Dear Reader (including those of you who think we need a president who would leave the whole world blind, which would be inconvenient since e-mail newsletters in braille are technologically complicated),
It looks like the Trump body snatching virus I wrote about last month is spreading again. For a moment, after Wisconsin, it seemed like it might be going into remission. Nope, it’s actually spiking.
This lover of unity and champion of party loyalty goes by the Twitter handle “TrumpOrRiot.” In all of the bilious argy-bargy and venomous folderol I’ve heard the last few months, nothing so economically encapsulates Trumpism more than calls for unity from a maroon who self-identifies as someone who thinks rioting is the only righteous alternative to his dashboard saint’s victory.
On the drive in to my office this morning, I heard Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn, one of the wisest and gentlest souls I’ve ever encountered, describe Trump as a “good and honest man” and “quite brilliant.” A few minutes ago on Twitter, the great semi-retired editorialist Don Surber said to me, regarding Trump, “You will come around. Others may not because they are childish.”
@JonahNRO You will come around. Others may not because they are childish— Don Surber (@donsurber) April 15, 2016
No. Just, no.
I won’t. Indeed, the only childishness I see are the masses of beer-muscled goons and sycophants stomping their feet over the object of their man-crushes.
The Trump Calculus
If a president Trump does the right thing, I will say he did the right thing — because that’s my job. But I will never look at that fleshy pile of vanity, crudity, and deceit and say, “There’s a good and honest man.” Yes, yes, we all believe in redemption, so maybe he could have some Oval Office conversion, find a God that doesn’t consider profit maximization to be the key measure of a man’s soul, and become a good and honest man. Maybe the sudden bowel-stewing realization that he’s wildly unqualified for the job of commander-in-chief will arouse in him a humility never displayed in his gaudy romp across our airwaves.
But that’s not the way I would bet. (It’s also a bit of a moot point, since I’m convinced Trump would lose very badly against either Sanders or Clinton.)
But betting is what a lot of people are doing right now. I know that some, many, even most Trump supporters are sincere in their admiration for the man. I simply think they are wrong.
As for the intellectuals, politicians, and donors just now jumping on the Trump bandwagon, or simply opting to get out of its way, they aren’t even wrong. I very much doubt their opinions of the man have changed much (and in more than a few cases, I know this because they have told me so). Rather, they are jumping on the Trump bandwagon because their calculations of his chances have changed. It’s the same as Kent Brockman fashioning his “Hail Ants” sign and declaring, “I for one welcome our new insect overlords” and then vowing to help them round up human slaves to toil in the sugar mines.
For instance, there is no way Karl Rove has suddenly seen the light on Trump. To the extent he’s reportedly softening on the anti-Trump stuff, it must be a purely political decision, not a philosophical one.
If Trump suddenly plummeted in the polls, it would be great fun to see who among the Trump rationalizers abandoned him — and how quickly. Again, power doesn’t merely corrupt the powerful, the real corruption it causes can be found in those who make apologies for it.
By the way, I am constantly amazed at how many people get really angry at anyone who says Trump’s voters are wrong. Yeah, I get it. They’re angry. Blah blah blah.
But let me ask you something: How many times have you been justifiably angry in your own life yet still let your anger lead you to a bad decision?
More important, nowhere in democratic theory is there support for the idea that voters have to be right just because there are large numbers of them. By that logic, I shouldn’t be “allowed” to say Obama’s voters were wrong, either. Socialism sucks, and that won’t change if a majority of Americans elect Bernie Sanders.
Democracy says we must abide democratic choices, it does not say they are dispositive of fundamental questions. Indeed, the reason we have a Bill of Rights is that the founders recognized that voters could be very, very, very wrong. If you don’t believe me, Google the phrase “tyranny of the majority.”
Anger Isn’t Enough
It seems pretty obvious to me that the rage I hear from Trump supporters when I say they’re wrong stems from a kind of insecurity or resentment. Simply put, they want to be validated. It’s an awfully similar response to what we hear constantly on college campuses from the delicate little flowers who say they don’t want debate, they want empowerment. It turns out that many of the mental habits we mock and ridicule on the left have ample purchase on the right as well.
This revelation, along with several others, has been painful but useful. The Trump candidacy has been a like a dye marker, highlighting traits and inclinations on the right I didn’t appreciate or acknowledge. I’m grateful for the lesson, though I can’t say I’m glad I had to learn it.
People ask me all the time, “If Trump is the nominee, who will you vote for?”
I concede that for conservatives living in swing states, this is a legitimately painful decision. Clinton and Sanders alike would be horror shows. But my answer is simple: I will never vote for Trump and I will never vote for Hillary or Bernie. Period.
It’s easy for me to say that because I live in Washington, D.C. Indeed, I’ve never lived anywhere where my vote hasn’t been canceled out at least 7 to 1. The important question for me is, how will I write and speak about this stuff professionally? Counting this “news”letter, I write about 14 columns a month. Throw in blog posts, magazine articles, spoken work poetry, Fox News hits and all of my mime work and suffice it to say, I can’t exactly hide from my opinions. I’ve never been in a situation where I couldn’t defend, broadly speaking, the Republican nominee or president. I’ve criticized them all, but in the fundamental arguments of the day, I’ve always sided with the more conservative party, which has been the GOP. There’s nothing Trump can do that would make me vote for Hillary Clinton. But if Trump is the nominee or the president, I will for the first time be working outside the familiar binaries of the two-party system. I guess I should ask the guys at Reason magazine or Cato how they cope.
One option is to just go full Mencken and just own the fact I am a man without a party.
H.L. Mencken never shied from criticizing the elites or from criticizing the masses. I imagine it was quite liberating. Albert Jay Nock, a good friend of Mencken, was another of the “superfluous men” who simply lived outside of the political consensus, arguing that the best one could do is write for the Remnant of humanity who hadn’t given over to mass culture and the statism it demands. (Here’s my profile of him from a few years ago.)
My problem with Nock was that he was too much of a fatalist. I concluded my essay on Nock:
And that is why the Right is in so much better shape than it was during Nock’s time, even as liberals are mounting a statist revival. Yes, statism is on the march again, but anti-statism isn’t an amusing pursuit for cape-wearing exotics like Nock anymore; it is the animating spirit of institutions launched and nourished by lovers of liberty. Retreating into the Nockian cocoon of the good life may be appealing, but it is morally defensible only if creeping collectivism is impervious to resistance. Moreover, the American people are not nearly as Neolithic as Nock believed, proof of which can be found in the slow and uneven unraveling of statism since his death, as with the still-unfinished Reagan Revolution. This, again, explains why liberals can be nostalgic for Nock while lamenting what has become of his successors: Nock was content with failure, his heirs are not.
As a personal philosophy, there’s everything to love about Nock’s approach to life. As political prescription, it is folly, for it exempts the Remnant from any obligation to expand the ranks of the righteous. And that is why the greatest tragedy of all would be for Nock’s mortal heirs to follow his Immortal example.
The Right is no longer in great shape, and maybe it was never in as healthy a state as I thought. But I think I was right in my criticism of Nock. If you’re a conservative who actually believes those things conservatives are supposed to believe, your belief should not be contingent on moods, fads, fevers — or elections. It should be immune to all things, save new facts and new arguments. Donald Trump and his supporters have provided me with neither. So to my friend Don Surber and others, all I can say is, again, no, I will not come around.
Liberalism Is War by Other Means
If you read Liberal Fascism, The Tyranny of Clichés, or any one of probably two-dozen columns of mine, you’d remember that I think the founding father of liberalism was William James, who coined the phrase the “Moral Equivalent of War.” James thought war was fantastic for getting the masses to abandon the personal pursuit of happiness and rally around the state. The one problem with it was all the killing. If only we could come up with some cause or crisis that caused the people to abandon individuality and rally to Large Causes as defined by progressives. All of the “liberals” who fell in for Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson believed that war with Germany was defensible or advisable. But what they really loved were what John Dewey called “the social possibilities of war.” From Liberal Fascism:
We should not forget how the demands of war fed the arguments for socialism. Dewey was giddy that the war might force Americans “to give up much of our economic freedom . . . We shall have to lay by our good-natured individualism and march in step.” If the war went well, it would constrain “the individualistic tradition” and convince Americans of “the supremacy of public need over private possessions.” Another progressive put it more succinctly: “Laissez-faire is dead. Long live social control.”
That passage came to mind last night when I heard Bernie Sanders ranting about how we should declare total war on climate change. I have no doubt he believes that climate change is a real threat. But it’s clear when he talks about it that what really fires his engine are the social possibilities of a “war” on climate change:
SANDERS: What you do do is say that we are going to have a massive program — and I had introduced — introduced legislation for 10 million solar rooftops. We can put probably millions of people to work retrofitting and weatherizing buildings all over this country.
SANDERS: Saving — rebuilding our rail system.
SANDERS: Our mass transit system.
SANDERS: If we approach this, Errol, as if we were literally at a war — you know, in 1941, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we moved within three years, within three more years to rebuild our economy to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism. That is exactly the kind of approach we need right now.
BLITZER: Thank you.
The crazed applause from the audience is just another small sign of how the voters can be wrong.
Various & Sundry
One last thing on Trump. I completely understand why some of you complain about my alleged Trump obsessions. I get it. I don’t like turning the G-File into the T-File either. But this is the pressing issue of the moment. I have little patience with critics who say I never attack Hillary Clinton, which is simply put, preposterous. But right now, in this moment, we have a chance to stop Trump and actually put a serious-minded conservative on the ticket, namely Ted Cruz. If we fail at that, there will be plenty of time — maybe even four or eight years! — to get back to criticizing Hillary Clinton.
Still, I did write a Trump-free column on abortion. It’s up on the homepage.
Dingo Update: I was gone most of the week for speeches and book-writing (a book I hope at least some in the Remnant will buy!). So I don’t have much to report. The dogs were very happy to see me when I got home. The good cat contained her excitement. Anyway, every now and then people ask me why I call Zoë a dingo. I do so because she is one, an American Dingo or Carolina Dog. I’m sure there are other canine genes in her family tree, just as I am sure that if there was a squirrel in said tree she would warble at it. Anyway, I was struck by this article at Mental Floss on Australian dingoes because there are just so many similarities to Zoë, right down to her weird vocalizations. Zoë is less wild than a denizen of the outback, but I suspect she would take to it quite well.