Anti-Trumpers, Please Watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

{I beg pardon from both Red Phillips and our readers for being so late in publishing this.  It arrived on a day I was preparing dinner for a few early arrivals to our Summer Symposium, which just ended Saturday night.  I was preparing the dinner--a two day project--because the chef in charge, namely my wife, had just broken and badly dislocated her ankle in several places and will have to undergo an operation this week. TJF]

As a good traditional conservative, I like Westerns. If you watch a lot of Westerns you will eventually discern that many of them have a very similar theme. This theme is that the breed of men it took to tame the Wild West is different from the breed of men it took to civilize the West once it was more or less tamed. This is an important life lesson with real world application. Conservatives should watch more Westerns and less Fox News.

The outstanding example of this theme is the 1962 John Ford classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (IMDB 8.1). If you haven’t seen it, especially if you consider yourself any kind of trad con, I strongly recommend that you stop reading this and watch it and then return to this article when you are done. You can stream it on Amazon for $2.99. For those who have never had the pleasure of watching it or have not watched it recently, I will provide a brief and largely spoiler free overview.

Ransom Stoddard, played by Jimmy Stewart, arrives in a small Western town after being robbed and beaten by the feared local outlaw, Liberty Valance. The story is told in retrospect, so we know that Stoddard goes on to become a United States Senator after the territory achieves statehood. Stoddard is a bookish lawyer and a decent man who is all about justice and the rules, but he is constitutionally ill-equipped to deal with the chaos and violence that Valance and his crew visit upon the town. The film makes it very clear that Stoddard, unlike the cowardly local sheriff, is not without courage, but he has the kind of courage of his convictions that gets a decent man killed in the Wild West. He refuses to concede the reality that sometimes in the real world, principles have to give way to the way things actually are.

Stoddard, from the already civilized East, is attempting to act according to his “back East” values, despite the fact that he is no longer back East. A local who is quite handy with a gun, Tom Doniphon, played by John Wayne, sees what is going on with his sincere but hapless friend, and attempts to explain to him the way things work in his new environment. Men like Valance, Doniphon explains, aren’t impressed by his principles. They only understand force. This lesson is illustrated by the famous ending of the film, which I will not spoil. Stoddard goes on to thrive post-statehood in the more civilized environment for which his skill set and demeanor are better suited, while Doniphon lives out the rest of his life in lonely isolation, his temperament and skill set no longer needed.

The above theme is common in Westerns because history reveals it is based in truth. It is not a coincidence that some of the most famous Western lawmen were also former outlaws themselves (“Wild Bill” Hickok, “Doc” Holliday, Wyatt Earp, etc.).

I have previously made it clear that I believe there are some sincere conservative opponents of Donald Trump who are genuinely put off by his at times, shall we say, less than decorous and gentlemanly behavior. In an ideal world, traditionalist conservatives in particular, should value decency and decorum. I wholeheartedly agree with this, but our world is not ideal and Russell Kirk is not on the ballot, and I am not sure Russell Kirk would be the right man for the job at this time even if he was.

Through much interaction with both sides, I am convinced that one of the primary things that divides conservatives who oppose Trump from conservatives who support him is where they view our current situation as being on this uncivilized vs. civilized spectrum. Do we live in a civilized society that just needs fine-tuning, something that could be accomplished by a man of conviction and principle like Ransom Stoddard, or do we live in an uncivilized society that needs a gunfighter like Tom Doniphon to do what has to be done to tame the land first before we can worry about principles? By the standards of the film, are we pre-statehood or post-statehood?

It is not a reach, I believe, to view Ted Cruz and many of his diehard supporters (and Rand Paul and his supporters) as having a mindset a lot like Stoddard’s, concerned about principles and technicalities like the Constitutional process, checking all the conservative boxes, keeping the ideological flame, etc. but not realizing that we now live in an uncivilized and in many ways lawless (Some have called the current state of our country anarcho-tyranny.) country where such things are as useful as Stoddard’s law books were against Valance. While Trump and many of his supporters have a mindset a lot like Doniphon’s, realizing they need to do what it takes to secure the country against hostiles they recognize do not play by the rules.

So who is right about where the country currently falls on this spectrum? A black sniper deliberately took out white police officers at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas, and the Megaphone blames it on guns and Donald Trump. A radical Muslim shoots up a gay nightclub in Orlando and the Megaphone blames it on guns, Donald Trump and white Christians who encourage homophobia. Protestors carrying Mexican flags and promising to take America back for Mexico riot and attack peaceful Trump supporters outside a Trump rally in California, but Trump’s “incendiary” rhetoric is to blame. Blood runs through the streets of many of our major cities because the police have backed off and let chaos reign in what has been called the Ferguson Effect. Sixty six people were shot in the city of Chicago over the July 4 weekend. Conservative speakers are forced to cancel appearances or are shouted down on college campuses by self-appointed Social Justice Warriors who then demand safe spaces if a conservative actually manages to speak. Students at a venerable, top tier Southern University, one of my alma maters, demand counseling because someone wrote Trump’s name on the sidewalk in chalk. Christians are forced to bake wedding cakes against their conscience. People with college degrees work at Starbucks, live with their parents and put off marriage and procreation because they can’t find a decent middle class job in the new 21st Century economy our elites have foisted on us. Employees at Disney are forced to train their foreign replacements fraudulently brought in on work visas. I could go on.

Anti-Trump conservatives, you need to wake up. Wagging your finger at the enemy about the Constitution is going to be as effective as Stoddard pointing at his law books was in his battle against Valance. You don’t live in 1950s America anymore or even Ronald Reagan’s America. You don’t live in Stoddard’s East. You live in Doniphon’s Wild West. Your enemies don’t care about or play by your rules. Like Valance and his gang, they see you as an impediment they just want out of their way. All your tidy little principles will not mean a thing if the country turns permanently Blue from immigration and there is no middle class left to hold up the whole edifice because our manufacturing base has been decimated by globalist trade deals. The Constitution is already virtually a dead letter, but it will be completely dead if America stays on its current trajectory and becomes a third world country. I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to scream at the computer screen, “Would you please watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance!” when engaging Cruz supporters, Rand supporters and other anti-Trumpers.

Now is not the time to box check your conservative list. Now is not the time to hand-wring about decorum. You live in an uncivilized and hostile environment that wants you out of the way, literally and figuratively. You can box check your list or use Emily Post as your standard for judging a candidate after the realm has been secured, but not before. The current times do not call for a Ransom Stoddard. They call for a Tom Doniphon. I’m not making any promises about how successful a Trump Presidency will be, but he’s the closest candidate to a Tom Doniphon we have right now. A lot of the issues with his persona and demeanor that his critics complain about are a feature of the kind of candidate we need at this time, not a bug. Anti-Trumpers please note, the enemy didn’t blame the “toxic” rhetoric of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich or Rand Paul for the recent reign of chaos. They blamed Donald Trump. They know who their real enemy is. So should you.

Dan "Red" Phillips

Dan "Red" Phillips

3 Responses

  1. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Bravo Mr. Phillips. I have the movie saved on my DVR. Everyone should watch it and read your excellent explication of our current situation.

  2. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Mr. Phillips:
    This is as good an analogy as I’ve read regarding the American scene. Look at the pusillanimous Never-Trumper Rod Dreher, wringing his hands over three more dead officers in his own backyard, wanting to have it both ways: we want to reform police racism and brutality, but we still support the police! Won’t condemn BLM.

    And these people will keep advocating for more and more Ransom Stoddard solutions, when it’s long past time to unleash the Doniphon option. Maybe we should start referring to Trump as “The Doniphon,” so he gets the message. Assuming he’s a fan of classic cinema.

  3. Dot says:

    First, I wish your wife well and an excellent healing of her ankle.

    This article reminds me of a couple who left the east coast for Montana. They wanted a better life for their children and moved to Montana from Georgia. They originally came from Connecticut. For income they opened a small restaurant. We stopped in for lunch which was served on lovely, shiny, modern black and white dinnerware. Wonder how the East coast style went over with the men on horseback.