In hindsight, I wish I had published this article before the events of January 6 at the Capitol building. My goal in this piece has been important to me for a long time — an objective, thoughtful, and fair assessment of the Trump presidency, complete with some suggestions for the path forward in political life after Trump. The ambitions of this article are not changed by the riots, and in fact some conclusions are reinforced by them. However, the already high volume at which this particular conversation takes place in all circles is now even higher, and when everything is this loud, it seems that nothing gets heard at all. I have never written an article before where I felt such a burden to manage the volume to the end of the takeaways, even if not everything will be found agreeable by all.
That strange and awkward preface is not something I can ever imagine writing for the typical articles I author in the fields of economics, culture, and social thought. Sure, all of these areas — especially the ones with direct and even controversial political undertones — invoke emotion and heated opinions. But I have seen nothing in decades as a consumer or producer of commentary and opinion that has created the intensity of discussions like Donald Trump. Throughout his 2015–16 campaign and throughout his presidency, I have done my best to offer thoughtful contributions to these discussions. I have failed in my goal at times to lower the temperature, and I am sure I could comb my own writings over the years and find things I regret. But I do stand behind my general intent and approach — to be a voice for truth, whereby good things are called good and bad things are called bad.
That is my intent in this article: to assess the overall presidency of Donald Trump, and to do so with no need for vindication, no axe to grind, and a truly open and humble disposition. The advantage (and burden) of such a piece versus all of the various ad hoc events, policies, tweets, and decisions over the years is that I am now trying to “pull it all together.” There is some finality in this, and that means final conclusions will offend or bother some readers. I hope the offense or bother this piece produces for supporters and critics of the president will be minimal and even pre-forgiven. I write on this subject because I want a path forward.
I do not worry about the offense or bother this piece may or may not cause in the far Left — in those whose efforts at critiquing Donald Trump have been unhinged, unfair, and completely counterproductive. The undeserved martyr-like treatment given to Trump by many of his supporters is mostly the by-product of his treatment by the media, which makes no sense to me. I don’t suggest they did not have material available to them, because they had it in abundance. I am suggesting that rather than critiquing the president with the obvious things right in front of them, a huge portion of the country chose to chase absurd conspiracy theories, wild insinuations of Hitlerian tendencies, and often overt lies that served to create insurmountable distrust when there were truthful criticisms to launch. The “CNN camp” has made the role of presidential critics such as myself almost impossible, lumping us in with the unhinged camp. For purposes of my piece, I ask you to fairly and rightly separate my efforts from that camp, because they do not belong there.
The intended audience for this piece is those on the Right or in the political center of the country. The notion that everything Trump did was Hitlerian, or even wrong-headed, was always an untenable position. Many who had the “Never Trump” label ascribed to them sacrificed needed credibility, either early on or, for others, later into the presidency, for a willingness to sacrifice previously held beliefs if it meant being aligned with the president. And the so-called “Always Trump” camp never found a way to generally support an agenda without an unhealthy, often sycophantic, loyalty to the president. The bipolarity of these two positions has taken over the Right these last four years, leaving some who have genuinely believed that there was not just room for, but the necessity for, a more nuanced position in exile.
I want to say something to the president’s most ardent supporters, the group I fear will be offended by many of the conclusions of this piece. Whether you come out of this reading convinced of this or not, I really do, from the bottom of my heart, understand. I understand the frustrations you feel, the fear you have for what is happening in our country and our culture. I understand the desire for there to be someone who you feel is pushing back or fighting. It makes perfect sense to me why you find the media contemptible, and why you see someone such as President Trump who so often fights with the media as your friend, and maybe even your protector.
From the 1619 Project to cancel culture to intersectionality to COVID tyranny to the woke mob to the summer 2020 riots, I recognize why the whole “idea” of Trump has been appealing. It is not my argument that these things are anything other than the threat to our way of life you believe them to be. I am on your side about cancel culture, about the desire to redefine America, about the social-justice mob, and about so much else. The very heartfelt and rational critiques I offer herein about Donald Trump are not because I disagree with you about those problems; they are because I disagree with you about Trump as the solution. I hope you will find my arguments for such persuasive.
Those who are the most significant critics of Trump on the Right have too often failed to strive for any level of empathy for those identifying as Trump supporters when significant empathy is warranted and even required. I do not mean empathy for the grifters and charlatans who have sought to build a brand around Trumpian sycophantism. I’ll leave their names out of this piece to keep things on the level, but I am unwilling to play dumb about how toxic and worthy of contempt that camp is. For me to call out the Trump critics for a lack of empathy for his “base,” I need to have the integrity to admit that there is a group that has earned scorn every step of the way.
But I refer to tens of millions of Americans here when I say that there are those who feel afraid about what is going on in their country. For right or for wrong (or both), they felt that Trump was an ally to their cause, that there is an “establishment” not interested in their concerns, and that there’s a lack of seriousness about the gravity of the times. Whether it was a persona, a style, or the rhetoric of what was said, Trump and MAGA resonated with them. And if Trump critics — including at times, myself — had done a better job of rooting their response in empathy for where these folks were coming from, rather than assuming the worst imaginable about them, I am confident we would have exponentially more common ground right now to forge a path forward. Instead, there is almost no trust, good will, good faith, or good path.
None of this means that an empathetic understanding of where these Trump supporters come from would lead to policy agreement or even agreement about tactics. There is ample disagreement to be sorted through, and that’s okay. It’s what we are supposed to do in the public square — disagree, sort through issues, engage in rational discourse, and find a path forward around the common ground we do have. But all of that seems impossible right now. When a reasonably large number of both camps can rediscover empathy for each other (“I disagree with them, but I understand how they got there”), then some healing can begin.
There are some things that have to be said about the Trump presidency in a “final hour assessment” that are unambiguously good. And I will start with the single greatest achievement of the entire Trump era: He kept Hillary Clinton from ever being our president. For all the other good and bad, I have absolutely no problem rooting this piece in the simple observation that President Donald Trump meant there was no President Hillary Clinton, and that is an unalloyed good. I haven’t compromised a single bit around the case that Hillary Clinton would have been an unfathomable disaster for our country. Her defeat is something I will celebrate forever, regardless of who it was who defeated her. I do not share the belief of some of my friends that in 2016 “only Trump could have beaten her.” What we know is that President Trump did defeat her, to the surprise of many — including myself. This remains the hallmark achievement of the Trump era.
Another significant policy achievement of the Trump presidency is his three Supreme Court justices. An outstanding judge replacing an outstanding judge (Gorsuch for Scalia), an outstanding judge replacing a mediocre one (Kavanaugh for Kennedy), and an outstanding judge replacing an extreme leftist (Barrett for Ginsburg) represents the hallmark achievement of this era. This is also the crowning achievement of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. For some reason, MAGA hates this man, and I have absolutely no idea why. Regardless of the incoherence of this position, McConnell’s amazing feats with the Supreme Court and 200+ judges on the federal judiciary happened because Donald Trump was president, and could not have happened had he not been. This belongs at the top of praise and commentary when we assess Trump’s presidency.
There are a few other accomplishments often brought up when constructing Trump’s presidential resume. The corporate-tax reform was a needed and important piece of legislation, not as — contrary to popular leftist lies — a support for the rich, but as a support for the job creation, business investment, capex, global competitiveness, repatriation of foreign profits, and reduction of loopholes it fostered. That this accomplishment actually went through a real legislative process makes it even more important — it cannot be reversed so easily, and it was actually done properly in the context of the Constitution.
I am glad the president relocated to the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, ended the Iranian nuclear deal, and pulled us out of the Paris accord. These things carry more symbolic than practical significance, but symbolic gestures do matter.
Deregulatory efforts in the economy are an underrated achievement of his presidency, with cabinet appointments helping to execute a significant improvement in certain structural regulations impeding American progress in finance, energy, education, health care, and more. In fact, the discretionary capacity of some executive-branch departments was a tremendous vehicle for protection of the unborn inside the Department of Health & Human Services. Personnel is policy, and while we have some real disasters in this category for Trump, there were true success stories, too, ones that will be harder to reverse than people realize.
It may seem like small ball to many of you, and with some of the ghastly pardons that are included in his actions, may even rub you the wrong way. But I would include the president’s pardons of Michael Milken and Conrad Black as two of his greatest hits. I’ve written enough about the Milken pardon but will celebrate it long after Trump is gone.
I do not disagree with President Trump’s defenders that he has been one of the most pro-life presidents we have ever had. This needs to be evaluated solely in the context of what a president can actually do on the subject, and though funding to Planned Parenthood was not cut under his administration, the truly useful HHS funding of substantive pro-life endeavors is a noteworthy achievement that pro-life Trump critics ignore to their own shame. His voice, rhetoric, public support, judicial appointments, and HHS personnel are high up in his report card for this tireless defending of the unborn.
I also believe there is great merit to the president reintroducing the GOP to the idea of being a “working class” party. I happen to share President Reagan’s disdain for this “class” nomenclature, but as far as narratives go and political coalitions go, I get it, and I loathe the false idea of the GOP being branded as a country-club party of Wall Street (I say it is false because I work on Wall Street, and I spend time in country clubs, and . . . they ain’t Republicans). I will critique much of the way President Trump did this below, but I believe the instinct that a significant amount of forgotten men and women were being inadequately considered by both political parties is a lasting legacy of this president, and beyond the political instinct involved, there is tremendous merit to revisiting the policy portfolio that addresses how the working class is treated in our country. More in a moment.
I am sure some will find other areas to bring up that represent the asset side of President Trump’s balance sheet. I have tried to focus on the lowest-hanging fruit, and I believe I have covered that which should most be remembered and assessed favorably.
It is at this time that I regretfully suggest that the presidency has been an abject disaster in so many ways, not generally because of his policies, but because of the character, temperament, ego, and pathology of the president, that time and time again blotted out the good and undermined opportunities for success. Ultimately, it is my position that the things we were told didn’t matter inevitably damaged the things we were told did matter.
First, allow me to numerically offer categorical critiques that I believe warrant very little controversy on the Right. There is a certain sequence here, but they are not ranked in an order of importance:
1) “But he fights” is the most universally uttered argument in defense of President Trump, and in this phrase sits the core of my disagreement with MAGA world. “Yes, I know he tweets silly things sometimes, but at least he stands up to the media and cancel culture and the Left.” “I don’t like his temperament either, but he gets things done.” You know the lines to which I am referring, and they are universal from many who have supported President Trump.
Now, I would be happy to rebut the conclusions of this thinking — that because he “gets things done” and “stands up to the Left,” it is easy to tolerate the tweets, insults, conspiracy theories, childish behavior, boorishness, and so forth. I vehemently disagree with that thinking, but I will avoid even that argument, because this one is so much easier, and so much more undermining of that proposition: The temperament and behavior could not be ignored for the greater good, because the greater good to which you refer failed as a result of the temperament and behavior.
I spent four years pleading with people to understand that the president listened to the masses, and if he got pushback on his behavior, his craving for popularity would mean a shift in behavior. Instead of feeling pressured to change, he felt emboldened. “Let Trump be Trump,” the rally cry went. And no matter how much data there was showing how his low approval ratings paired almost exclusively to his behavior, and no matter the evidence showing he was bleeding support with married suburban women, we stubbornly stuck to the suicidal view that narcissism, immaturity, and unpresidential behavior were just part of his brand. It cost him the midterms, effectively ending the chance of any legislative agenda whatsoever for his presidency. And now it has cost him reelection.
The excuse-making for his line about POWs and liking people who didn’t get caught was unforgivable. Pushback on that despicable declaration might actually have generated an apology from him. Instead, after Senator McCain died, Trump enjoyed carte blanche for some of the most vicious and unseemly attacks on the dead. Well, now the Republicans lost Arizona for just the second time since 1948.
McCain is not a sympathetic enough figure for many on the Right for me to make my point. But allow me to strike at the heart of what cost President Trump reelection: that first debate. I can criticize President Trump for much, but I do not criticize his marketing savvy and even his political instincts. How could I? President Trump either entered that first debate wanting to lose the election, or actually believing that the nation liked and wanted petulance of a variety we have never seen in American presidential history. Any review of the strategy he utilized in the second debate versus how he behaved in the first debate decimates the argument that “you have to let Trump be Trump.” As we saw in the second debate, he is highly capable of reining it in when he believes it will help him pragmatically. His performance in the second debate was masterful, not just because he articulated needed truth about the COVID moment, but because his temperament was sober, respectful, serious, and right. By then, nearly half of voting had already happened. The inability to empirically prove cause and effect does not change what we know instinctively to be true — his conduct at the first debate destroyed his candidacy.
But I will use even clearer data to make my case: Do you know that he still enjoyed high levels of approval and support even a month into the COVID moment? Even as death tolls were climbing and his own orders for national lockdown were decimating the economy, the country had not yet blamed President Trump for it. It is in this area that I vehemently disagree with many of my friends on the Right who have been outspoken critics of President Trump: The idea that he “caused the deaths of 300,000 Americans” is absurd. One can do revisionist history on what transpired in January and February of 2020 all they want, but there is very little President Trump could have done or should have done differently. “But he knew it was serious and did nothing.” What was he supposed to do? Shut down the economy before we had experienced a single death over a totally unknown and pre-understood respiratory virus? It’s partisan nonsense, and everyone knows it.
I will not forgive him, however, for taking a truly serious medical and economic moment in spring 2020 and turning it into a daily ego brawl with the media, when the country was clamoring for leadership and empathy. The tweeting about his ratings as the death toll was skyrocketing, the unhinged tweeting about a media rival being possibly guilty of murder, and the economic contraction that was further cascading was unbearable, if not for Trump-supporting Republicans, then for apolitical Americans stuck at home, glued to their TVs. It reflected a president disconnected from the American people.
I do not know why so many decided that President Trump accusing Ted Cruz’s dad of killing JFK was acceptable or why the mocking statements about the physical appearance of Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz were tolerated during the 2016 campaign. But I do know that when the exact same behavior inevitably carried in the COVID moment of 2020, it was unpalatable for many Americans.
I am not suggesting that President Trump lost in 2020 because he tweeted that President Obama faked the killing of Osama bin Laden and had Seal Team Six killed. Rather, I am suggesting that he tweeted it because he thought he could. A numbness had built up such that the totally unacceptable became ignored. And in a 40-40-20 country, on the margin, it was political suicide — not merely this tweet, but the entire lot of them.
It is not logical to claim that President Trump was standing up against cancel culture and the dangers of the far Left while simultaneously observing him acting in this unacceptable manner. Anyone who appreciated this moment in history, anyone left sleepless by the conflicts in our society that warranted our attention, would never dare consider such reckless and irresponsible behavior.
The impulses of President Trump so enabled by MAGA are why we lost two Senate seats in Georgia, and why he lost his bid for reelection. If we are to believe that the far Left is the enemy to civilization that we are told it is, then President Trump had a duty to act like it — not to behave like an Internet troll whose top priority was fighting with reporters who said bad things about him.
2) Those who believe the federal government is too large, should be reined it, should spend less, should extract less money from the private sector, and should seek a greater fiscal responsibility have surrendered any semblance of credibility for years. It has to be said that this is not just because we spent trillions of dollars more than ever thought possible — and this was before the COVID stimulus packages.
I understand there was excessive spending in past Republican and Democratic administrations, but there were always objectors. The Tea Party movement was a response to profligate spending under the Obama administration. And during the Bush Jr. spending years, there was a significant, though inadequate, resistance from the Right in the House and Senate. Trump did not merely spend us into oblivion, he got the “freedom caucus” to spend us into oblivion. He wasn’t hypocritical. Bush Jr. said he favored right-sized government, and then overspent. Trump overspent, and said it was because he didn’t favor right-sized government.
The core argument has fundamentally been reversed by a president who never pretended to agree with it — that debt is now a tax in the future, that the size of government is not fundamentally a budget/spending/economic matter, but rather a reflection of the relationship between the citizen and the state, and the distinctly American ideal is for a limited role for the latter because of the agency and dignity of the former. The idea that Republicans can say no to Biden’s spending initiatives now after green-lighting Trump’s spending initiatives is absurd, and they’ll now have to deal with both the hypocrisy of their own party and the actual argument itself: that giving Americans money to provoke spending even when there is not hardship is a good thing.
The various cultural fears I alluded to earlier have been used as an excuse for his entire term in office to ignore the economic recklessness playing out both in deed and word, and yet having ceded the high ground to the leftist argument for size of government, spending, and budget math, we will now face the cultural ramifications of abandoning basic first things. I want to be clear — I am not merely worried that the Left will now call us hypocrites regarding spending; I am worried because it is true. And it is not true because we said one thing and did another.
Faced with a big-spending Republican president who said he wanted negative interest rates, trillions of dollars of deficits, and unlimited budget increases in each category, the GOP House and Senate, either afraid of a mean tweet, a MAGA primary opponent, or perhaps genuinely converted by the intellectual force of the Trumpian argument, capitulated. I cannot imagine what it will take to establish credibility. And when Democratic spending offends us, I cannot imagine what many in MAGA will say. For many, they would be wise to sit that argument out.
3) One of the major premises of the Trump presidency was that he would bring in the competence and get-stuff-done mentality of a businessman to Washington. The results may set back the cause of a private-sector businessman fixing Washington for decades. The constant “palace intrigue” management style of the president (a style that sits at the heart of his business philosophy, too), created the most volatile and unstable White House staff and cabinet in generations.
Several fine patriots of great prestige and competence have come into the administration, and I differ with those Trump critics who believe those patriots had a duty to leave when Trump misbehaved throughout his presidency. I am quite confident that those who were on the “A-team” of the administration represented a superior alternative to the reality TV stars and campaign grifters who could have potentially replaced them.
The fallouts with distinguished generals was never once a matter of personality compatibility, and it is shockingly dishonest to claim that it was over an ideological difference (“they were warmongers and Trump opposed endless wars”). By the way, on that last point, I am avoiding the rabbit hole of the total incoherence of President Trump’s foreign policy, shamelessly befriending dictators on one hand, playing “bomb ISIS” hawk on another, and claiming Taftian isolationism on another. There was no consistent or discernible criteria for who would stay in the president’s orbit.
It could hardly have been called a swamp-draining four years, with multiple grifters and unimpressive individuals achieving senior positions in the administration. When a fallout would occur, the president never owned up to the fact that he was the one who hired the now-outcast member of his team. The melodrama was fitting of a reality TV show, but not the serious and sober administration of government. This is not a small point. It became Ground Zero for part of my disconnect with MAGA throughout these last four years. “Hey, maybe you don’t like Trump, but you have to agree General Mattis is awesome!” “Thank God Mattis is gone, that guy was a warmonger!” Time and time again staff and cabinet positions were arguments for the president until their removal became an argument for the president.
I believe that Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary, Mike Pompeo at State, Larry Kudlow at NEC, and other key leadership positions served our country well. I also believe that overall, the dysfunctions in the staff and administration – and the high percentage of staffers who lacked the professional competence to be in their role — did great damage to the president’s agenda, and worse, great damage to the agenda of the conservative movement.
Just as I do not feel my list of accolades was comprehensive, I am certain my list of criticisms is not, either. But in categorizing my critiques around these three major categories (the incalculable damage his character and behavior has caused, the precedent of what he has done in fiscal management, and the dysfunctional management of personnel), many of the other criticisms people may launch could fit as a subset within these. These three categories are sufficient and overwhelming.
It is my humble, gracious, yet unwavering view that what many of the president’s supporters see (and love) as a “won’t back down/fight the Left” attitude, is really a character malady that happens to sometimes align with the Right’s agenda. The character traits that sacrificed the Senate seats in Georgia for his incessant need to portray himself as a victim are the same traits that caused him to brawl with CNN. We like the latter and end up getting bitten when it manifests in the former. I believe the Right’s opposition to the Left is ideological, cultural, political, and existential. I believe Trump’s opposition is deeply personal, vindictive, and incidental. If you believe I am wrong about this, at least understand where I am coming from. It should not be hard to consider the likelihood of my framing.
I actually have far more sympathy than some of my right-leaning friends for the position that his vitriol toward his opponents was warranted after the Russia hunt. I think it was a travesty, not because I believe Trump and his ilk incapable of such deeds, but because I believe the pretext for the whole investigation was corrupt and should never have been allowed. I may have alienated many people over the years as a sometimes-Trump critic, but I always believed the Russia story was an abusive and counter-productive disaster for the Left. But if you are tempted to believe that Trump’s edge was merely a response to the way he was treated by the Left, I have to forcefully disagree. Saying that Jay Powell was a worse enemy to the United States than the premier of Communist China was not punching back; it was an unprovoked hostility that defied basic decency. When I think of the first few dozen most offensive things he said or did since his election, I hardly think about ones directed in the tit-for-tat media-punching. The Right’s enemy should be those opposed to freedom and flourishing; Trump’s enemies are any who dare to not do what he wants.
Let us dispel of the myth that the only options are the gentlemanly passivity and ineffectualness of a Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney, or else the vulgarity and narcissism of Donald Trump. Have we truly come to a place where we do not believe we can engage the cultural and political fights of the day with energy, force, and boldness, yet without the self-defeating traits of ego and childishness that so often defined President Trump? Is this not the falsest dilemma of our time?
I have kept any treatment of his pre-presidency behavior and character to this sentence to avoid any accusations of “dunking” or “I told you so” behavior, for that is not my intent. Rather, it is to suggest that in the future, with candidates of clearly questionable character, I would plead with conservatives to reverse course from the convenient appeal of “I did not vote for a pastor” rhetoric. The risk/reward trade-offs when we next have this situation before us ought to be considered. Character is destiny, and where the impact of that can sometimes be pragmatically avoided (call it common grace), it often cannot be avoided, and regardless, the risk-reward calculation is unfavorable.
The Way Forward
I agree with those critical of the president that there will likely be a period of reckoning ahead, but I do not agree that we ought to hope for such. Rooting for various dependable conservative Senators to lose for blood-sport because they tried to thread the needle in dealing with Trump these last few years is counter-productive. Seeking to “cancel” those who dared to bring some competence and productivity to the administration is silly, unfair, and wrong. (For me personally, I will never support Hawley or Cruz again at any level short of a truly heartfelt mea culpa, but that has far more to do with their purposeful disdain for the Constitution and institutional norms in the recent election-blockage efforts than it does specific support for the president).
If I could wave a wand and make it so, we would have a resurgence of fusionism tomorrow — this time juxtaposing a toughness in demeanor, an appeal to disenfranchised working-class voters, and traditional movement conservatives. I see nothing contradictory in any of those three components, and I see no choice of forward progress for our movement (politically) without all three for the time being. A “tough” demeanor lacking in meat on the bone is elusive and destined to fail. And also, so it seems, is a well-read gentlemanly conservatism from the Ivy League.
The war big tech seems determined to fight against conservatives is not going to make this dynamic any easier. Many will get bogged down by the technical details of Section 230 and big tech’s freedom as private companies. Others still will demand exhaustive regulation and reversals, allowing their desperation to move them from the frying pan to the fire. A Trumpian authoritarianism is more palatable to so many than Silicon Valley authoritarianism, but I prefer neither. When I am asked if I want what we have these last few years, or a Silicon Valley dominance in partnership with a woke Democratic Party, my answer is, “None of the above.” We have every right and every chance to work for an affirmative vision of our movement, now. In fact, we have every duty to do so.
Ultimately, the substantial phenomena of Trump’s personality is what has to fade for conservatives, not merely meaning his personality, but the excessive reliance on personality. All things being equal, I am quite sure the GOP has little chance of winning a presidential election without a candidate of forceful and charismatic personality. But as Matthew Continetti suggests, what is needed now is a “depersonalization of the right.” We will need dynamic and high-character people to deliver, and yes, they will have to be fighters.
But if we care about the size of the state, the character of the country, the virtue of the people, the futures of our children, the protection of our Constitution, and a permanent defeat of the forces of socialism and collectivism, we are best advised to fight these evils with less reliance on the mere appeal of a big personality and more commitment to defensible principles.
I want to reiterate my empathy for those who feel we are on the losing side of a culture war and need reinforcements that include the “strength” and “toughness” of Donald Trump. We are in a culture war and a debacle of secular-humanist wokeism, and we will need strength and toughness to prevail.
But my friends, I will respectfully ask you to consider that we can approach the future this way if we are so willing:
1) With gratitude that, thanks to a Trump presidency, we have bought ourselves time as it pertains to the Supreme Court’s protection of our most basic liberties;
2) With regret for the significant losses, embarrassments, and failures evident throughout the last four years; and
3) With renewed wisdom and understanding that the “character doesn’t matter” angle didn’t work for us, and that as much as we need street smarts and a broader appeal of our message, we also need to get “back to the basics.” We do, in fact, need a governing philosophy. We do need managerial competence. We do need a policy agenda that speaks to the working class without throwing out a few hundred years of conservative beliefs.
Do we have a bench of people in national politics who can assert the leadership mantle? From Tim Scott to Dan Crenshaw to Ron DeSantis to Kristi Noem to Nikki Haley, there are options who have not done anything to offend the underlying (well-meaning) wishes of MAGA (I refer to the 74,950,000, not the 50,000), and who may very well be a movement of people of patriotism, sacrifice, character, and savvy. You may have people on your list, and you may have a beef with some of those people on mine. My point is only this: A 2021 fusionism (traditional conservatism with some populist personality/messaging) can be found, and it can make many people happy, but it will have to be rooted in an actual appetite for unity, stemming from a true appreciation of this moment’s urgency.
The urgency I feel every day is for the worth of the human person created in the image of a loving God, and my views on the 2016 election, the 2020 election, Donald Trump, and the path forward are all, to the best of fallible ability, rooted in my regard for human worth (the cause of human flourishing). I have to quote my friend Jordan Bailor on what this means in the modern moment:
Some of that worth is found in worthwhile jobs and through earned income. Much more of that is found in loving relationships and through churches and houses of worship. Life is lived in a wide variety of institutions and in a host of social relationships and networks that give our lives substance and significance. That’s something we all need to learn, again and again, and it should be the key lesson of the 2016 elections.
I do not feel despair in the current political climate, because I never feel exhilaration in any political moment, either. I recognize the role of politics in protecting the rights we are endowed with by our creator, but I also recognize the institutions and social structures that represent the difference between a civilization in glory and a civilization in chaos. There are too many forces working to create a civilization in chaos. For those who share the goal of conserving the values of America’s Founding, may we move past these very challenging years with a commitment to honesty, virtue, courage, and boldness. Let us move forward, having done inventory of the beneficial and the regrettable, prepared for the crisis of the present and the challenge of the future.