’Tis the season of chest-thumping and scoreboard-pointing. Ever since Trump essentially clinched the Republican nomination, I’ve noticed a fascinating triumphalism sweeping social media. Those who backed Trump — especially those who backed Trump early — are reveling not only in their man’s victory but also in their own newfound fame and notoriety, even to the extent of posting charts and graphs showing how much more influence they have than their “establishment” rivals do.
At some level this is all understandable. The primary was hard-fought, and after a victory a certain amount of crowing is predictable (though unseemly). It always happens, so no big deal, right?
Wrong. If there is one thing this primary has taught us, it’s that much of the “true” conservative opposition to Obama and the Republican establishment was far less based in principle than it was in power — a desire to claw its way up by tearing others down. And this ambition was so deeply felt, so visceral, that it was simply presumed that any rage or frustration over Trump’s victory was based almost entirely on the notion that his rise meant his opponents’ personal eclipse, not on despair that long-advanced moral, cultural, strategic, and economic principles were now in peril.
Every political campaign requires compromise, but the extent to which Donald Trump’s “conservative” supporters abandoned one core tenet of their ideology and morality after another to advance their man — and themselves — was breathtaking.
Men and women who had demanded consistent conservatism embraced a candidate who flip-flopped by the hour. Former advocates of individual liberty cheered a man who proudly advocated rollbacks of critical constitutional liberties. Champions of limited government shrugged their shoulders at Trump’s embrace of the entitlement state and call for state-run health care. Critics who had spent years decrying the dishonesty of the Clintons and the lawlessness of Obama wrapped both arms around a shameless liar who pledged executive actions that would make even Loretta Lynch blush.
After scorning an Obama foreign policy built on a combination of hard-left ideology and hopeless naïveté, Trump’s supporters embraced a foreign policy built on a combination of bluster, insanity, and ignorance. It’s intolerable that Obama met with Iranian leaders. It’s fine that Trump is willing to meet with Kim Jong Un. Critics of Obama’s stagnant recovery shrugged their shoulders as a reality-TV star spewed threats to start trade wars and declared his willingness to default on American debt — two policies that would devastate working-class American families, Trump’s alleged core constituency.
#share#Conservatives who expressed outrage at Democratic name-calling and incivility are proud to back a man who mocks people with disabilities, spews insults at any woman who crosses him, turns on fellow Republicans with a viciousness never seen in primary politics, and peddles bizarre conspiracy theories. Obama said that Republicans “cling” to guns and religion, and these people howled with outrage. Trump said that fellow Republicans lied their way into a deadly war, and his people were unmoved. Men and women who decried identity politics knowingly and gleefully stoked online mobs of white supremacists to threaten and intimidate Trump’s critics.
But no matter. Trump was winning, and when Trump was winning they were winning. Consequently, we learned that their much-vaunted conservatism was a mere means to an end. Virtually every character defect or ideological blind spot they condemned in others, they overlooked or even justified in Trump.
The human soul is often torn between ambition and principle. Are you willing to be a mere foot soldier in a movement that preserves individual liberty and restores constitutional governance, or a general in a movement that replaces one lawless leader with another? The question is easier to answer in the abstract, harder in the real world. A ragtag coalition of trolls, gadflies, and fading conservative stars chose the latter, and they won.
I’m reminded of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic work that grasps the truth not just about the war in the heavens between good and evil, but also the war in our own souls. Are we willing to die to ourselves? Or do we declare, “To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n”? While humans are incapable of creating heaven on earth, we’re quite adept at creating our own infernos. And when naked ambition dictates that you support liars, frauds, con men, and demagogues, then you take giant leaps on the road to hell — without even the excuse of good intentions.
#related#The “losers” in this particular ideological war now have their own choice to make. Do we bend our principles to match our short-term ambition and work to claw our way back into the good graces of the strongman, justifying our moral flexibility with the allure of a “seat at the table?” Or do we double down on serving principle, making the arguments for the ideas that we believe represent the best hope for national recovery and cultural renewal?
Choosing to serve doesn’t make you a “loser,” it makes you wise. Yes, there will be those who choose to reign. Let them reign over the ruin they’ve created. The servants will wait to rebuild.