When Rod Dreher exasperates me I sometimes write comments at his excellent blog. The following one, in response to his recent post “Teflon Trump’s the One,” got too long, so I’m sharing it over here. Perhaps you need the context of reading Dreher’s piece first, perhaps not.
I accept Rod’s impression of Cruz (mostly, as being stuck in 1980s conservatism) as a sincere impression. And he has a point or two. Cruz is not ideal, and he hasn’t spoken much to the economic fears Rod focuses upon here. I should also say that Rod’s observations on Trump’s foreign policy and on Sanders’s immigration policy are sound.
But overall, “Teflon Trump’s the One,” a post headed by a photo of a dead elephant, displays the side of Rod that drives me bonkers. It gives me the feeling that part of his soul relishes the possibility of the Republican coalition collapsing, and that he will be unhappy if Cruz wins the nomination, let alone the general, even though his mind is or ought to be telling him that that’s the best possible outcome America can hope for in 2016.
What doesn’t much emerge in emotional tone from his post is that the three main alternatives to Cruz for the general, Trump, Sanders, and Clinton, are each truly scandalous signs of irresponsibility on the part of those supporting them. (Sanders, I have argued, is actually the more adult choice for Democrats precisely because he has some personal integrity. That is a most sobering judgment to find oneself led to, given his juvenile leftist dogmatism and his patent lack of prez-worthy experience.) But Rod wants to rail yet again against old-time Republican faults. And to repeat the MSM line that Cruz is all about the die-hards.
I don’t understand that. Not in the broader context of the day. Consider:
There is NO PATH to self-reform of the now deeply-corrupt Democratic Party so that it has a chance of again becoming respectable enough, responsible enough, and Christianity-respecting enough to be worthy of serious consideration by men and women of Dreher’s kind, outside of it losing decisively and repeatedly to the boring old (non-Trump) GOP. Otherwise, it will more and more become the party defined by the likes of Reid, Obama, Gruber, Silver, Mizzou, Mozilla, BLM, and the House of Clinton.
There is likewise NO PATH to reforming a categorically less corrupt Republican party in the directions I suspect Rod would want, i.e., towards firmer defense of religious liberty against the never-ending demands of LGBT activists, towards less influence by libertarian and corporate donors, towards greater immigration sanity, towards more policy directed to working-class concerns, and towards alliance with Wendell Berry style localism, through either:
or b) a purism that stays on the fence during key elections. Rod has been guilty of that in the past.
A Trump nomination would throw the Republican coalition into years of confusion, and a Trump presidency might extend that into a good decade. And if it collapses entirely, which Rod can seem to hope for, what system of dual or multiple party alignment would arise in place of the old one, and what would lead us to expect it to be a healthier one?
Meantime, what would happen with the Supreme Court? Even more importantly, what would happen with the federal bureaucracy currently responsible for the lion’s share of “governance” we all live under?
I suppose someone might argue (Rod doesn’t) that a Hillary victory would prod some internal GOP reform. My response to that would be that those who have needed to learn the salutary how-to-build-a-better-conservatism lessons from the Trump boom have either learned them by now, or they never will. (And about that Peter Wehner excerpt Rod provides—with the exception of what it says about the GOP turning to Palin-types, it is pretty foolish and stale.)
What is more, the likes of William Bennett and Ben Carson (and alas, Jeff Sessions), are learning other kinds of lessons the further this goes. It is a sad meditation on human nature and the shallowness of much American conservatism to conclude what we must: their kind of experimental opportunism with political position is a temptation more and more conservative-leaning or centrist members of the political and media classes will succumb to the longer and further the shake-up of the Republican coalition goes. That dynamic is scary for the way it stands to empower Trump and/or Hillary in the short-term, but even more so for the kinds of leaders it will throw up in the longer-term.
So I don’t see how anything that Rod is for could emerge from the shake-up if it is of such a magnitude that the measured-yet-stern correction of course offered by Cruz winds up rejected. All Rod will get is the negative pleasure of saying I told you that the GOP was messed up, and I told you that Cruz didn’t have it.
To make a Spinal Tap reference, Rod seems to feel the fact that America is in deep trouble, but can only do so at an emotional setting of “11.” He seldom emotes in the needed “7-9″ range that would drive home the need to give reform a chance. That is, with Rod it’s always Doom, often with a few choice digs at complacent Republican types or characteristics as part of the explanation for Doom, but never an urgency to get behind the best political chances for avoiding Doom in our time. And when somebody like Cruz plays a pretty-loud and discordant riff bewailing the fate of constitutional government, Rod tends to recommend, for our serious consideration, the observations of those like Wehner who duly classify such folks as “extreme.”
And, he joins the cottage-industry of what is the deeper meaning of Trump-support? to focus nearly solely upon Republican faults. To his credit, Rod has a newer post like some I’ve seen from him that does convey why some evangelicals are turning to Trump for defensive reasons. But overall, I’m tired of hearing so much of this Republican-establishment-this, Republican-establishment-that, stuff without balancing discussion of how Trump’s support is in the fundamental sense generated by the long-time Open Borders, Open Primaries, and Open Contempt patterns of the (pronounced Tommy Lee Jones style) Dem-o-crats, and of these patterns “Winning!”
Not a few of Trump’s supporters are rebelling against the squishy conservatism that capitulates to immigration openness and that too easily forgives repeated slanderous charges of racism, etc. The apologetic conservatism that in general lets the liberals get most of what they want. And yet, here is Dreher quoting Wehner saying the government shut-downs were “mindless stunts,” as if this is wisdom! As if this is an example of deep learning from the Trump moment! And here is the same old Dreher-talk about Iraq being a key factor if not the very biggest one.
Rod should know and acknowledge that many Trump supporters, and particularly the ones more rooted in conservatism, would likely regard his unique brand of Christian political thought, were they to learn of it, and especially to learn about how it responded to the key events and personalities of 2005-2012, as a boutique version of the sort of Christian-esque squish they are determined to no longer tolerate. I would not regard that judgment of Dreher as a fair one (even if it has something to it), and would vote “Dreher over Trump” any day, any time, but he should think twice before he tries to use Trump-analysis to make his own standard points about Iraq and such.
In sum, should the big scandal and the big story be that of Trump? Contrary to Rod’s gut-led judgment, we don’t know that he will be the nominee, what we do know still makes it an outcome less likely than others, and while it will deeply trouble principled conservatives about the state of the nation if it does occur, it will not trouble them about their own souls overmuch, as they simply will never vote for the man. So how is the Democratic resignation to Hillary, that shameless Crassus, with the only alternative being Bernie “Archie-Bunker-meets-Jefferson-Smith” Sanders, not regarded as a scandal just as big? As a phenomenon just as bizarre, and needing just as much deeper-meaning-of explanation?
In 2016, apparently anything is possible. But don’t overthink it all, for it also remains quite possible to stick to the simple yet true calculation that a non-Trump GOP guy has got to win, and that all of us—even those of us who are critical-of-all-sides pundits like Rod Dreher–have got to do our best to make it so. Having the independence of mind to get outside the daily Trump-talk, and outside the endless and often self-serving exercise of Trump-analysis, is necessary to that effort.
P.S. You should read Rod’s blog from time to time, and you should also let him convince you to read Dante, Laurus, Wendell Berry, Walker Percy, etc. My criticisms here focused on his approach to certain political issues should not obscure my overall judgment about his importance and insight. I wish him the best in everything, and especially in his current book-writing efforts to clarify his recommendation of the “Benedict Option” for Christians. That remains the more important side of his thought.