If you want to see how far along a social transformation has gone, you'll learn more by paying attention to the things conservatives accept than the things radicals propose. When Pat Buchanan spoke at the Republican national convention in 1992, his address was received—rightly—as a thumping culture-war broadside. But consider this passage from it:
Then there was the legal secretary that I met at the Manchester airport on Christmas Day who came running up to me and said, "Mr. Buchanan, I'm going to vote for you." And then she broke down weeping, and she said, "I've lost my job; I don't have any money, and they're going to take away my little girl. What am I going to do?"
My friends, these people are our people. They don't read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke, but they come from the same schoolyards and the same playgrounds and towns as we came from. They share our beliefs and our convictions, our hopes and our dreams. These are the conservatives of the heart.
Working mothers once were met with widespread disapproval. But by 1992, a fiery jeremiad by the year's most prominent social conservative could casually complain that a mom had lost her job, and then embrace her as a "conservative of the heart." Not because Buchanan was some sort of closet feminist, but because this was a battle the feminists had won.
As I've watched this year's GOP's convention, I've been listening for little moments like that—quiet signs that what once was unusual is now acceptable. And I've found them. Take Michelle Van Etten, the multi-level marketer who spoke last night on behalf of Women in Business for Trump. At one point, she recalled her 20th high school reunion:
The girls I went to school with, they were driving BMWs and they looked like Barbie. I was 30 pounds overweight, a stay-at-home mom, and driving a minivan. I decided at that point I needed a change, and I began to dream again. (applause) I took a leap of faith and decided to open up my own home-based business. And what I realized, when you go after a dream, you are gonna have to learn how to fail forward and never quit. (applause)
I also learned that I had to level up to become the type of person I wanted in my business. After two years, I was able to retire my husband after 28 years in the DOD. Today, my husband, he stays at home with our children and he homeschools them, because I will not subject them to Common Core. (big applause)
So here we have not just a working mother, but one who resented her old status as a stay-at-home mom—and who now is married to a stay-at-home dad. And no one seemed to blink at what once would have been an avant-garde way to organize the household. Instead they whooped it up in shared revulsion for Common Core.
Then there was this moment in Ted Cruz's speech:
Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist. Whether you are gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience.
That got a huge amount of applause, as you'd expect from a socially conservative crowd. The underlying idea, after all, was that people with religious objections to gay marriage should not be compelled to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies. But think about that sentence: "Whether you are gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of all of us to live according to our conscience." There was a time when you wouldn't expect a major presidential candidate in either party to allude favorably to gay people's freedom of conscience. Now a leader of the Republicans' conservative wing wasn't thinking twice about it.
You measure social change by watching where conservatives draw the line. And gradually, outside the spotlight, that line keeps quietly moving.