Politics & Policy

The Fool’s Gold of Justifying Trumpism

Trump speaks at a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, August 1, 2016. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)
F. H. Buckley on the attempt to square Trump’s circle.

Donald Trump has an almost alchemical capacity for turning smart people into fools. One such transformation is currently on display at the New York Post’s website, where F. H. Buckley, a conservative professor at George Mason University’s Scalia Law School, has an op-ed accusing conservatives who refuse to vote for Trump of failing to understand what has driven his success: namely, that Donald Trump is, in fact, “more conservative” than his conservative detractors.

The argument, such as it is, goes something like this: The United States has become economically immobile, creating a powerful class system that those at the top are willing to abuse for their advantage. Buckley says that this signals “a deeper kind of rot, of departures from the rule of law, of corruption, of a regulatory state on steroids, of broken educational institutions, of a demented immigration system, and of a constitutional structure that lacks a reverse gear and that has given us wasteful laws that seem impossible to repeal.” “Understand all this,” he continues, “and you understand Trump’s appeal.”

There is more than a little to this. Conservatives have failed to recognize the degree to which economic dissatisfaction is not just about a lethargic, post-recession economy with too-few jobs at too-low wages. With generational poverty, formerly a problem largely of the minority-dominated inner cities, metastasizing to overwhelm the white working class, where opioid addiction and suicide have become plagues, it’s clear that economic distress is widespread and growing more and more entrenched — that is, that it will not be immediately remedied by different policies under a different president. A conservatism that hopes to be successful at the polls will have to reshuffle its priorities, craft policies that address the woes of the economically stuck, and figure out how to sell those policies to them. (This is, of course, a partial solution; the revitalization of depressed communities will require nonpolitical remedies, ultimately.) It’s true, too, that the deeper problems Buckley identifies will require redress. “When we have strayed so far from the Idea of America, of liberty and opportunity for our children,” Buckley writes, “then true conservatism requires a radical return to first principles.”

Indeed. But where is the case for Donald Trump being that return? Where is the evidence that Donald Trump will clean out the rot, restore the rule of law, end the corruption, reduce the regulatory state, repair the broken educational institutions, reform the immigration system, redeem the constitutional structure? Where is the evidence that Donald Trump is a “real” conservative?

It’s entirely acceptable to think that conservatism needs a facelift, or more. But the new face cannot be Donald Trump’s.

It’s entirely acceptable to think that conservatism needs a facelift, or more. But the new face cannot be Donald Trump’s. It is not “conservative” to prosecute journalists for unfavorable coverage or command American troops to commit war crimes. It is not “conservative” to mock the handicapped or attack the parents of fallen American soldiers. Whatever reflexive conservative impulses Donald Trump or his supporters may have, they clearly have much more in the way of un-conservative ones: for example, their abundant tolerance, or even enthusiasm, for thuggery, vulgarity, and cruelty. Are those now conservative “first principles”?

According to Professor Buckley, “NeverTrumpers” — who quickly become “ideologues,” then “the perfect Republican idiots” — suffer from “intellectual poverty.” But those who have not surrendered their rational faculties can cite a great deal of evidence that Donald Trump is not conservative and should not be trusted to govern that way. It seems not to work the other way round. Buckley offers no evidence that his candidate would be a conservative president. Donald Trump’s omni-competence is assumed; it’s an article of faith. It seems to have evaded the professor that blind trust in leaders is a very un-conservative thing. (Ted Cruz, by the way, is dismissed as a candidate who merely “ticked off” the “57 little boxes” thought up by “right-wing ideologues.”)

#related#Ultimately, Buckley repairs to the same baseless accusations to which Trump himself resorts: “The mild young NeverTrumper boasts of his integrity and asks to be respected by progressives, who know a white flag when they see one.” That the opponents of Donald Trump do so only because they are jealous of their status with the editors of The Nation, is, it should be obvious, a cheap and silly slur. But it’s a fitting conclusion, emphasizing what the rest of this piece makes clear: Those who seek to justify the ways of Donald Trump tend to make themselves as foolish as he is.

That’s one more good reason to be “NeverTrump.”

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