Politics & Policy

Trump and Clinton Aren’t the Biggest Threats to Our Republic

(Dreamstime image: Eduardo Gonzalez Diaz)
The electorate’s disproportionate rage is a much greater cause for concern.

I’m astonished by the number of people who are telling me that the United States of America cannot survive a Hillary Clinton presidency. A nation that persevered through two world wars, the bloodletting of the Civil War, and the upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s simply can’t endure one more term of Clintons, they say. It’s the Flight 93 election: “Charge the cockpit or you die.”

Then there’s the abject panic over Donald Trump. Will a far-left bureaucracy really enlist itself in his cult of personality? Will the federal judiciary (mainly appointed by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama) cooperate in any effort to systematically strip citizens of their constitutional rights? Will a largely honorable and courageous military establishment truly commit war crimes on Trump’s command? He can do damage, yes, but does he threaten the very existence of the Republic?

No. The real threat to the Republic isn’t any given politician but rather a spirit of rage that is entirely out of proportion to the true stakes of our national disputes, much less the actual facts of our political indictments. Let’s take for example the Republican base’s absolute fury at the party’s congressional leadership. Again and again, I’ve heard the claim that GOP leaders have done nothing — nothing — to stop Obama, and that the party thus deserves to be rocked to its core, or burnt to a crisp if necessary.

I’m no blind apologist for GOP leaders, and have critiqued them strongly when I thought they deserved it. But the notion that they haven’t done anything effective to oppose Obama is fantasy-land lunacy. They’ve stopped cap-and-trade, gun control, the public option, and amnesty, all while imposing a “sequester” as an admittedly blunt object to restrain the growth of government spending. They’ve filed suit when the Obama administration has sought to circumvent congressional authority, and they’ve investigated (though sometimes poorly) when the administration has violated the law or deceived the public.

No they haven’t repealed and replaced Obamacare — an impossible task without a veto-proof majority. No they didn’t commit political suicide by continuing a government shutdown indefinitely. Yes, they’ve made bad deals in a series of continuing resolutions. But burn them down? I’d like to see a convincing case that different tactics would have led to materially different outcomes before I grab a torch.

The nascent Democratic “revolution” is even more nonsensical. During the Sanders campaign, a mass of Americans screamed for the biggest tax increase, the largest increase in government, and the biggest expansion of deficit spending in American history, all while using rhetoric that made an America awash in government programs and financial assistance to the poor sound like czarist Russia.

Social-justice warriors screech about a country so hostile and threatening that college students need a “safe space” merely to endure the travails of normal life. A nation that protected free speech in times of war finds itself tempted toward censoring microaggressions.

With rage spiraling out of proportion to the underlying offense, Americans are willing to sacrifice vital cultural values for the most fleeting, short-term gains.

The Black Lives Matter crowd, meanwhile, is encouraging, sanctioning, and stoking riots in our cities over a series of hoaxes and half-truths. We are facing an uptick in civil unrest and even outright ambushes of police officers in the absence of any significant evidence that white police officers are more likely to kill black men, once you control for actual crime rates. Indeed, some of the best recent research indicates the opposite, that police are less likely to pull the trigger when confronting black suspects.

With rage spiraling out of proportion to the underlying offense, Americans are willing to sacrifice vital cultural values for the most fleeting, short-term gains. I keep coming back to the pivotal, oft-quoted scene in A Man for All Season, when Thomas More confronts his betrayer and asks, “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . but for Wales?”

We argue that character matters in politics, that we live in a nation of laws and not men. And we would give that up for Trump? For Hillary? I’ve got news for partisans of both camps: There were honest progressives available to run, and there were honest conservatives who did run. It is a mistake to believe that one can forsake core principles for the sake of temporary political victory, then suddenly rediscover their value as soon as the election ends. That’s not how human beings work, and it’s not how cultures thrive.

#related#But that’s how much we hate each other. As the Pew Foundation has amply documented, Americans are polarized in the worst possible way — two tribes not so much united by love for their own as hatred for the other. We don’t lack fury, but we do lack perspective. Reasonable has become the new radical, the idea that we shouldn’t be furious is somehow seen as “out of touch” in a nation that remains the most powerful and prosperous on Earth. America is strong enough to withstand bad policy, but no nation can long endure public panic. The stakes in 2016 are not high enough to burn anything down, nor to sacrifice any element of your character or moral convictions.

Take a deep breath, America. We should be better than this.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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