Let’s begin with a simple proposition: Political might does not make right. Winning an election doesn’t render Trump virtuous or wise, nor is the fact that most Never Trump pundits thought he was likely to lose relevant to our assessment of the man’s character, temperament, or political positions. Winning almost 60 million American votes doesn’t make him right about NATO or trade. It doesn’t mean that dishonesty, deception, and fraud are suddenly acceptable traits in an American president. And it doesn’t make the alt-right any less evil.
It does mean, however, that he is now the president of the United States and that we all have a series of moral and political obligations to him — obligations that must be divorced from pride, self-interest, or wounded egos. My friend Ben Shapiro is fond of saying, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” Neither do elections. They may adjust political calculations, but they don’t adjust our core responsibilities.
First, we can’t give an inch on our commitment to integrity and character in American leadership. Just as there was pressure to circle the wagons around a scandal-tarred Trump in the general election, there will be pressure to do so with each new scandal in the Trump administration. It’s imperative that conservatives continue to resist the Clintonization of the GOP. Short-term political victory isn’t worth the long-term electoral and cultural costs currently in full view on the other side of the aisle. Democrats were extraordinarily smug after Bill won two terms in the White House and prevailed in the impeachment battle. They were less smug after a scandal-weary public rejected Al Gore, and they’re certainly less smug today, after millions of Democrats stayed home rather than vote for another thoroughly corrupt Clinton. Bill was an extraordinarily talented politician who guided his party through a politically prosperous eight years in the White House, but what is his long-term legacy? He warped our nation in ways that haunt us today.
Second, we must reject the premise that “nationalism” beat conservatism. In multiple states, conservative Republicans actually outpolled Trump. The party emerged with its House and Senate majorities intact, and with more governorships and state legislatures than it controlled before. Trumpism has no greater mandate than conservatism, and conservatives need not yield to its demands. If and when conservatism clashes with Trumpism, we cannot yield to arguments for trade wars, to attacks on the First Amendment, or to weakness and dangerous impulsiveness in foreign policy.
I want Trump’s judicial nominations to be men and women who make the Heritage Foundation stand up and cheer. I want him to preserve law and order and secure the border while he protecting civil liberties and aggressively reaching out to minority voters. I want him to learn the deep and enduring value of our key strategic alliances. I want him to understand the necessity of winning key Muslim allies in the war against jihadists even as we shed our politically correct blinders about the enormity of the jihadist threat. I want him to be good and decent and wise. May we have the integrity and clarity to admit when he does well, and may we have the same integrity and clarity to recognize when he does wrong.
Fourth, we must relentlessly oppose identity politics on the right and the left. Elements of the media are already calling Trump’s win a victory for racists and racism, and his alt-right fringe is only too happy to embrace Trump’s win as a victory for white people. But this reading defies the facts and misreads the vast bulk of Trump’s support. He won a lower percentage of the white vote than Mitt Romney. He won a greater percentage of the black and Latino vote. Arguably, it was the decision of millions of blacks and Latinos not to mobilize against him that put him in the Oval Office. Identity politics of every kind, including white identity politics most especially, are destructive and should be resisted at all costs.As I tweeted on election night, I never wanted Clinton in the Oval Office, and I’m unambiguously pleased not only that she lost but that smart Democrats are finally waking up to the damage that she and her husband have done to their party and to our politics. I’m thrilled that the Republicans held on to the House and Senate and made even more gains in the states. Included within the list of electoral victors are some of the best and most decent conservatives in American politics. But this joy is tempered by deep concern. I remain worried that our nation has put an unfit man in the Oval Office, and deeply distressed that many people — especially Christian people — defended the indefensible to get him there.
But I also know those people. Unlike 99 percent of American pundits, I live in the beating heart of Trump country. He carried my county by 39 points. He won my precinct with 72 percent of the vote. His supporters are my friends and neighbors. They’re some of the best people you’ll ever meet, and many of them made the decision to back him with no small anguish in their hearts. They felt they were voting in self-defense, and — frankly — they didn’t believe many of the worst charges against Trump. I respect their choice, and if a Trump administration ultimately reflects their values, then this nation will be better for it.
— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.