The TownhallSocial issues

‘Root causes’ discourse has a stranglehold on our language

By Matthew Delaney

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

A phrase we’ve started to hear more frequently during the Biden administration and from their institutional allies is addressing the “root causes” of our nation’s biggest issues. 

The White House’s strategy to address the root causes of migration in Northern Triangle countries stems from an executive order Biden signed in his first two weeks in office. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky announced her agency’s effort to begin addressing the root causes of gun violence in the U.S. From health care inequities and food deserts to climate change and the root cause of every problem in the progressive universe — racism — there’s a long-running obsession with getting down to the nitty gritty wherever our left-leaning global aristocracy is involved. 

Politically speaking, this is a savvy move. Not only does it give an open-minded public a project to work toward, but it gives progressive string-pullers control over what progress looks like and the amount of time needed to dedicate to it.  

People already expect that attacking the root cause of something won’t be quick work. They also expect it to require sacrifices, as all meaningful work does. That’s why the Biden admin’s Samantha Power can say fertilizer shortages are a net gain because it prompts a shift to climate-friendly farming techniques, even though those new farming techniques may not be nearly as effective. Or how the public will let Democrats remind them they can avoid having to fill up their tank for big money if they just buy an electric car. 

The tactics are snobby, but what’s the alternative? Republicans, and conservatives more broadly, base their political identity around being against whatever the Democrats/progressives are for. But the public doesn’t have as much patience for being anti-something unless that something is so bad, they’re desperate for a short-term fix. For example, much of this fall’s predicted red wave is seen as being against the Democrats’ policies on inflation, gender ideology, and lingering resentment over how Covid-19 was handled. 

The overturning of Roe v. Wade gives the conservative movement the chance to define what they are actually for. If they sit on their ass after such a historic victory, they’ll wind up losing the argument again. 

But they’ll have an uphill battle in accomplishing that. Despite progressives’ waning influence in our hearts, their language preferences still dominate our minds. Those who control the language can control how issues are framed — and how serious a given issue should be taken. That’s why you see ideologically opposed conservatives adopt the left’s lingo, like “root causes,” in how they assess a problem, such as here, here, and here.  

“Root causes” might seem like an innocuous phrase, but it’s a subtle way of conceding that progressives get to set the rules for how something is discussed. They own a permanent home field advantage, because those outside the left-wing bubble are forced to use progressive vocabulary to argue with progressives about their ideas. 

An even larger problem with adopting the progressive lexicon is that it has meshed with academic wonkiness. The engine of our analytical culture is that there needs to be a technical (and often, sterile) way of explaining a problem to give it the veneer of authority, and thus make it real. But in truth, most of us don’t need to read a study or think intensely about the source of the world’s problems; we just need to say out loud what we can plainly see while living in it. 

With homelessness, it’s turning a blind eye to drug addiction and a tolerance for “camping” on city streets. With climate change, we don’t have the infrastructure to support new energy sources, nor is there a way to make the sun and wind as efficient as oil and gas. With illegal immigration, it’s a bureaucratic visa process combined with us feeling icky for strictly enforcing our laws pertaining to the border. With criminal justice and its association with systemic racism, it’s largely fatherlessness and how that’s promoted by state welfare policies. With health care disparities, it’s that people believe modern medicine should be able to overcome their lifestyle choices and financial constraints. 

Our analytic culture does allow for a deeper understanding of a problem, but a byproduct of this standard is that being deemed “knowledgeable” is a title gate-kept by those with the right credentials. Meanwhile, the common sense most people possess is seen as an unreliable way of interpreting the world. 

This is even more of a problem when you consider the knowledge economy’s political bias. From medicine to the media, how information is shaped is largely driven by who disseminates that information. It is clear the ones doing so are largely Democrat voters. They may not all agree on certain issues, but they definitely agree on what they’re against — our strongest source of community nowadays — which is typically anything that doesn’t favor Democrats’ preconceived notions. 

Conservatives have responded in kind by amassing a spec ops team of technical experts to fight the left’s monopoly on public intellect. Ben Shapiro might be the most glaring example, with his challenges to debate Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or his videos of DESTROYING everyone from college kids to celebrities.  

Dan McLaughlin highlighted Shapiro’s importance at the National Review last year: 

“If you pay much attention to the Left’s pundit and intellectual class, the people they hate more than anyone — the targets that really raise their blood pressure — are conservatives who are educated, conservatives who are well-spoken and/or well-read, conservatives who speak the language of the upper middle class…You could see this, for example, in how much more viscerally many of them hated Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio than they ever hated Trump. Trump, after all, flatters their self-image; he presents a face of conservatism that marks conservatives as uninformed people with crude vocabularies who belong to a lower social class. But anyone who threatens the idea that all the smart people know to be on our side, that is who really raises their ire.” 

It’s true that smarty pantses like Shapiro, Jordan Peterson and others drive the left-wingers up a wall. They beat them at their game, and get droves of fans (and money) to prove it. But it goes back to our original problem — it’s the progressives’ “game” to begin with. Conservatives have “won” that game over and over again by pointing out the progressives’ logical inconsistencies (on gender), hypocrisies (on MeToo), and downright malevolence (on racism). Yet somehow, victory just seems to stall their loss of influence rather than grow it. 

It’s also true that Trump was easy for our highly educated progressives to look down on. Though McLaughlin tells on himself by describing Trump the way he does, and in doing so can’t see his peculiar charm. 

His allure is best shown when parts of his interview with Bob Woodward were leaked ahead of the 2020 election. Woodward asked Trump if he thought that growing up as a privileged white person made it hard for him to empathize with black Americans’ concerns. 

“No,” Trump flatly replied. “You, you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you, wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.” 

Only “our favorite president” could say what we all feel with just the right amount of dismissiveness. Trump isn’t tethered to the progressive game board the rest of us are. He doesn’t do the verbal equivalent of spy movie gymnastics around security lasers because he isn’t worried about triggering any alarms. Trump knows that the progressives walk through their own lasers all the time — and that they’re mostly bullshit to begin with.  

The root cause of all of our problems is that we’re forced to pretend that left-wing customs — and the problems those customs are designed to address — are being upheld in any honest manner.  

They may have been crafted with an authentic concern for disparate outcomes in terms of race, sex, or class, but cultural conservatives have done a good job cataloguing how flimsy those commitments are when there are political objectives at stake. What they haven’t done is gone after the unwritten rule that every one of our thoughts, feelings, and observations need to be distilled into some academically sound, robotically precise language before it can be heard (let alone attempted to be understood). 

If you do manage to criticize a pillar of the left-wing worldview while following the progressive language rubric, an all-out effort to discredit your words by examining your past or intentionally misconstruing what you said will take place. This keeps those who aren’t native to blue America’s bubble perpetually on defense. Remember, even when you “win,” you’re just delaying your eventual loss. 

Rejecting this way of communication is the key to reclaiming the freedom of speech’s own unwritten rule — that you are also afforded the freedom to speak as you normally do and be treated with an appropriate level of grace. The politically biased constraints placed on our most serious conversations have made us reflexively cagey, as well as incapable of discussing issues that are salient.  

If we reinstate that latitude back into our intellectual discourse, we’ll quickly find most of our root causes are more nuanced than originally thought, but also infinitely more solvable.

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Matthew Delaney


Matthew Delaney is a local journalist based in Washington, D.C. When he’s not questioning why he joined the media, he’s doing his part to restore some of its credibility with quality work

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