The Trump Non Sequitur

by Jonah Goldberg

In my now-countless conversations with Trump supporters, defenders, and rationalizers, I find I agree with many of the arguments they make for Donald Trump right up until the point they say “and therefore Donald Trump.” 

“The status quo needs to be shaken up!” I agree. “We need to break the stranglehold of political correctness!” Absolutely. “We must escape the kinds of Reagan nostalgia that stifle policy innovation!” You’re singing my tune. “Foreign policy must refocus on American national interest.” Good idea. And so on.

But then comes the “and therefore we have to rally behind Donald Trump!” And I’m like, “Wait, what?”

Here’s a case in point. Our friend Steve Hayward and the anonymous Decius at the Journal of American Greatness find much to admire, defend, or celebrate in Trump’s attack on Judge Curiel. “Wittingly or not,” Trump is “directly attacking one of the most egregious aspects of liberal orthodoxy today—the premise of ‘diversity’ embedded in our rigid identity politics that really means uniformity to the liberal line,” Hayward writes

He then quotes Decius at great length:

The left mostly takes for granted, first, that people from certain ethnicities in positions of power will be liberal Democrats and, second, that they will use that power in the interests of their party and co-ethnics.  This is a core reason for shouts of “treason!” “Uncle Tom” (or Tomas) and the like.  People like Clarence Thomas are offending the left’s whole conception of the moral order.  How dare he!

The implicit assumption underlying Sotomayor’s comment [about a “wise Latina”] and Thomas’ refusal to play to type is that there is a type—an expectation.  By virtue of her being a liberal, a Democrat, a woman, and a Latina (wise or otherwise), Sotomayor’s voting pattern on the Court ought to be predictable.  As, indeed, it is.  So should Thomas’, but he declines to play his assigned role.

The slightly deeper assumption is that this identity-based predictability is necessary, because the institutions and laws as designed will not reliably produce the “correct” outcome.  That’s the logic of diversity in a nutshell.  If everybody in power strictly followed law and procedure, the good guys—the poor, minorities, women, etc.—would lose a great deal of the time and that would be bad.  We need people who will look past the niceties of the rule of law and toward the outcome—the end.  The best way to ensure that is “diversity,” i.e., people more loyal to their own party and tribe than to abstractions like the rule of law.

Trump simply took this very same logic and restated it from his own point-of-view—that is, from the point-of-view of a rich, Republican, ostentatiously hyper-American defendant in a lawsuit being litigated in a highly-charged political environment . . .

He goes on. But we can stop there.

This argument above is a very good example of the Trump non-sequitur. I agree entirely with Decius and Steve about the ideological base-stealing implicit in diversity-mongering. I wrote about this at length in my last book.

Where I jump ship is the claim — or to be more fair, the suggestion in Steve and Decius’ cases – that Trump is doing any of this on purpose or that it will lead to anything positive.

These are two separate claims. So let’s take them separately. Is Trump doing this on purpose for anything like the reasons enunciated above? Of course not. Trump has a long history of attacking judges for his narrow self-interest. Certainly Occam’s razor would suggest that’s what he’s doing here. The Trump University fraud case is generating very bad publicity for Trump, as he’s admitted (so was the story that he, at best, slow-walked donating money he promised to vets). So Trump goes on the offensive and changes the subject to this “Mexican” stuff. I just think it’s ridiculous to think Trump is motivated in this case by some remotely sophisticated, never mind sophisticatedly conservative, understanding of identity politics. After all, this is the guy who criticized Justice Scalia for his stance on affirmative action. It’s more like Trump is a kind of angry Chauncey Gardner who benefits from intellectuals’ reading deeply — too deeply — into his outbursts.

Which brings us to the second claim. As Steve puts it in summing up Decius, “Trump is once again performing a high public service that is long overdue.”

Or not. I am quite possibly Steve Hayward’s biggest fan, but I just don’t get it. Trump is not battling identity politics here, or even undermining it. Trump is capitulating to it, and bringing the Republican party along with him. Sure, it’s interesting, even entertaining, to watch Trump use the logic of identity politics against its entrenched practitioners. But he’s not condemning this way of thinking, he’s embracing it.

By all means, conservatives should use this episode to point out the fallacies and contradiction of identity politics. But Trump is not a hero in that effort, he’s a cautionary tale. 

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