Painting the Leopard: Never Means Never

Like many conservatives in 2016 and 2017, I believed the definition of “never” was well understood and generally accepted, and when people said it, I thought I knew what they meant. I was mistaken.

“Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

-Jeremiah 13:23-

The problem with absolutes, such as “always“, “every“, “all“, “never“, and “none“, especially when used in philosophy or even politics, is that it takes just one counter example to blow up even the most well constructed argument. Just when you think something is absolutely true of “all” people “everywhere“, someone inevitably comes along and, merely by existing, punches a neat, irreparable hole in any political theory.

This, of course, isn’t a new idea, having been around since at least Adam Smith first observed the obvious problems with even the most benevolent of planned economies. People rarely do what planners want them to do, or even what planners think the people should do in their own best interest. Their reasons for doing (or not doing) anything at any given time are often incomprehensible to anyone but themselves, with whim, not wit, guiding their decisions.

While these observations, liberally paraphrased as they may be, are most typically used in economic arguments against the sort of top down economic structures common among mercantilist and socialist economies, they were, and remain, primarily observations of basic human nature. People may, in fact, act in a certain way, but they aren’t likely to act in that way forever or for the reasons you even expect.

All of this being said, however, there are still some things that are fundamentally and always true, and, as conservatives, these assumptions are part and parcel of our ideological framework.

“What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man!
Who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment and death itself
in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment, be deaf to all
those motives whose powers supported him through his trial…”
-Thomas Jefferson-

The political right has often, with good reason, objected to radical redefinitions of established words, like “marriage” (which has long been culturally defined) and “gender” (which has long been scientifically defined), and resisted creation of meaningless words, like “assault rifle” (as if there is any other kind of rifle) or “transgender” (as if throwing a dress on a man makes him anything other than a man), loaded terms that provoke a debate outside the scope of this article.

Despite the right’s repeated and principled rejection of novel meanings of words, suffice to say, there is a very large segment of the political right that has taken gross liberties with the definition of a very simple word that’s meaning has, until the last year or so, been extremely well understood: “Never.” Let’s get the definition of this word absolutely clear. Simply put, “Never” means “not ever“. Less simply, it means “under no circumstance“, “at no point in time (before, during, or since)“, “absolutely not“, “to no extent or degree“, and is a direct opposite of “always“, “sometimes“, and “in certain conditions“.

My memory is very clear on this. All around me, there were men and women who stood up and declared, with full throated conviction, “I will never support Donald Trump!” The #NeverTrump hashtag was born on numerous social media platforms with the purpose of spreading and supporting this commitment to principled politics ethics. Like many conservatives in 2016 and 2017, I believed the definition of “never” was well understood and generally accepted, and when people said it, I thought I knew what they meant. I was mistaken.

“The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.”
-Thomas Jefferson-

Despite whatever the moral cowards in the Republican Party or the “Make America Great Again” crowd may presently believe, no amount and no combination of election victories makes an unworthy man elevated to the presidency of the United States any less unworthy of that office. As Donald Trump has demonstrated time and time again, he is a man whose fundamental disconnect from the truth and adolescent obsession with trite and petty insult borders on the pathological.

More disturbing than Donald’s own demonstrable inability to conduct himself with any integrity at all, is his millions of accomplices across the country who defend even his most ludicrous and provably false statements. Regardless how “well intentioned” their motives may be (and that, itself, is more than a little dubious), no amount of white washing can eradicate the spots of any leopard, particularly one who insists on revealing those spots for the entire world to see practically every day on Twitter.

And shouting “Fake News” until blue in the face doesn’t repair the demonstrable abandonment of even the very simple rules of English vocabulary. If the meaning of the word “never” can be so easily abandoned, there is no ground to stand on with respect to the definitions of “marriage“, “man“, “woman“, or even “rights“. So congratulations Trump Train, merely by existing, you have punched a neat and irreparable hole in your own mind numbing circular arguments. Bravo.

As it turns out, painting a leopard still remains a time terrible idea. Always. Every time.

Liberty is For The Win.


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