The imaginative conservative:Wither « never Trump »?

 Wither « nevertrump

Whither “Nevertrump”?

Given the hysteria of so many, it may seem surprising to note that what Donald Trump promised was a return to political sanity. If not a full-scale conservative program, Mr. Trump’s is a crucial program for the preservation and possible renewal of the American way of life…

nevertrumpNow that Donald Trump is President-elect, there is among most decent Americans a strong and rational desire to put aside the unpleasantness of #nevertrump. After all, should we all not try to get along? That said, given the continuing assaults from leftist crybullies, both on the streets and on the Broadway stage, it seems worthwhile to consider what those within both the old and the nascent Republican coalitions can and should expect from a Trump Presidency. All Americans should want the Trump Presidency to succeed. Conservatives positively need it to succeed. Such success requires that at least most of the #nevertrumpers become reconciled with and within a ruling coalition that can govern and return sanity to American public life. And any such return can be made real only on the basis of reasonable expectations.

Reasonable expectations for the Trump Presidency must focus neither on recent fear-mongering, nor on down-the-line conservative orthodoxy. Rather, they must focus on what Mr. Trump actually promised. Given the hysteria of so many, it may seem surprising to note that what he promised was a return to political sanity: Concern for the national self-interest rather than globalist ideology, preservation of national borders, concern for the economic well-being of the American people, and an end to the radical ideological programs destroying our educational system and undermining the character, self-understanding, and knowledge of our young people. This is no full-scale conservative program—it lacks any overt commitment to principles of local self-government and restoration of a virtuous public square. But it is a crucial program for the preservation and possible renewal of the American way of life.

Can enough Americans of conservative inclination be brought into Mr. Trump’s broadly populist coalition to form a relatively stable governing majority? Perhaps. But first #nevertrumpers must reconsider what it is they can reasonably demand from “their” administration. Expectations vary according to the character of the #nevertrumper. There were at least two major factions within #nevertrump. First were committed supporters of establishment centrist politics. Best embodied in the person of neoconservative commentator Bill Kristol, these were political animals devoted to a certain program of action best described as managed internationalism. An intrusive foreign policy was seen as the centerpiece of a campaign to “make the world safe” for democratic capitalism. First brought into the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan, neoconservatives made their name by opposing the worst excesses of the campus left and by supporting a muscular American strategy during the Cold War. But it was well after the Cold War’s successful conclusion, under George W. Bush, that neoconservatives became the center of the Republican Party, pushing aside more traditional conservatives as the “war on terror” combined with massive, detailed, government-sponsored “free-trade” agreements took center stage, fiscal responsibility was sacrificed in the name of politicized compassion, and the surrender of our borders became habitual, if under-reported.

Some internationalist #nevertrumpers have recognized, if not the error of their ways, at least the writing on the political wall. Whether Paul Ryan lives up to his pledge to support the more conservative and nationalist policies demanded by most Republican voters remains to be seen. But it seems clear that the battle for control of the Republican Party will be fought out on the field of power politics. Bill Kristol and the rest of the Republican establishment will attempt to undermine President Trump’s policies in a variety of ways. Should they succeed, the cost to the republic will be great. Should they fail, we can count on many of them making their peace with the new coalition, while others retire from the stage, stake out more clearly dissident positions, or go “home” to the Democratic Party. (The last would be ironic, given that Mr. Trump’s centrism, or old liberalism, on social welfare policies better matches the demands of neoconservatives than traditional conservatives who seek to scale back the morally debilitating welfare state.)

More worrisome, to my mind, are the religious #nevertrumpers. My concern may be somewhat personal in nature—I know and respect a number of such persons. More generally, however, I think it necessary to address the critical mistake made by many religious #nevertrumpers. The mistake? Believing that culture’s fundamental role in any decent life means that cultural conservatives can afford to substitute our own form of virtue-signaling for meaningful engagement in the often unpleasant business that is politics. It certainly is correct to say that in the end culture trumps politics—it is more important than politics and, as the Framers of our Constitution recognized, fundamentally shapes it. But, as any Marxist dictator or leftist college professor will tell you, a ruling cadre with enough drive and power can not only trump, but also shape and even destroy a culture.

Too many people of faith looked at Donald Trump, were horrified at his rhetoric and personal conduct, and decided that they could not in good conscience support him, no matter what the cost. When confronted with the fact that their failure to support Mr. Trump was, in practice, support for Hillary Clinton, they fell back on the conservative-sounding claim that “culture is what matters” or merely repeated the worst fear-mongering of the Left. Religious #nevertrumpers proclaimed that they would continue as always to raise their children in their faith, work to build communities, and otherwise lead Christian (for some Jewish) lives, confident that “we will win in the end.” Many of the acts they promised are highly virtuous, but willful blindness to the consequences of political inaction is neither virtuous nor wise.

In essence, religious #nevertrumpers were claiming that politics matter so little that the difference between a Trump and a Clinton presidency was unimportant for our culture. It is good that this view did not win over more people than it did. It is important that this view be abandoned so that we might have some chance of victory in the struggle ahead.

People of faith dodged an only slightly metaphorical bullet when Mrs. Clinton lost her presidential bid. When someone is coming at you with a gun, it is no good saying that he is deranged by bad culture. You first must get out of the line of fire. Then you must disarm him. Only after both these are accomplished can you afford to worry about the source of his murderous intent.

We have moved out of the way of the anti-religious bullet aimed at us by the Democratic Establishment. New moves like that seeking to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide free contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs are less likely now—or at least less likely to succeed—as are further attempts to deny non-profit status to religious charitable organizations. We may even dare to hope that moves to criminalize opposition to same-sex marriage and to bully into silence any who dissent from the mad ideology of “diversity” through governmental control may be stymied. Victory in this election bought religious conservatives breathing room. But we have not yet begun the struggle to wrest the weapon of government coercion out of the hands of anti-religious bigots bent on using it to remove people of faith from the public square.

How will a President of only nominal religious commitment, who is pro-life but of generally liberal views and demeanor on issues related to the natural family, represent and serve people of faith? By practicing, and insisting the federal government practice, the very tolerance so often proclaimed as it is vigorously violated by the cultural left. Mr. Trump’s very brashness was and is a strong indication of his impatience with the crybullies who run our cultural institutions and seek to eliminate the influence, if not the very presence, of people of faith from the public square. Political correctness is a totalitarian ideology masquerading as empathy and tolerance. It will take a dismissive attitude and a willingness to offend tender sensibilities to set its proponents back on their heels enough to allow serious Christians and Jews to recover something of their ability to defend themselves and their communities.

But what does this mean in practice? It does not mean that American culture will suddenly become more Christian—or even less crass. A set of beliefs and practices going back to the “Social Gospel” movement of the late nineteenth century has undermined the religious foundations of our culture. We Christians allowed this to happen by buying into the idea that “correct” social policies equal virtue, that we could ignore or even embrace policies that usurped the roles of family, church, and local association, and/or that we could allow our educational institutions to mock and attack the religious grounds of law and social order without consequence. That consequence is upon us: a post-Christian culture well on its way to becoming an actual non- or even anti-Christian culture. This is a battle we must fight over decades, which we may well lose, and which, even if we “win,” will be only one among an infinite number we must fight so long as we abide on this Earth.

But we can and should look to, work with, and push for a Trump Administration that will call off the dogs of political correctness on campus, in the IRS, and through the Justice Department. The veritable brainwashing of our young people in public (and many private and parochial) schools through more-or-less official texts and curriculum, the oppressive speech codes and “training” to uphold the dehumanizing hook-up culture on campus, and the pervasive drive to “separate church and state” by banning religious symbols and conduct from public life all can and must be opposed with vigor. This will be no easy thing. Beliefs and practices dating back to the radicalism of the 1960s have been institutionalized and, over the last eight years, essentially weaponized in government agencies and schools. And the recent, breathtaking overreaching by the Obama Administration, for example in the Department of Education’s Title IX bullying, have buttressed an increasingly powerful class of apparatchiks micromanaging the conduct and very thought-processes of students and educators alike.

Renewal of our culture and traditions will not instantly take place under a Trump—or any other—Administration. Forces have been set loose and, more dangerously, allowed to take over our essential institutions, that will not easily be dislodged. But the requirements for a more decent and virtuous society begin with a federal government that does far less to enable and bankroll radical ideologues. An administration willing to begin the process of defending our national interests and borders while refusing to empower those who despise our traditional way of life is well worthy of the vigorous support of religious conservatives.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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