Politics & Policy

How to ‘Resist’ Trump

President-elect Trump at a press conference in Trump Tower, January 11, 2017. (Reuters photo: Shannon Stapleton)
And, just as important, how not to

We need to talk about the “Resistance.”

Many conservatives, and a few of the more intellectually honest progressives, had a good long gander at these very silly people running around in vagina costumes and their even sillier — but less funny — associates engaged in violence and rioting, and thought: “You know, this doesn’t seem to have an awful lot to do with President Donald J. Trump.”

Trump is, in many ways, exactly the sort of politician Democrats keep telling Republicans they need to support: urban rather than rural, socially moderate to liberal (a Clintonian personal life, to the left of Senator Obama on gay marriage, and, whatever he’s been saying for the past five minutes, possessing the most robustly pro-abortion rhetorical record of any Republican president in the past 40 years), and a pragmatist rather than an ideologue. If the archetypal Republican is a small-town family man whose intellectual poles are the Apostle Paul and Milton Friedman, then Trump is about as far away from that as it is possible to be. What is he?

There are basically two kinds of politician. The first is the Salesman, the transactional politician, a type that is more common historically and remains more common outside of the United States. The Salesman’s appeal is relatively straightforward: “I want to do x, y, and z, and here is what I’m willing to trade to get that done.” Examples of the type include Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, and George H. W. Bush — as well as crooks like Chakah Fattah and careerists like Hillary Rodham Clinton. Transactional politicians dominate at the lower levels of government, particularly at the municipal level. Indeed, one of the reasons that the Republican party fails to connect with black and Hispanic voters in the cities is that its leading figures hold the transactional politics with which these Americans are most familiar in contempt.

If the archetypal Republican is a small-town family man whose intellectual poles are the Apostle Paul and Milton Friedman, then Trump is about as far away from that as it is possible to be. What is he?

That is not only because Republicans are more ideological than Democrats but also because they have, since the rise of the conservative movement, understood themselves as a party of opposition: The GOP is the organ of the counter-counterculture, smiting the 1960s-style liberationist ethic with its left hand and the Wilson-Roosevelt-Johnson welfare state with its right. Republicans have a great enthusiasm for the second major type of politician — the Avatar — especially when it comes to presidents. Republicans want their leaders, especially the one in the White House, to be expressions of certain ideals, and that is what the Avatar is. Ronald Reagan was the expression of one such set of values, and Donald Trump is another — one that is appealing to those on the right in search of uncompromising national confidence and a willingness to violate the norms of polite progressive society.

Given a choice between a Salesman and an Avatar, the Democrats chose the transactional Hillary Rodham Clinton over the would-be revolutionary Bernie Sanders. Republicans went the opposite direction, spurning the deal-making Jeb Bushes and Marco Rubios of the world for a man who advertises himself as a deal-maker but feels to them like something else.

If you opposed (and oppose) Donald Trump, then you have a couple of options. One is to make an ass of yourself by dressing as a set of genitals and vandalizing a Starbucks in Oakland. (The Keynesians may thank you, but Bastiat will not.) But we really shouldn’t pretend that that is politics — it is only adolescent self-gratification, and those engaged in it aren’t the Resistance, but the Nursery.

The more intelligent option is to treat President Trump like a Salesman even if both sides think he’s an Avatar. Which is to say, you may believe that he is a genuinely low sort of man, but he has been elected president and he will have to be dealt with through political means — through ordinary transactional politics. At the moment, that is easier for conservatives: I do not think very much of Donald Trump, but I do think a great deal of Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, and regulatory reform. If the Right gets a couple of good Supreme Court justices, corporate-tax reform, and some meaningful regulatory relief, we can call that a win. But there probably will be wins for the Left, too: President Trump is deeply opposed to conservative plans for entitlement reform and the liberalization of trade, and he has at times pronounced himself open to redistributionist taxes. And if we’re all going to be honest with ourselves, Chuck Schumer and Kamala Harris might want to pay a visit to a union hall in Iowa and ask the fellows there what they think about Trump’s program on immigration. I did. It was enlightening.

Blind and unthinking opposition to a president is only the flipside of blind and unthinking obedience. I myself am not much one for blind and unthinking anything.

This isn’t Nazi Germany, none of you ladies and gentlemen in the pink hats is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the history books will not tell of acts of courage at the Battle of Soy Latte. You want a different political outcome? Go make it happen. This is politics, and politics can be ugly and stupid — but it beats the alternative.

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