In the face of increasing pressure to conform to left-wing ideology or be censored and canceled, Republicans and conservatives need to stop acting merely defensively. They need to find ways to counter the pressure to conform that also provide them with opportunities to expose the flaws of the American left’s coercive rhetoric and counter it.
Republicans and conservatives should adopt and adapt the concept of reciprocity as a tool to (1) encourage civility in public discourse, (2) discourage incivility in public discourse, (3) insist that the Republicans and conservatives not be evaluated and judged by standards not applied to Democrats and progressives, and (4) confront and challenge pressure to conform to left-wing ideology.
Reciprocity can be summarized as “do unto others as they do unto you.” Reciprocity can take two forms — positive reciprocity and negative reciprocity. Positive reciprocity is used to acknowledge and encourage positive behavior and actions by others. Negative reciprocity is used to respond to and discourage negative behavior and actions by others. And, positive reciprocity can be used in combination with negative reciprocity.
Some examples of positive reciprocity are: (1) a person accepts a gift or favor, and then gives a similar or equivalent gift or favor in return; and (2) one neighbor helps another neighbor with a problem, and the neighbor receiving the help gives similar or equivalent help when the helping neighbor has a problem in the future.
Some examples of negative reciprocity are: (1) when business A offers no concessions or accommodations to business B, business B responds by giving the same treatment to business A; and (2) when Country 1 refuses to grant visas to citizens from Country 2, Country 2 responds by refusing to grant visas to citizens from Country 1.
Some examples of reciprocity combining positive and negative elements are: (1) State A adopts a policy of recognizing out-of-state professional licenses on the same terms that other States recognize the professional licenses issued by State A; and (2) Country A imposes tariffs on imports from other countries on the same terms as they impose tariffs on imports from Country A.
Because positive reciprocity may seem easier to justify than negative reciprocity, it is important to recognize how negative reciprocity has been used in American history, international law, business, and sports.
In American history, the notion of reciprocity has been used to counter the threat of improper, wrongful, or unfair actions by an adversary during wartime. During the American Revolutionary War, the Americans insisted that the British treat captured American officers on the same terms that captured British officers expected to be treated by the Americans, or else suffer retaliation in kind. During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy threatened reprisals and retaliation in a variety of situations to respond to or deter actions by the other side that were deemed inappropriate or wrongful.
In international law, the notion of reciprocity is demonstrated in the recognition that belligerent reprisals may be justified if a country has been the victim of another country’s improper or unlawful use of force, or other violations of internationally recognized rules of warfare. Also, in international diplomacy, countries may declare foreign diplomats and members of foreign embassies persona non grata and expel them in retaliation when their own diplomats and embassy personnel have been expelled.
In business, if a party to a contract is in material breach of the contract, the other party to the contract may be relieved of its contractual obligations. In labor negotiations, it is expected that both sides negotiate in good faith, and the failure to do so by one side allows the other side to walk away from the negotiations rather than continue negotiating.
In American sports, when a team feels an opposing player or team that has intentionally violated the rules and has not been properly penalized, the victimized team occasionally will engage in a form of payback. If a pitcher uses “brush back” pitches to try to intimidate good batters without being warned by the officials, the batter’s team may reciprocate by having its own pitcher throw “brush back” pitches against the opposing team’s batters. If a hockey player is too aggressive in charging the net or checking opposing players without being penalized or warned by the officials, the other hockey team may resort to similar tactics to reciprocate.
There are some colloquial sayings that reflect a rough sense of fairness that underlies negative reciprocity: “Payback in kind” / “Tit for tat” / “Turnabout is fair play” / “What goes around, comes around” / “Give them a taste of their own medicine.”
Besides the concept of reciprocity, there are some corollaries that follow from, or are a natural consequence of the concept. These corollaries are based on the notion “What’s good enough for you, is good enough for me.” They include the following:
A political opponent should hold himself/herself to the same standards as he/she holds others to.
A political opponent should accept any burdens or sacrifices that he/she wants to impose on others.
A political opponent should accept and abide by the same burdens of proof that he/she applies to others.
A political opponent should abide by the same rules of conduct and civility that he/she asserts apply to others.
A political opponent should submit to analysis and criticism of his/her arguments on the same terms he/she applies to others.
A political opponent should apply the same standards for measuring success or failure to his/her policies and actions as he/she applies to the policies and actions of others.
The press should evaluate and judge the conduct of Democrats and progressives by the same standards they evaluate and judge the conduct of Republicans and conservatives.
The press should apply the same standards of blame and praise to Democrats and progressives as they apply to Republicans and conservatives.
The press should apply the same standards of evidence and analysis when reporting on Democrats and progressives as they apply to Republicans and conservatives.
The press should identify party affiliation of people or organizations (if relevant) correctly, evenhandedly, and without bias.
The press should conduct and report all interviews (live or not) in the same manner without regard to the party affiliation or political orientation of the persons being interviewed.
These corollaries are intended to identify forms of fair and even-handed behavior that are reasonable and worth striving for. Also, these corollaries are intended to suggest principles that Republicans and conservatives could use to gauge whether Democrats, progressives, and the press are acting unfairly or unreasonably, and then decide whether some form of reciprocity (positive or negative or both) should be applied in response.
Even if Republicans and conservatives decide that some form of reciprocity is not practical or desirable in any particular situation, these corollaries could form the basis of principled criticisms of unfair or hypocritical conduct by Democrats, progressives, and members of the press. Even if such criticisms do not deter or stop unfair behavior by Democrats, progressives, or members of the press, they could be useful in
(1) trying to persuade reasonable independents, Democrats and progressives to not accept, support, or tolerate unfair or hypocritical conduct by others;
(2) countering and rebutting Democrats, progressives, and members of the press who presume that they exclusively hold the moral high ground;
(3) challenging and exposing false and misleading “narratives” used by some Democrats, progressives, and members of the press; and
(4) confronting and resisting pressure to conform to left-wing ideology.
Republicans and conservatives need to vigorously and unapologetically push back against unfair and unjustified double standards. Republicans and conservatives need to insist that Democrats, progressives, and the press practice and abide by fair and even-handed rules and standards. Republicans and conservatives need to resist efforts to force them to conform to left-wing ideology or be censored and canceled. And, when Democrats, progressives and members of the press fail to act in a fair and even-handed manner, Republicans and conservatives should creatively adapt and apply the concept of reciprocity and its corollaries to fight back.
Emilio Jaksetic, a retired lawyer, is a Republican in Northern Virginia.