Politics & Policy

Trump Is Not an All-or-Nothing Proposition

(Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
Conservatives have little choice but to take his presidency issue by issue.


Sure. What would you have us resist?


There’s an expectation — and often a demand — that movement conservatives be all in or all out on the Donald Trump presidency. Lock-stepping partisans of both varieties offer this false choice. The election phase of the debate is over. Traditionally, presidents offer a menu of policies that more or less comport with the worldview of their party. This is different. So while I don’t claim to speak for all conservatives, I do imagine many are horrified/excited/sad/happy/content/embarrassed about what’s going on — often on the same day.

For me, it’s repulsive to hear President Trump and friends use authoritarian-tinged rhetoric when talking about the press. Telling the media to “keep its mouth shut” isn’t something a person in a position of power should be doing, even if journalists are antagonistic. Although the administration hasn’t yet inhibited the media in any way — by, say, illegally spying on journalists — this kind of statement is distressing because it exposes an un-American view of free expression.

Then again, Trump is also the guy who picked an originalist Supreme Court justice, who, if confirmed, will defuse Democrats’ authoritarian efforts to empower the state to ban political speech outright by overturning Citizens United. Many of us assumed that the Court would be lost and state power unchecked. Changing the Court would be a generational victory.

So why should we expect Republicans to act as if only one of the above were happening?

Trump issued a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day without mentioning that the Nazis’ final solution was specifically aimed at exterminating the Jews of Europe. This is offensive, amateurish, and historically illiterate — and get used to it. Most Jewish organizations condemned the omission, as they should.

Then again, it’s also highly unlikely that the Trump administration would send a billion dollars in cash in an attempt to placate an anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying, nuclear-weapon-seeking, terrorist-backing regime that openly threatens the lives of millions of Jews in the Middle East. That has been happening as well.

When Trump issues an executive order instituting a temporary travel ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, he inexplicably pulls in green-card holders. Although the hysteria surrounding the order is over-the-top, it is nonetheless a mess written by inept people. Conservatives like to claim that immigrants who follow the rules will be welcome in the United States. When they ignore this promise, they undermine trust in the process and our nation.

Yet for many, it’s heartening to see a White House that isn’t going to pretend that Muslim immigration is the same as Methodist or Hindu or Jewish immigration. Unlike the last administration, this one isn’t going to talk about radical Islamism — the most pervasively violent and illiberal movement in the world; one that is not only about terrorism but also includes many Muslim theocracies — as if it were a fairy tale invented by conservative media outlets.

The fact that Trump installs a pseudo-intellectual chauvinist like Steve Bannon on the National Security Council is an assault on common sense, norms, and decency. But Trump also has James Mattis, Mike Pompeo, and other apparently competent Cabinet picks who align well with prevailing Republican worldviews. Most Cabinet members have nothing to do with Trumpism, yet Democrats act as if every selection is a fanatic. Take Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who believes that parents should have some measure of choice rather than having to condemn their kids to a failed public-school system. This is something that’s invigorating for a lot of movement conservatives and Evangelicals. Why should they pick Senator Chuck Schumer over Donald Trump?

Today, what reason do conservatives have to make common cause with morally preening liberals?

Despite the views of Congress and most of his Cabinet, Trump says waterboarding isn’t torture. This is troubling. Yet the Trump administration also made a point of participating in the March for Life. If those who are anti-abortion had to choose between Trump (a person they might find crass or off-putting) and Democrats who now support unlimited abortion on demand until the moment of birth, whom would they choose?

Trump will blatantly lie about crowd sizes to ease his petulant ego, and it sounds insane. Trump promises to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, and he signed an executive order requiring that two regulations be reviewed for elimination for every new one issued, which sounds fantastic. These things happen simultaneously.

From my perspective, Trump is not presidential, competent, or ideologically (or otherwise) coherent most of the time. The alternative doesn’t sound that great, either.

I doubt I’m alone on this. In the best-case scenario, congressional Republicans do what ruling parties rarely do, which is hold their president in check. Trump’s negatives might make him one day completely unpalatable for most conservatives. Today, what reason do they have to make common cause with morally preening liberals who overreact to every executive order and utterance? In this environment, it’s perfectly acceptable — even preferable — to take politics issue by issue.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today

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