- Anthony Leonardi and Norman Young
Based or Cringe? A Clubhouse Group Takes On David French
“David French, based or cringe?” That is the question.
It was the question first posed by a small group of Trump-friendly conservatives last Wednesday on the online social media application Clubhouse. The group began their conversation by venting their frustration at conservative writer David French, attacking nearly everything from his looks to his politics.
Suddenly, in a move that can only reasonably be described as "based," French joined the Clubhouse chat, himself. The room's moderators, both shocked and elated by the development, immediately invited him onto the "stage." Unfortunately, the "cringe" set in almost immediately when French told the group that the only reason he was able to try out the new app was because his game of Dungeons & Dragons was canceled. And, shortly afterward, French admitted that he was unaware of the meaning of the word “based,” a term commonly used among younger conservatives to praise an idea or person.
The entire tenor of the conversation changed upon French’s entrance into the chatroom. What had begun as a free-for-all hate-fest became an orderly airing of grievances, and French was given ample time to respond to various criticisms (some thoughtful, some visceral) of his brand of conservatism.
What seemed to upset French’s critics most was his stance on the “culture war.” Their frustration was audible when French asserted that conservatives were the true winners in politics over the last 30 years on several key issues.
“This entire debate partially comes down to worldview. French believes the right is winning, I truly don’t understand how, but he does,” explained author and political consultant Ryan Girdusky reflecting on the conversation.
Girdusky is correct that the debate between French and his critics boils down to fundamentally different worldviews. But French’s argument coheres when one accepts his premise about what should be the conservative approach to politics.
In his own piece reflecting on the conversation, French reiterated many of the arguments he posed in the Clubhouse chatroom. French asserted that on the issues of gun rights, family formation, and abortion, conservatives should acknowledge that the culture has moved in the right direction. Gun rights have expanded by means of various court decisions; divorce rates have declined over time; abortion rates have declined since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and some states have even passed significant pro-life legislation.
This, he argues, is why conservatives do not need to support (nay, should never support) a man like Trump. If conservatives are already winning on social issues like abortion, the present cultural moment does not demand radical abortion abolitionism. One can almost imagine a political pundit in 1855 opposing slavery Abolitionists in the same way, arguing that state-level bans on slavery, federal restrictions on slavery’s expansion, and the prohibition of the slave trade proved that the culture was already moving in the right direction.
On this point, we at Think Outside Politics pressed French, asking, point blank, “How immoral would Abraham Lincoln have to be to lose your vote in 1860?”
French had a snarky retort ready, responding that if Abraham Lincoln had been incompetent and evil (like Trump, presumably), he could never have voted for him.
The other issue on which the chatroom seemed to agree that French’s position was “cringe,” was his stance on the conduct of mega-corporations who attack conservatives’ right to free expression. Numerous instances of corporate collusion to silence conservatives were brought to French’s attention. Some he dismissed out of hand because the purported victim was, according to French, a “white nationalist.” Other cases, like the banning of Parler, were defended as valid expressions of the conscience of Amazon’s corporate person.
But, even in cases where David French was forced to admit that corporations had acted stupidly (i.e. when the victim was a trans-critical Christian, like Ryan P. Anderson), French still minimized conservative concerns. These instances were mere “micro-realities,” he said. Such minor failures of “free speech culture” cannot be considered evidence of widespread, systemic oppression, he continued, because the “macro-reality” remained that conservative voices are freer now than ever. Like a creationist evangelical insisting that micro-evolution can never prove macro-evolution, French seemed satisfied with his explanation, having convinced absolutely no one.
We at Think Outside Politics can’t help but understand French’s commitment to his principles. When one Clubhouse member asked him if he would still hold his same view on corporate censorship should he be ostracized or silenced by the entire corporate world (like those “white nationalists”), French responded, “I hope so.” We believe him. When future corporations push French into a digital gulag with other conservatives, we fully expect to find him living out his personal “free speech culture” by hearing out (and minimizing) the complaints of every fellow inmate.