First off, my impression of the acceptance speech is somewhere between a “meh” and a “more okay than expected.” Peter’s thoughts below of course provide better analysis, particularly of Trump’s astute mention of his evangelical supporters. I do remain grateful for the way Trump has shifted the illegal immigration conversation in the GOP—you can regard that as another kind of “virtue signaling” if you want, but it is so.
Second, and especially for the type-four Trump supporters among pomocon’s readership, I want to call your attention to a successor blog to the defunct The Journal for American Greatness, which for some reason, likely a fear of job-loss in academic institutions, shut down their website about a month ago. The new(all of ‘em?) non-anonymous crew give us some unconvincing blather about a GOP “priesthood,” a good post on millenial-gen reaction to PC education, and an interesting statement of purpose. American Greatness is the new name. In a spirit of rivalry and disagreement between genuine conservatives, I wish them the best sailing in the stormy waters ahead. We’ll see if their project can be as detached from Trump’s fate as they insist.
Now in my last post I promised to get into the weighing of evils, and to show why a President Donald Trump would be a greater evil than a President Hillary Clinton. But begging your indulgence, I have one more preliminary to set things up for that. I need to get something off my chest, a long sigh for what could have been.
The Lost Opportunity
2016 should have been the year when ethics-concerned progressives, old-school liberals, and various other sorts of potentially moderate Democrats would have had to finally face up to the ever-mounting evidence of the despotic proclivity and moral corruption of the Democratic leadership class, and enough to cause them to really pause. Due to this, and to the added personal character repulsiveness of Hillary Clinton, there was reason to hope many such Democrats would have been too demoralized to vote if faced with a normal Republican candidate (including Cruz). Perhaps some would even have concluded that the only way to return the Democratic Party to basic decency would be to vote Republican for this election.
But entertaining such a hopeful speculation is pointless now. Regardless of what else emerges about Hillary or Obama, few longstanding Democrats given serious pause by the overall moral trajectory of today’s “progressivism” are going to refrain from casting their vote against Donald Trump. It turns out that in terms of the vote-count, that might matter little, as Trump will likely win substantial numbers of votes from lower-class (and usually, white) Democrats switching over to him. In terms of overall Democratic Party and cultural/corporate elite zeitgeist, however, it matters a lot.
A statement last week from David French on the Black Lives Matters movement illustrates the trajectory that might have caused many folks in those circles to pause this year:
If the moderates can’t seize control — if they can’t dominate not just the narrative but the organizational apparatus itself — then Black Lives Matter will continue to be a destructive force in national life, incalculably aided by the support of millions who join with it in moments of crisis…
He’s saying that about BLM and its having captured the top activist-group spot for black protest. With it, the evidence of “destructive force in national life” are undeniable and in our face: racial-tensions, cop-killings, and crime rates increase.
But what struck me is that French’s statement also applies, while involving less immediately destructive consequences, to a number of other key groups and institutions. It applies to the leading LGBT interest groups. It applies to a vast majority of faculty departments and nearly all administrative units in higher education. It undoubtedly applies to the MSM. And most of all, it applies to the Democratic Party. In all of these groups and institutions, the moderates are routed. They have either gone silent, or have left.
And we’re using “moderate” here in an elementary sense, so that it merely means things like: “Don’t lie so much, don’t undermine the rule of law, and don’t regularly slander, intimidate, or make it difficult to hire/retain those who disagree with you (on the last of those, see Barney Frank’s recent shocking statement). Openly repudiate the hate-speech lies of persons like Sister Souljah or Harry Reid who claim to be on your side.”
There is growing dismay among conservatives (and a few moderate Dems like Bill Galston) about Democrat-voter radicalism with respect to economic policy. I join that dismay, but I’d say that metric of radicalism is far less important than the one that measures the willingness to toss civility, ethics, and Constitution-obedience aside. Would that America had a strongly democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders type who did not regularly demonize the conservative half of the citizenry or excuse those who do! Or, to jump into another metric, would that America had a forceful advocate for hedonism, transhumanism, LGBT rights, and the (voluntary) abandonment of Biblical religion who nonetheless also stood up clearly for the liberties of orthodox believers and social conservatives and who played up his common (yet-pluralist) citizenship with them!
But America has very few such leaders today on its left-hand side, or even in its purported center. It’s the radicals and the radically corrupt who are setting the tone. 2016 should have been an opportunity to fight against that. The election should have provided sane Democrats a chance to rebuke their corrupt and wildly imprudent leaders in the only way they ever understand: stark electoral defeat. That and only that could have set the stage for a new movement of Reform Democrats.
There Will Always Be a Left
More than a year ago, as part of a series about whether America was entering “Late Republican Times,” I set out three short-term scenarios for political alignment. Admittedly, the GOP becoming divided by a Trumpist movement did not factor into any of the predictions I made! But I did say this about the need for Reform Democrats:
By “Reform” Democrats I essentially mean a reprise of the New Democrat movement of the 90s, this time accompanied by larger emphasis on civility and support for the Constitution. The intellectual spirit of this reprise would involve a return to something akin to the open-mindedness that characterized The New Republic of the Peretz-era at its best. The Reform would especially seek to strengthen Democratic expectations and procedures for disowning party members linked to various kinds of corruption or vile behavior. The reason this prospect is so important, despite how unlikely it appears at present, is that we cannot maintain our republic indefinitely so long as the Democratic Party retains its competitiveness along with its present characteristic corruption-abetting, mendacity-expecting, demonization-demanding, and Constitution-flouting traits. Out of a certain moral imperative, and out of a witness to the good traits of liberals I know, I continue to stubbornly disagree with several of our blogs’ commenters who say a Democratic return to self-moderation is impossible.
I went on to discuss how this time around, if such a movement emerged, it would likely eschew moderation on economic issues. But the point that matters most is the fact that some kind of Left will always be with us, so long as our nation remains a republic. Some portion of our children, students, peers, co-workers, fellow worshippers, friends, and family members are going to fall for the main left-leaning arguments, and maybe for their whole lives. And sure, we need a respectable Left to keep conservatives honest, to provide vigorous criticism of our programs and politicians. Moreover, every citizen of any republic in fact has a “left ear” that should be kept open, as sometimes a policy initially dubbed “left-wing” turns out to be the correct one, i.e., the republic-conserving one.
So we cannot responsibly talk about our nation’s future whenever we talk in a way that suggests that all would be well if the Left were to simply disappear. Or worse, that nothing can be well if it does not.
That really is how you are talking, my fellow conservative, if you are inclined to reject my focus upon a better Left, and to suggest that the liberals, leftists, and progressives can never Reform, never self-moderate, never return their parties and organizations to the saner stances the better of them held back in the 1990s, 1950s, etc. You are denying the teaching of the great Harvey Mansfield in his essay “A Plea for Constitutional Conservatism” from 2007:
[conservatives] …must see Left and Right not as enemies only but also as permanent tendencies that cannot be got rid of. Conservatives will never kill the Left, for as long as we have a liberal regime the Left will always come back after every defeat.
A slightly tweaked version of that essay is available here. Mansfield’s argument sketches a specific theory of liberalism, as distinct from leftism, that we need not go into much here. Suffice it to say that he sees conservatism as liberalism’s “little brother,” and one that is very necessarily its brother’s keeper:
“Conservatism” began to be heard as a political term only after the French Revolution when it was provoked by the manifest excesses of the Revolution into opposition.
Our liberal and leftist brothers are inclined to fall victim to the “manifest excesses” that their own characteristic imprudence fosters and enables. That means, to speak in popular blog-parlance, that when the Left begins to “eat its own,” it really is up to us conservatives, as it has been the case since the advent of modern democracy, to rally the saner lefties against the present clique of cannibals taking charge, and then, to push them to more firmly commit themselves to oppose, by way of official statements and institutional features, the very cannibalistic dynamics that throw up such leaders.
So no, we should not descend into glee at the savage spectacle of today’s progressive vanguard persecuting yesterday’s, and into statements about “passing the popcorn” and such. Those are our fellow citizens! And that is our democracy. Therefore, grand political strategy for conservatives has got to look forward to ways in which it can help set the stage for a stiffening of the spine by the old-school liberals and for a rejuvenation of Reform Democrat ideas generally.
The Trump phenomenon postpones those strategic hopes for four more years. Perhaps for a good deal longer, and especially if Trump manages to win.
Yes, a Trump victory might stun Democrat movers and shakers to push for “Reform” along the lines of “be less obviously PC” and “talk more like Trump” and “be more like Bernie,” but two out of those three would make the Dems worse than they already are, and the ongoing spectacle of Trump’s bad behavior would allow them to avert their eyes from the mounting evidence of their own deepest failings.
The loss and indefinite postponement of an opportunity for Reform Democrats to emerge is the biggest factor in the way I calculate the lesser-of-two-evils argument that genuine conservatives are having among themselves about whether they can bring themselves to vote for Trump.
The Young Ones
But let me introduce you to a young relative of mine before I really tackle that, which will have to wait for the next post. Call her “M.” She was raised as an evangelical Christian, and generally shows signs of remaining such. Now in her later years of high school, she is becoming interested in politics. Just as I was at her age, she is attracted to certain basic leftist narratives and conceptions of justice. Could she have voted this year, she would have voted for Bernie Sanders. And of course, as it goes without saying given what I have described, she detests Trump.
Well, what idealistic young person, and particularly one who ties that idealism to the example of Jesus, would not detest Trump? Now I am aware there are millennia-gen evangelicals who support Trump. But do note, I said “idealistic.”
So, M’s budding and quite healthy crusading instincts are being linked to, and are being shaped according the pattern of, an identification of conservatives with Trumpism. She is identifying conservatism with all that Donald Trump represents in terms of personal character and rhetorical style. In M’s case, her adherence to Christianity will likely make her long-term allegiance to an unreformed Democratic Party impossible. Eventually, she will see what the key leaders there are really about when it comes to religious liberty, personal morality, etc.
But what about the millions of young persons like M, and particularly the increasing numbers of them without any anchor in Biblical religion? The Trumpist phenomenon is at the least, denying them an opportunity to realize their duty to reform their grandparents’ largely failed and now brazenly corrupt pattern of progressivism, and to wrest its further development away from the noxious “social justice warrior” types among their peers. And at the most, the Trumpist phenomenon is shaping their political allegiances for life. Trump and 2016 will figure in their leftist demonology for decades to come. Over and over again, future conservatives will be winning some argument with leftists, and the latter, with no good points left to trot out, will say, “But, but, yours was the party of Trump!”
With my ear open to the rock songs, I have heard the ambivalence about today’s Leftism among the young, and often coming from the very ones who most tend to culturally identify themselves with it. Even if they are more open to socialist ideas and less open to traditional resistance to sexual “liberation,” they are not excited about Hillary, and not really so about Sanders himself. And I further insist that the slightly more thoughtful among them are not exactly excited about the general prospect of “Moving to the Left.” I think the truth, seldom displayed or admitted, is that the existing Left appears ugly to them. They feel they should be on its side, but its bullying tendencies, and its unfair dominance of higher education, the MSM, social media, etc., are more a part of their daily lives than they were for previous generations. They know better than older folks, for example, what it is to have to not make waves under an officially “nice” but essentially authoritarian style of PC instruction or administration.
There has been an uptick of fascination with the 60s counter-culture, yes, but what that probably reflects is a yearning for the days when that kind of radicalism—which significantly, initially had a strong drop-out-of-politics bent—seemed pure, innocent, and yet to be sullied by subsequent personal histories, consequences, and corruptions. As for the actual existing Left, its leadership cannot but be identified with a set of boomers, and to a lesser extent with a set of the most obnoxious tech-types from their own generation and mine (X), who together hold all the career positions and real-estate that millenials typically find themselves excluded from.
All of this shows that the Left was uniquely vulnerable this year to being hit hard. And in way that could have really counted for the long-term.
But ask yourself: will our corrupt Left become more vulnerable to taking a serious, Reform-prompting hit over the next decade, if Trump wins, or if Hillary does? Am I wrong to assume that a Trump victory cannot itself provoke Democratic Reform?
This overall question is particularly key in our evils-weighing of 2016, since in the long run it will have a significant impact upon whether republican government will survive in an America of still-united states.
UPDATE: Chris Buskirk at American Greatness has written an eloquent reply to my mention of them, including an important clarification about the extent of their Trump-support.