a given district.

The Happy-Golden-Days-of-Yore poll isn’t full proof. But someone who cherishes their history won’t seek to radically alter it. That means sticking with, to borrow Coleridge’s dichotomy, the Party of Permanency (R), instead of the Party of Change (D).

Too bad Republicans are, in practice, the Party of Change-lite. Then again, nostalgia has its etymological root in algos—Greek for pain. And nothing hurts more than voting GOP and expecting the brakes tapped on “progress.” Is it any wonder Donald Trump’s throwback Americana continues to dominate his party’s swelling primary field?

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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