The Corner

Politics & Policy

So Much for That Classless Incompetent Trump

So I appreciate all the Catholic leaders, beginning with Robert George, who exhort the faithful not to succumb to the temptation of Trump. Robby is careful to note that Trumpism includes many legitimate issues neglected by our two major parties. It’s just that Trump is completely lacking in class, character, and competence.

Now I too would never vote for Trump. But I’ve never been a psyched up “Never Trumper” either. He’s why: An incompetent, classless buffoon with an incorrigible unwillingness to learn never had more that the faintest ghost of a chance to win the general election. I haven’t lost a moment sleep over what a President Trump would do, because not even in my most anxious dreams have I been able to imagine him winning.

It’s true, of course, that Trump easily won the Republican nomination. That’s because his most formidable opponents were even more overconfident and clueless. One sign of their incompetence: None of their opposition researchers uncovered such a dramatic piece of disgusting evidence of Donald’s low-life, shamelessly predatory vanity as the tape that emerged in the last couple of days.

Ross Douthat asked: Is Trump more dangerous because he’s an authoritarian or an incompetent? In my view, he is more ridiculously than dangerously incompetent. That’s probably really bad news for the whole Republican party in November. But because he’s incompetent, there always was little to no danger he’d be an authoritarian president or president at all. Now I do think the Constitution and our country could survive Trump’s random cluelessness, but they’re just not going to be put to that test.

Among the seven habits of highly effective authoritarians is disciplined competence, and that includes a definite plan for action. Trump’s authoritarianism, including his big promises as a leader, is a joke, because none of it was ever going to happen.

Virtually all of respectable Americana — all our elites — are out to defeat Trump. Sure, they’re saddled with an unpopular candidate, but she really is good enough to easily prevail under current circumstances. Revisit the first debate, and now imagine the second. Add, of course, the big data, the ground game, and astute media spinning at her disposal. All means necessary were to be deployed, but now, it appears, most of them won’t even be necessary. There’s worse stuff on Trump out there waiting to be used, and, believe me, it’s not all talk.

Trump might have been helped a bit with wavering conservatives, especially social conservatives, by Mike Pence’s smooth and savvy repackaging of Trump as just like Mike: a solid Midwestern Christian conservative, a sincere gentleman open with his faith and proud of his country.

The Washington Post did what Tim Kaine utterly failed to do: Discredit Trump probably beyond repair with his own trashy words. Now Clinton can finish him off tomorrow.

So I can’t help but think it’s “no acccident” that the lewd and crude (or worse) tape emerged right after Pence’s win and right before the next presidential debate. Now I’m not being critical here of the mainstream media. Doubtless many Americans needed to benefit from a reminder of what being “not a gentleman” really means when it comes to intimate interpersonal relations.

Some speculate that Trump was merely bragging, not reporting, about his celebrity status being the cause of his successful and at best semi-consensual (or, at worst, criminal) sexual abuse. But that’s more evidence still of his utter lack of class.

We want to respond: Gentlemen don’t talk that way about women, even when they think the mic is off. Most or almost all men don’t.

Others, beginning with Secretary Clinton, respond: Millions and millions of deplorable American men think and talk like Trump. That’s why the patriarchal code of gentlemen has to be replaced with more reliable means to protect the safety and honor the consent of women.

Here’s Trump’s gift to the cause of soft despotism: His tirades against political correctness have caused us to identify the intrusive scripting of said correctness with common decency, with manners and morals. We all need to be protected from guys like Trump. But Trump in many ways is a rather singular case. He seems, for example, to have no real friends.

My main fear, though, is that “Never Trump” conservatives really believe that when the voters purge the country of this malignant interloper, we conservatives can go back to being what we were before. (Well, not so much what postmodern conservatives were before.)

As one Democrat wrote on the web: One benefit of Trump’s implosion is that he and he alone will be blamed for the Republican defeat in November. That means that Republicans won’t see the need to reform — to address legitimate populist concerns. They won’t see as an indispensable learning experience the rather incredible success thtat Trump really did achieve in capturing their decadent party. The cause for wonder is not that the trashy incompetent lost in November but that he won all those primaries.

Here’s one thought that I owe to Never Trumper David Upham: The success of the tax cuts and other pro-growth policies of Reagan have raised up the economic condition of moderate, prosperous Republicans to unprecedented heights. Meanwhile, the condition of the patriotic Republicans who loved Reagan has worsened, when it comes to both money and the capacity to live a dignified relational life. The Republicans can’t win again without acknowledging that Reaganism-Kempism on the economic front seems too coldly oligarchic now.

Well, one more thought: Most thoughtful Trump supporters (and there are some) think that the situation of our country is so bad that rolling the dice is the only choice on what would otherwise be the eve of our destruction. Their hyping of crisis, we have to notice, owes altogether too much to the extreme rhetoric of other Republicans, such as Ted Cruz. On this issue: I’m with the reform conservatives such as Yuval Levin. Things aren’t that bad. American liberty doesn’t end with another President Clinton.

I still say never bet against America, but in the moderate spirit of acknowledging that things continue to get better and worse. On the worse side: We increasingly lack the words that correspond to our relational longings, and most of all we need to recapture the language of parents, children, citizens, creatures, friends, and lovers. We have to reconnect our singular privileges with our relational responsibilities. There are some ways in which America is greater than ever, but not in others. The nostalgia that guides our innovations has to be rigorously selective, not to mention generously inclusive.

In any case, for me to be loudly and proudly “Never Trump” is hardly a profile of my courage, a dissident act. Most anyone who’s in any elite — and I must be in one or more of them — is against Trump. They should be against him. But I want to say be against Trump without being for much of what they’re for. And while being alive to the cost to our democracy in the case for Clinton being waytoo simple this time to provoke real deliberation. “Vote Clinton to save civilization from the demagogue and his white-trash supporters.” That slogan both overrates Trump and slanders, in most cases, those who, however mistakenly, found in his candidacy hope for change they could believe in. It also ignores many threats to our civilized lives together that having nothing to with Trump.

I am Never Trump, but more than ever without the urgency that comes with fearing his possible victory. And undeluded by the thought that my help is needed to give us President Clinton.

Never Trump is more a description of our future than a moral imperative.

Peter Augustine Lawler — Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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