Consistent and genuine conservatives, as I argued in part one, are anti-Trump, and will likely never be convinced to vote for him even as a lesser evil. As promised, it is time to describe the four types of person who do support him, of which only the fourth type can claim to remain genuine conservatives. To review, the types are:
First, Trump-Like Trump Supporters.
Second, Blinded Trump Supporters
Third, Professionally-Corrupt Trump Supporters
Fourth, Make-the-Best-of-It Trump Supporters
A few weeks ago, Larry Kudlow, the financial-expert conservative commentator and Trump supporter, issued a plea for conservatives on either side of the should-we-support-Trump question to treat one another with decency and charity. It is a moving piece, and I endorse its basic spirit.
But the situation calls for a more rigorous analysis. Genuine and consistent conservatives can forgive and continue to work with and bargain with other genuine conservatives who have proven somewhat inconsistent at the present hour, mainly due to faulty reasoning sincerely arrived at about how to proceed. To put it another way, there are some Trump supporters with whom genuine and consistent conservatives have disagreements with, disagreements possible within the family of conservatism.
But there are other putatively conservative Trump supporters with whom genuine conservatives must not compromise with or make excuses for. From a narrow policy perspective they might well be called conservatives, but by any fuller conception, they fail basic tests. Those include failures to practice basic political virtues needed to sustain republican government. Saying so is not a matter of barren gesture-politics. It is rather an analysis absolutely necessary if we are move forward. Whether Trump wins or loses, the question of what to do about Trumpism is going to be with us for some time.
Before beginning, I should admit that there are certain things that I know little about. My academic expertise is in political philosophy, constitutional law, and similar subjects–it does not extend to elections-expertise. So I do not know if certain writers are correct that Trump might still be denied at the Convention, or whether that is good strategy. I do not know if the efforts of people like Bill Kristol to get third candidacy going will fly, or whether that is good strategy. I do suspect that Trump will lose to Hillary, but hey-it’s 2016, and no-one really knows anything.
But if I am not offering myself up as some grand strategist, I do believe that I can articulate the genuine conservative’s mixed attitude towards Trumpism better than most, and better point to how conservatives must proceed, by way of sketching the different kinds of Trump supporters. In this post, I will describe the first three types.
1.) Trump-Like Trump Supporters
These are persons who admire Trump, not simply due to any theory about how he is uniquely positioned to help America at this juncture, but because they admire who he is. They approve of his character. Why? How could one? Because they are low-lifes. Often they have aided their descent into ethical depravity by adopting some cynical reductionist theory, or set of theories, about life. You know—“alpha male” theory, conspiracy theories, racialist theories, “there is no common good,” etc.
They like it when Trump insults. When he cheats. When he lies. When he shifts positions. When he brags about his vices, his sexual conquests. When he is rude and vulgar. Finally, they say, someone who knows how it is and tells it like it is.
Nearly all of these were early-breakers for Trump. Alongside the Democratic plants, these make-up the lion’s share of the constantly insult-wielding pro-Trump commenters one reads on blog-threads.
The basic surrender to cynicism and vice of these people is more relevant than the fact that some portion of them are racists or flirt with white nationalist theories. Ditto with respect to the misogyny of some of them. Every conservative who’s seen how their ilk have behaved in comment sections knows that they serve up a heaping portions of hate to anyone who crosses them.
We do need to say that the refreshing dismissal of PC and the cogent criticism of immigration policy that characterizes the broad Trump wave must not be credited to nor left defined by these types. I have little patience with the wider Trumper sensitivity about being “insulted” by conservative writers, but it really is a low blow to assume that it is the racists among them who mainly set the Trumpist stance upon racial matters. As for the moral dilemma the genuine conservatives among the Trumpers face in being in alliance with racists and such—I don’t believe it is a dilemma that obliges them to cease being Trump supporters, even if I neither think it is one they can simply wave away. More on that issue in the next post.
Again, I think the general cynicism of the Trump-Like supporter is what matters more than the way such handles racial or gender issues.
But let’s not spend another minute trying to understand such souls. Anyone who admires Donald Trump for who he is simply, or whose delight in the way he make others angry is a primary motivation for their support, is one who has fallen very low indeed.
2.) Blinded (Trump-Is-Our-Bastard) Trump Supporters
There are various versions of the He’s-Our-Bastard theory, but the basic shape is: A) contemporary politics/society is thoroughly corrupt, B) so we need someone with the power and bastardly qualities of Trump to thoroughly shake things up. The problem is that the Blinded Supporters typically adopt as a major aspect of their corruption-theory some kind of vast conspiracy theory regarding the Republican Establishment, or at least, some broad theory about how this election ought to go; in either case, their theory makes it impossible for them to even grant that the case made on the basis of traditional morals and conservative principles against voting for Trump is a reasonable one that reasonable persons might adopt.
It is notable that they rejected the reasonableness and sincerity of this case many months prior to the Cruz fade and withdrawal. This is closely related to why they all along refused to factor into their calculations the high likelihood that enough genuine conservatives would refuse to vote for Trump to keep him from winning the general. And now they are angry that Never Trumpers like me are sticking to our long-stated principles, and they will be very much more so if Trump loses. But we will recall that all along, they refused to factor in our very existence, or simply made themselves incapable of such factoring.
Considering a Never Trumper like me, Blinded Supporters are incapable of ascribing that position to anything principled or sane. I must be in cahoots with the establishment, or some other corrupt interest. Or my moral scruples must be reducible to a tick of pride or a love of elitism. Likewise, when considering someone who, without promising a Never-Trump stance, analyzes the existing data and concludes that Trump Will Certainly Lose, they refuse to admit that this is a reasonable interpretation of the data one could arrive at untainted by corrupt motive.
Now while are many opinions and some traits that Trump-Like and Blinded supporters share, the line that distinguishes them is the judgment by the latter that, considered apart from the remarkable political situation of our present time and the leadership role needed to effectively tackle it, Trump’s character is not admirable in itself. They seldom say it, but they do feel it isn’t moral to try to be like him. At bottom, he really is a bastard. It’s just that he’s one well-fitted to the crisis of our times.
But one way in which the Blinded Supporters are very much like the man himself is their adoption of a manner of thinking and talking about politics that speaks with utter confidence. Most of them had succumbed to this pattern prior to supporting Trump. The Donald acts as if his instincts are always right. He projects 100% confidence 100% of the time. FDR, and many successful leaders, have arguably done the same. Blinded supporters have zero problem with this, and see it as leadership. Further, they see this as normal politics—everyone with any guts and smarts, whether in a leadership role or not, talks this way about political matters. Anyone who doesn’t is a wimp or weasel.
This is why, when you talk to Blinded Supporters, you find that they know an awful lot of things. They know who’s in the Establishment and who’s not. They know what the Establishment is up to at any given moment. They know that it was these-and-those policies, pursued purely out of these-and-those corrupt motives, that ruined—absolutely ruined, mind you–the Republican Party. If you are a Never-Trumper, or a hesitant Trump supporter, they can see into your soul and know your own moral shortcoming that explains that. And of course, they know, and they always knew, that Trump will beat Hillary.
This freedom-from-cognitive-humility approach to politics needs to be analyzed, and by scholars more capable of such analysis than I. It’s a perennial phenomenon, of course, but the current pattern of it seems fairly distinctive, extreme, and disturbingly widespread. This pattern has been, I think, one we’ve seen on the right to a greater extent than on the left, and particularly over the last ten years. (I of course think the left is subject to other, sometimes similar, maladies of political discourse that are even more destructive of sanity, soul, and the quest for the common good.) Some adopt it as a matter of rhetorical style, but for many, the line between rhetorical approach and actual judgment becomes blurred: a hesitant or qualified thought is deemed suspect in advance.
There is no question that certain talk-radio hosts—Savage, Hannity, and alas, Limbaugh, Ingraham, and Levin also–have encouraged the development of this habit in their listeners.
The habit leads to wild assertions, and particularly about the Republican Establishment. I note here I have agreed with every word of Pete Spiliakos’s many posts here at pomocon and over at First Things attacking the idiocy and arrogance of the establishment types, and I will mention my own impeachment-related posts that reflect my own distinctive “Where’s the Leadership?” unhappiness with such types.
So I of course grant that speaking of a “Republican Establishment” in a shorthand manner makes sense, but we still have to ask: how could the moves of an Establishment so powerful within the Republican Party be so easily understood by any of us not right in the corridors of power? I mean, I believe that an Establishment exists, but more as a tendency, and as a number of competing-with-one-another shadowy and ever-changing cliques, than as any singular coordinated entity. Yes, in certain institutions, such as Congress, on a number of issues I can pretty precisely designate those who belong to an Establishment clique. But I certainly do not think I see and grasp all the maneuvers of the Establishment types. I take it for granted that sometimes, I am taken for a ride by them. Can’t be helped, unless you are a super-genius. But in comes the Blinded Trump supporter, and he will tell me all about what’s going on, with total confidence. And whatever’s going on, it always seems to require fealty to Trump and excusing his latest idiocies and evil-sayings.
Not that this habit is limited to Trump supporters—I recall my astonishment earlier this year at reading a number of commenters–some pro-Trump, some anti-, asserting with absolute confidence that Trump had secretly paid for the loyalty of the Breitbart staff. How did they know this? Why did they think it would do anyone any good for them to come into a discussion and assert such without evidence? Why do such persons trust their distrustful political instincts so much?
So while the Blinded Supporter is not a thoroughly vicious fellow, he really is under the spell of certain intellectual vices, such that on most occasions there is no point in talking to him about politics, and there is no prospect for building a non-demagogic movement upon his kind. Theorists (like those at the Journal of American Greatness) may try to formulate a policy-based and/or class-linked theory of Trumpism all they like, but it is not just The Donald who might shift on a dime and betray those policies or interests, but a majority of his own supporters! Yes, there are a few definite interests that unite all Trump supporters, centering around immigration, but I say there is no principle that ties the Blinded Supporters to anything. They have made themselves confidence-addicts, even down to their own thought-processes. That can lead them just about anywhere.
So the Blinded Supporter really is subjecting his soul to a type of moral corruption. There is a deep arrogance and/or insecure bluff at work here. Many critics, however, do not see this because they never move on from insultingly and shallowly describing it as idiocy, which they often link to his class.
Of course there is something to class-analysis explanations. Underemployed white males. Yes. The growth of the elite class that looks down upon such. Yes. Many others have written well upon this, and upon the lessons America must learn from this regardless of what happens with Trump. A fine recent Rod Dreher post, “The Right and the Unnecessariat” indicates some of these lessons.
But I say ethics-analysis supercedes class-analysis. I’m Aristotelian, and yes, American, in that way. That is, there is little problem with the under-educated trying, and making mistakes in trying, to sort things out. Or in being angry about their situation. That’s democracy. But the increasing numbers of our uneducated, half-educated, and poorly-educated who constantly act as if they already know it all—that is something, considered morally, far worse than mere ignorance would be.
The types of Trump supporters I’m describing here as the Blinded ones, and in an analysis that’s not class-determined, have no one to blame but themselves for their intellectual vices. God gave them a mind and a tongue, and they are responsible for what they do with such gifts. Things like having crappy job choices due to illegal immigration provide no excuse for the behavior of the Blinded. Even the fact that so many of our credentialed elites, who are supposedly the educated ones, have become aggressively corrupt in the way they run their institutions, such that the under-educated are right to always mistrust them, provides no fundamental excuse. And anyhow, I suspect that more of the self-blinded supporters are middle-class than is generally thought.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning again that the Blinded Supporter’s irresponsible confidence-addiction is not backing up, as this vice traditionally has, the usual blustering political type, the type who pays the tribute that vice pays to virtue by taking on a respectable-looking hypocrisy. Here’s a cinematic portrayal of that kind of style, in the character of “Cassius Starbuckle, the Cattlemen’s Mouthpiece,” from the great John Ford film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. A welcome glance away from the vileness we are being asked to mainstream in our era:
But rather than get behind such regrettable-yet-respectable kinds of American politicking, the energy of the Blinded Supporter is presently mainstreaming Trump’s shameless manner. Should we recall when Trump felt obliged to brag about his penis size or to make a period-joke about Megyn Kelly? Oh, but there will be many more such moments to come! Children will see what’s on TV and ask, “Who is that man, and why is he so mean and foul-mouthed?” and the answer will have to be, “That is one of our nation’s top leaders, and when you are such a leader, you have to do those things.”
Conservatives cannot meet the Blinded sorts half-way, a quarter of the way, or any fraction of the way. They will demand of us that we say things about ourselves, and about the world around us, that are false. That we begin speaking Trump-speak, or at least, never roll ours eyes (You’re insulting us again!!!) when we hear others speak it.
Of course on a one-on-one basis, conservatives can listen to Blinded Supporters, and patiently ask them “Why do you think you know this?” And “Why do you think you know that?” But in the mass, speaking before them as politicians or pundits, there is little possibility of such dialog, and no possibility of speaking in a compromising spirit that will not be in some way be dishonest about and corrupting of genuine conservatism.
3.) Professionally-Corrupt Trump Supporters
Palin. Christie. Coulter. Hannity. Gingrich. Carson. Maybe Perry. Probably Limbaugh. Too many lame Republican establishment politicians to mention. Usually belated supporters, they are supporting Trump out of base self-serving calculation of professional political or media-market advantage. Oh, maybe this is mixed-in with some sincere tendency to be a Blinded Supporter or a Make-the-Best-of-It Supporter, but the primary motive is a calculating one of self-advantage. Every one of these is already in a paying political, media, or consultant position, or is angling to get into one.
Although it jumps the gun into my coming description of the fourth-class of Trump Supporter, let me provide some names of prominent Trump-supporters that I do not regard as professionally corrupt: Tom Cotton, John Hinderaker, Victor Davis Hanson, Roger Simon, Jeff Sessions, the Journal of American Greatness folks, probably Larry Kudlow. For my full expression of the distinction you’ll have to wait for the next post. Oh, and I should say that I am not an expert on conservative punditry nor on Republican politicians—I confess I may be missing a detail here or there, as it’s hard to keep up with everyone’s precise position these days. Please correct me in the comments if you think I am not representing someone fairly.
The present attack of the Professionally Corrupt types upon Never Trumpers is pretty contemptible. It is characterized by simplicity. By charges of disloyalty. Or, it is characterized by a refusal to say or admit anything substantial. It often comes with a blatant disengagement with reality, such as Boehner thinking there’s any humor in his calling Cruz a devil, or Limbaugh thinking there’s any believability in his concluding (right on the eve of the Indiana primary) that Cruz is the Establishment candidate. They look us in the eyes, and utter absurdities. We know that most of them see more than the Blinded do, but they make themselves sound just as dogmatic.
Well, to different degrees, and with various shades of grey admitted, they’ve shown their true colors.
It’s sad. (Unlike when Trump says that, I mean it.) Some of them talked for years about how important “principles” are to the maintenance of true conservatism, but that now cannot but appear to have been…mere talk. I’m not saying that’s all it was. I am saying that the 2015/2016 situation subjected them to a genuinely tough test of adhering-to-principle, and they failed it.
And we can point to persons like Mark Levin whose bread and butter is a matter of market-share popularity, but who did not cave to the pressure, and ask, “Why couldn’t you have done as he did?” And we can likewise point to various type-four Trump supporters who have announced their support for Trump but who in various ways have not fallen into the manner of talking like the Blinded.
Some of the Professionally Corrupt are figures genuine conservatives owe so much to that we can never fully turn from them—I can’t, for example, but hope that Limbaugh will recant some of his worst statements this year as we all try to move forwards, not that the relationship will ever be the same. But with others of them, well, a bad feeling we’ve always had about them has simply been confirmed. And for all of them, the cost of certain faults of theirs that genuine conservatives just felt we had to live with as the price for having an effective and broad political movement, and I am thinking especially of the price that comes with the typical conservative talk-radio style pioneered by Limbaugh, is being most painfully paid for in 2016.
Jonah Goldberg’s recent piece provided a few more specialized categories of the Professionally Corrupt. My favorite was that of the “Fake Moderates”:
These are the folks who’ve been bleating and whining for years that the conservatism of National Review, Ted Cruz, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, et al. was too harsh, too mean, and too rhetorically strident. They not only urged the GOP to be more inclusive and nice, they raised inclusivity and niceness to a kind of ideological litmus test all its own. And now they enthusiastically support a guy who mocks the disabled, smears immigrants, and wants to ban Muslims.
Well, enough of the Professionally Corrupt class, one whose numbers now include most of the most-slippery members of the establishment that the early Trumpers were so intent on punishing, but who they now welcome, most especially as their voices join in with theirs in calling for, and asserting with boundless confidence the already-existing fact of, the marginalization of conservatives like the National Review ones.
We’ll move on, in the next post, to persons we can have real respect for, and must continue to keep working with, the type I call the “Make-the-Best-of-It” Trump Supporter.
And sorry, Larry Kudlow, my firm belief is that I will only betray my principles and mislead my fellow citizens, if I seem to excuse or “get in bed with” the Trump-Like, the Blinded, and the Professionally Corrupt supporters of Donald Trump. No correct in-and-of-itself call for charity to all, and for special efforts to foster fraternity and unity within the ranks of those who consider themselves conservative, could convince me to put that belief aside.