- I don't want anyone to read this post as an implicit attack on engaged conservative friends who are making different judgments. I know many good people who believe that voting for a third party candidate - and possibly giving the presidency to Hillary - will be worse for the country and for conservatism as a movement than letting Trump have his fun flying our banner for a few years. I understand this position. Indeed, when it comes to foreign policy in particular (which is mostly the province of the executive branch), this is an argument that has real merit. (Letting Hillary, the architect of the Benghazi fiasco, pick our Secretary of State? Ugh and aieeee!)
- At the same time, I would like to assure my readers that my refusal to campaign or vote for Trump does not mean that I will be canvassing for Hillary -- or that I will be abandoning the GOP completely. Because I am well aware that voting third party in the presidential race may cost the Republicans the presidential election, I will be working twice as hard to make sure solid conservatives win the down-ticket races so our government remains split. Obstruction for the win, baby! That's how the Framers designed our system.
(PS: Welcome, Instapundit readers! And to those who've chosen to be rude, thanks for all the hate!)
(PPS: No, I'm not "eschewing all Instapundit readers." I'm eschewing the impolite. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I have edited the above remark accordingly.)
I sympathize with the reasons why Donald Trump is a phenomenon. As many fine writers have carefully documented, recent economic and social upheavals have created a ruling class that is increasingly divorced from the concerns of ordinary Americans. The members of said ruling class - those equipped to take advantage of the post-industrial revolution - attend the same posh universities, consume the same trendy media, and cluster in self-segregated enclaves that are fully shielded against the negative blow-back their faddish notions create. To borrow Peggy Noonan's formulation, they are the "protected." It doesn't matter to them that preserving an endangered fish has dried up what was once a productive agricultural zone. It doesn't matter to them that their stumping for "alternative lifestyles" has destroyed the family - and consequently, financial security and social capital - for those in the lowest quartile. They can afford to agitate against fossil fuels because, for them, a higher energy bill will take mere drops from their buckets. They can dismiss an insecure border as a non-issue because they directly benefit from the cheap labor force it brings into being.
It is also true that many ordinary Americans have been the targets of an outrageous campaign to label them with every -ist and -ism under the sun -- a campaign to "unperson" folks who happen to have sincere doubts about a host of causes that are beloved by the aforementioned ruling class and its enablers in the clerisy. Do you have religious objections to homosexual marriage? Do you worry that allowing unverifiable self declarations to dictate which restroom or locker room people are permitted to use will enable sex offenders and pedophiles to victimize women and children? Sorry, but you will be forced to embrace what you oppose -- or the activist left will shut you down. Are you a student or professor who believes colleges and universities should be bastions of free inquiry and debate where no idea is considered too dangerous to discuss? Prepare to be harassed by your campus community - or even hounded out of your job - for your sins. Are you disgusted by the tactics of Black Lives Matter and similar groups? Well, you're obviously a racist. It never stops; indeed, even our leisure pursuits aren't safe. If you want to play video games or read books without being beaten over the head with the Cause of the Moment? Ugh! Untermensch!
Am I angry? Hell yes! Do I want to metaphorically clobber the leftists and clueless technocrats who denigrate our anxieties and seem to have no love whatsoever for our nation or its people? Absolutely! I just don't believe rallying behind Trump - and being glib about the very real challenges of governing one of the most culturally and politically diverse nations on the planet - will get us what we really want. Looking back to the past - instead of adapting to the upcoming future - will not restore our opportunity culture. Making unachievable demands of foreign powers will not restore our security or sovereignty. And contra the arguments of Trump's supporters, there are ways to fight against the sustained attack on our rights that don't involve playing by the left's fascist rules.
When I've talked to conservative Trump supporters - and to other conservatives, let's be honest - I've run across a common theme: The Republican establishment (derisively referred to as the GOPe) has done nothing to fulfill its campaign promises. Really? Let's consider last fall's joint budget deal. While not a flawless document by any stretch of the imagination, Paul Ryan managed to wrest from the Democrats several undeniably conservative concessions, including lifting the ban on exporting our oil, maintaining the ban on tax relief for Obamacare co-ops, postponing Obamacare's Medical Device Tax and Cadillac Tax, reigning in funding for the IRS, and basically freezing funding for the EPA. The Republicans in Congress also passed a bill that defunded Planned Parenthood and have voted more than fifty times to fully repeal or amend Obamacare -- the very law that drove the Republican landslide in 2010. True, these votes have led to no concrete results -- but that's because Obama was in the way. "What about the power of the purse?" conservatives then ask. Well, theoretically, the Congress does have that power. In reality, however, its exercise results in government shutdowns -- and when the government shuts down, the Republicans are invariably savaged by the press. "So what? They should stand on principle!" Standing on principle is all well and good. Unfortunately, the electorate wants a government that "works," and ignoring this fact will do nothing to convince voters that we're fighting for the nation's best interests.
Which brings me to the underlying issue that conservatives must acknowledge if our ideas are to have any traction at all: The distrust Americans have for our government as it is currently run does not necessarily translate into a distrust for government in general. Let's face it: For a long time, we basically ceded the engines of culture to the left. We allowed leftist "intellectuals" to take control of our education system and our entertainment media, and we are now seeing the fruits of that mistake. Younger folks in particular have been fed a steady diet of faux history that paints government action in a positive light; as a consequence, these voters have a difficult time imagining how social goods can be achieved without government involvement. Further, the zeitgeist has almost completely eroded the safety nets that used to exist within local communities and neighborhoods, leaving the government bureaucracy as your only recourse if you happen to run into trouble. Thus, voters fear what would happen if Republicans actually succeeded in shrinking the size of the federal government. To win, we have to address that fear. I hate to say it, but when it comes to practical politics, we may have to execute a tactical retreat; in other words, we should institute whatever incremental reforms we can in the short run and at the same time get our hands dirty doing charitable work that will build the community and cultural institutions we need to help us win the war in the long run.
In doing this work, one thing we will have to grapple with is the impact of globalization. That Trump has highlighted the plight of folks who've lost their manufacturing jobs to workers in Asia is a good and necessary thing. But when I hear Trump supporters push "fair trade," that gives me serious pause. "Will it really hurt us," one Trump supporter asked me, "if iPhones, computers, and TV's become a little more expensive?" Well, yes -- because it won't just be those supposed "luxury" goods that will be affected. Most of the clothes in my closet were made in China or Vietnam - sorry, guys, but on my $30,000 per annum salary, that's what I can afford - and last time I checked, clothes were considered a necessity. No: Attempting to resurrect the blue model of the industrial age seems, to me, to be a fight we will lose. Rising industrial powers in the developing world are unlikely to play ball and accede to Trump's demands because, talk of "sweat shops" aside, their citizens want those jobs. (Yes, they really do. Factory jobs with crappy pay still beat subsistence farming.) And while this effect is far less visible than quiet smokestacks, defunct factories, and zones of high unemployment, the cheap goods free trade has brought to our shores have dramatically improved our average standard of living.
"So what do we do instead to bring life back to our Rust Belt?" a Trump supporter may ask. A truly conservative answer to this legitimate question, I think, would involve several key planks. Number one, we must radically expand educational choice, restoring the respectability of vocational education and adjusting what we offer in such programs to match what is actually available in our post-industrial job market. I'm not talking a Common Core here; I'm talking about listening to folks like Mike Rowe, who know where the solid, secure, decently paying work that doesn't require a college education can still be found. Number two, we must loosen regulatory barriers that inhibit both small business development and domestic energy development. Number three, we must be more discriminating when crafting our immigration policy.
"Ah, but Trump has made immigration a central theme of his campaign. If you believe we should put limits on immigration, you obviously need to vote for Trump!" Well, no, that's not quite so obvious. Am I happy Trump has moved the Overton Window rightward on this particular issue? Sure! I work with a lot of immigrants and consequently don't oppose immigration as a general rule. But is it prudent to screen entrants and demand they accept minimum standards of conduct? Yes. And is it 100% proper to question whether certain groups and certain ideologies are assimilable? You bet! We are not obligated to throw open our doors to everyone, and we are fully within our rights to tighten the spigot if we feel that serves our national interest. Alas, Trump seems to believe that the sheer force of his charisma will inspire foreign leaders to bend to his will, ignoring the hard truth that diplomacy - like politics - is the art of the possible. You can't strut around proclaiming that you're going to force Mexico to pay for a "yuge" border wall and expect to be taken seriously in the international community. You just can't.
And that leads me to what bothers me the most about Trump: his rhetoric. The ugly things he says and the ugly things he promotes are things I don't want associated with the conservative label. There's fighting political correctness and then there's just being an asshole -- and Trump has frequently slipped into that second bracket. I'm sorry, but for me, this is a matter of consistency. Many, many times on this blog, I have taken social justice warriors to task for their rank illiberalism and thirst for feral vengeance against the "white, heterosexual cismales" they feel have oppressed them, pointing out that if they have legitimate grievances, they are being lost in a sea of utterly toxic crap. Well, the same rule applies to Trump and his supporters. I get that you are sick of being stomped on for opposing the progressives' attempts to engineer our society and control everything we think and say. But turning the tables and giving leftists a taste of their own vile medicine, while admittedly satisfying on a lizard-brain level, will not actually bring about constructive change. Remember the rider and the elephant? Bullying others inspires defensiveness. Worse, it destroys our ability to credibly defend genuinely liberal values. How can we ask for toleration without being willing to give it in return?
There are other ways to fight the left. We can be firm and unbending in confronting its fascism without being nasty. And we can certainly find a better standard-bearer than an obnoxious reality-TV star whose political platform is long on populist showmanship and short on actual substance.