Politics & Policy

The Corner

The Two Ways of Looking at Trump

In following the debate over criticizing the president’s critics, I’m reminded that one of the dividing lines in American politics these days is between those who view President Trump as the singular cause of the present crisis and those who view his election as the symptom of a much broader crisis. This is not the only line in American politics, and it doesn’t break down neatly along partisan lines; people from a variety of sides might have different responses about how to address this crisis, and some might not think that we’re in a period of crisis at all. But it is a line.

If you see Donald Trump as the cause of our current discontent, then the temptation might be pretty strong to pull out all the stops to defeat him — every inopportune norm must be crushed, every argument against him deployed, every defense of his actions shredded. Mobilizing against Trump might mean the sacrifice of principles (for instance, supposedly pro-life folks might have to support candidates who call for no restrictions whatsoever on abortion), but you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. There’s a reason why the more fanatical of Trump’s opponents have appropriated the iconography of “the Resistance,” as though the Nazi invasion of France were the same as the constitutional election of Donald Trump: Only when the enemy is so wicked can the moral compromises become so virtuous.

If, however, you believe that Trump’s election is the sign of a greater crisis, the stop-Trump-at-all-costs strategy might end up being counterproductive in the extreme. According to the symptomatic interpretation of the Trump presidency, his rise has been premised on a variety of things, including economic stagnation, escalating negative partisanship, elite indulgence in bad-faith arguments and “no choice” politics, the tendency to respond to dissent with cultural excommunication, and the sense of a splintering body politic. Doubling down on those tendencies either to oppose or to support the president could be more a poison than a remedy.

For those who subscribe to this symptomatic interpretation, navigating the Trump presidency means the careful adjudication of norms, regardless of which partisan faction benefits from this adjudication. It means cultivating the virtues of republican life, such as courtesy, moral responsibility, civic fellowship, thoughtfulness in public affairs, and probity in political deliberations. That adjudication involves recognizing that there is no “Trump exception” to the Constitution or to politics — precedents laid out during this administration will be felt by later ones. For instance, a weaponized partisan bureaucracy could become a tool to “resist” more than one presidency; it could also further corrode faith in important institutions.

Even those who view the Trump administration as an existential threat to the country might have good reason to pay attention to the norms they’re willing to adopt in order to stop him. History did not begin with Donald Trump, and it will not end with him, either. There is no guarantee that toppling what you take to be a bad regime will lead to a good one.

A citizen’s attention to norms should not be seen as political cowardice or “enabling” Trump. Instead, it is nurturing the soil for the political renewal that many Trump supporters and opponents believe our republic needs.

Fred Bauer — Fred Bauer is a writer from New England. His work has been featured in numerous publications, including The Weekly Standard and The Daily Caller. He also blogs at ...

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More