…I kid. There is no reasoning with the Trump supporter.
We can list the contradictions between the populist movement and the conservative movement, and to no actual purpose:
Conservatives oppose protectionism; Trump embraces it.
Conservatives are pro-life; Trump supports Planned Parenthood.
Conservatives embrace family; Trump will do nothing to overturn Obergefell.
Conservatives support the 2nd Amendment; Trumps best friends are people who oppose the 2A.
Conservatives believe tax cuts bolster the economy; Trump seeks to increase tariffs.
Conservatives tear walls down; Trump wants to build one.
Conservatives believe immigrants make America stronger; Trump wants to turn them away.
Conservatives believe in actual foreign policy; Trump believes in an imposition of American power.
Conservatives believe the liberation of Iraq was justified; Trump believes the sacrifice of American blood and treasure was a mistake.
Conservatives question the need for the security state; Trump desires to employ it against America’s “enemies.”
Conservatives back property rights; Trump backs eminent domain against little old ladies.
Conservatives see humanity as basically good; Trump sees humanity as basically useful.
Let me be very clear about this: I will not vote for Donald Trump. I will not support him if he becomes the Republican nominee. Not only this, I will work actively against him to ensure his defeat in the general election should he obtain the Republican nomination. In this, I am not alone. Millions of Americans will not pull the lever for Trump. Millions more are absolutely sickened by the jackbooted tactics of a militated few.
Trump cannot get more than 35% in national polling, indicating that a full 65% of Republican voters cannot vote for the man. His negatives are overwhelming. Trump’s constant jockeying against not only our Republican nominees, but even figures such as Pope Francis are absolutely in full froth.
Facts? Who cares about those… the recent tussle with Pope Francis — leader of 1.6 billion Catholics and 75 million American Catholics — over whether building a wall was humane much less Christian? Trump overwhelmingly lost the exchange, despite what your Facebook bubble might tell you. The response that the Vatican has walls? Debunked in toto. Does it matter to a single Trump supporter that they are not only peddling lies, but that their entire opinion on the matter is based on a media translation that is utterly skewed by the liberal media they claim to detest?
Pish-posh and all that, right? (actual transcript is here)
Let’s be very clear about the roots of this movement, and I’ve argued it before and I will argue it again here. Nativism is running amok within populist circles, and it must be excised from Republican ranks. That many of our elected officials do not have the moral backbone to stand up to the populist wave is disappointing indeed, but from the rank and file conservatives? It must be done. There is no room for racism within the modern Republican Party — none.
If that offends you? Tough.
…and if you feel as if you are being targeted as a nativist for your anti-immigrant beliefs? Consider that there are thugs within crowds at Trump rallies literally pulling them out of their chairs and feeding them to security, escorting them out of the room. Consider for a moment how “immigrant” seems to be synonymous with “Hispanic” when discussing immigration.
Consider this as well: ever wonder why Donald Trump can’t bring himself to condemn Planned Parenthood? Simple answer: anti-immigrant organizations such as FAIR and CIS are funded and led primarily by former Planned Parenthood executives. Their concerns aren’t even rooted in immigration per se, they are more concerned about population control.
So what have these executives done? They have built a caricature of what they think the average Republican voter is. Anti-immigrant, racist, fearful, and have struck all the right chords. 35% of the GOP electorate fell for it. They probably can’t be more pleased.
Before Donald Trump, the saw used against Democrats was very simple. The Democratic Party was the party of slavery, the party who refused to fight the Civil War, the party of Jim Crow, the party of segregation, the party of massive resistance, the party who wanted to accommodate the Soviet Empire, the party who inflicted welfare and abortion on our inner cities. Show me once where the Democratic Party was on the right side of history? “My friends,” I’d argue, “your hearts are in the right places, but the free market has liberated more people than the progressive left ever has. There’s no way Republicans harbor any of that nativist crap.”
That was two years ago.
Today, self-styled “conservatives” (who are really populists) claim to support free market principles while voting against free trade. Claim to be pro-life while taking marching orders from Planned Parenthood executives. Claim to be for the “rule of law” until it bumps into the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship. Claim to be more conservative than conservatives… until we get down to brass tacks and figure out they were the same moderate Rockefeller Republicans we thought we had vanquished in the 1970s and 80s.
That’s the truth of it. Trump supporters aren’t conservatives at all. They’re warmed over Rockefeller Republicans; they’re the Teddy Roosevelt progressives and populists we thought we had ditched when we got rid of the America First crowd in the 1940s. They want all the same things the Rockefeller Republicans wanted: tariffs, protectionism, anti-immigrant policies of the 1920s. These are the people we thought we got rid of in the Goldwater-Reagan Revolution… but they were just sleeping, after all.
That’s right. Trump boosters are RINOs in their DNA. Angry RINOs too. Angry about a lot of things: Hispanics, jobs, the national debt (hypothetically — just wait until they see the effect of a trade war with China and Mexico). Angry about Muslims, too. Yet not quite so angry about abortion, marriage, or civil liberties — you know, the things conservatives actually care about — but still, really angry nonetheless.
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Of course, it’s not as if I don’t get why Trump supporters are upset. I get it — truly I do. The world has changed under their feet in a way most don’t understand and few consented to. The old manufacturing jobs are gone, the new high tech manufacturing jobs require an expensive education. We’re $19 trillion in debt, money is worth 50% of what it was worth in 1986, our civil liberties are eroded and Americans don’t feel any safer, national prestige is at a low not seen since Jimmy Carter, and millions upon millions of Hispanics are dancing across our borders taking what few jobs might remain. Meanwhile, U6 unemployment is at
200% 20% 15% 12%, American take home pay is low because of a sluggish recovery, and America is now teetering on another recession.
Fact is, we’re all upset. We have been trained to blame people in instances where things go wrong: Obama is convenient, as are the Democrats. But that’s not really what’s at fault.
Our problem is that we got lazy, fat, and under educated. We decided at some point that society owed us a living, and if society didn’t create the conditions for giving us a living, then society was to blame. We take pills when we’re sick, we sue when they don’t work. Entitled parents raised a bunch of entitled kids, and we wonder why everyone has a damn chip on their shoulder all day long.
Everything is racist, everything is sexist, everything is a Title IX dispute. Or if I don’t succeed in life, it’s because someone took my spot for affirmative action, some Hispanic took my job, some fat cat on Wall Street shipped my job overseas, etc.
Maybe the reason the world sucks is because of YOU?
I’m not saying that in an accusatory or scolding manner, but let’s be honest. Most human beings can be terrible people. Americans didn’t used to be that way. We used to tend to our own farm in our own part of the world and work hard, or head off to our first job before we marched off to the second so that our kids could have an education and better clothes. Idle hands make mischief, after all.
Yet today, we are surrounded by idle hands and false idols. The only way most folks care about our leaders is if they approximate celebrities — something the Democrats re-discovered with Obama and the Romans knew all too well. We gladly prepare for hours for Super Bowl Sunday, but find heading to church Sunday morning a chore. Some of us march dutifully to the gym for one hour a day, but find the idea of spending an hour in prayer (as our grandparents did) ludicrous, a sign of insanity even. Hours upon hours blasted on Playstations and in front of computers, but not 15 minutes for contemplation unless we’re in a car commuting to work.
So of course we’re looking to the “god that fails” for help. Of course we’re looking to strongmen and big government for answers. Of course we’re seeking celebrities, because somehow by lending our own conscience to popular movements we think we are affirming ourselves. That’s the sad thing about people who aren’t grounded in who they are; they begin validating themselves on the outside, often times yielding to paranoia in order to increase their own self-worth.
We see this psychological phenomenon play out in politics too. We are literally living in a golden age, yet we all believe the world is about to fall apart. Our standards of living have never been higher; no one is satisfied. Our manufacturing output is the highest it has ever been; somehow America is in economic decline. We have more access to cheap technology and information than ever before; no one takes advantage of it. Education has never been more free; the internet is for porn. Energy has never been cheaper; the environment is in crisis.
If the great experiment that is America fails, it will be because we are too lazy to pick up our advantages, both culturally and individually.
* * *
Trump has simply tapped into the malaise of the current times, and in playing to our vices, he is playing the same game the Democrats have played. Conservatives are naturally aghast, but libertarian writers such as David Harsanyi make a great point:
I should start by defining my terms, since “conservative” and “Republican” no longer really have any useful ideological meaning. When I say “conservatives,” I’m not only talking about elites who throw around polysyllabic words like “insalubrious” or oppose the mass deportations of illegal immigrants. I’m describing someone who broadly supports a Goldwater/Reagan vision of economic, regulatory and foreign policy. This includes some “establishment” types — who deserve much of the blame and all of the unpleasant fallout — and many who are legitimately interested in furthering conservative ideals.
Goldwater and Buckley both created the modern conservative movement as an intellectual movement, not as a populist grabbag. When Buckley excommunicated the John Birch Society in the 1950s, he did so purposefully. Much like Trump, the John Birchers appealed to the baser instincts, describing what the American right ought to be against rather than what we were for.
Buckley won the argument with Reagan in the 1980s. So totally did Buckley win, that conservatives for the last 20 years believed that there were no other contenders for the hearts and minds of the Republican Party — other than perhaps those pernicious moderates. Yet the nativists, populists, moderates, Rockefellers, and libertarians waited for their moment.
Trump of course has tapped into the more vicious aspects of the populist right. Yet two notables should stand out as alternatives to the populist rhetoric: Ron Paul and Arthur Brooks.
Ron Paul tapped into the Goldwater vein of the conservative movement, the libertarian side that argues that human beings ought not merely to be trusted, but to govern themselves. This movement reacted viscerally to the rising security state apparatus, demanded the Federal Reserve be audited, watched in amazement as the U.S. dollar collapsed as the middle class was able to save less and less for themselves. Paul tapped into the great libertarian reservoir that supplied the moral foundations of the conservative movement and rocked it to its very core — and it was and would have been a positive experience if not for the fact that the “insalubrious” climate created by the powers-that-be squashed what ought to have been a healthy transition to conscience.
Sadly, it was not to be.
Which brings to the fore the antidote for much of what ails the conservative movement to date. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) wrote a fantastic book entitled The Conservative Heart that ought to be required reading for any concerned conservative. If Senator Marco Rubio — who offered the classic line that poverty is where the free enterprise doesn’t reach people — is right in the prescription, then Brooks offers the cure.
What will twist the nose of others is that Brooks offers a “reformicon” vision of how to get the government back into place over a generation, not instantaneously, but over time and in a way that builds up human beings rather than abandons them to their own devices by focusing on four key principles: faith, family, community, and earned success through work. It flows directly from Yuval Levin’s masterful Beyond the Welfare State in National Affairs back in 2011, borrows from Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan’s vision, and leans heavily on UVA professor Jonathan Haidt’s classic The Righteous Mind. Brooks, in effect, embraces the totality of the conservative movement with a dash of “no one cares what you know until they know what you care.” It is the culminating thought of a man who is well read, well rounded, and deeply interested in the success of individuals.
If Catholic thinkers such as Romano Guardini are correct, we are indeed in the middle of a nihilist modern age, pulled apart by totalitarian and socialist ideologies on one hand and individualism and even anarchy on the other. Guardini suggests in his The Church and the Catholic that we not pull too heavily from either. In fact, we ought not to pull from either at all:
This is a fundamental truth which it is most important to understand thoroughly. Unless it is grasped, the Catholic view of the church, indeed of society, must be unintelligible. We must not get our sociological principles from either communism, state socialism, or individualism, for all these tear the living whole to pieces to exaggerate one portion of it. All are false and diseased. The Catholic conceptions of society and of individual personality start on the contrary — like all Catholic teaching — not from isolated axioms or one-sided psychological presuppositions, but from the integrity of real life apprehended without prejudice. By virtue of their nature men and women are both individual persons and members of a society. These two aspects of their being do not simply coexist; on the contrary, society exists already as a living seed in a person’s individuality, and the latter in turn is necessarily presupposed by society as its foundation, though without prejudice to the relative independence of both these two primary forms of human life.
From this point of view also the Catholic type of humanity is reappearing at the present day, shaking off at last the spell of state worship on the one hand and of a disintegrating self-sufficiency on the other. Here, too, we are handling realities in stead of words, and we recognize organic relationships instead of being dominated by abstract conceptions. It is for us to decide whether we shall allow ourselves to be re-enslaved, or remain conscious of our mission to be true to the fundamental nature of humanity and express it freely and faithfully in word and deed.
The church, then, is a society essentially bound up with individual personality, and the individual life of the Christian is of its very nature related to the community. Both together are required for the perfect realization of the kingdom of God. An electric current is impossible without its two poles; the one pole cannot exist, or even be conceived, without the other. In the same way, the great fundamental Christian reality, the kingdom of God, is impossible, except as comprising both church and individual personality, each with its well-defined and distinctive nature, but essentially related to the other. There would be no church if its members were not at the same mental microcosms, each self-subsistent and alone with God. There would be no Christian personality if it did not at the same time form part of the community as a living member. The soul elevated by grace is not something anterior to the church, as individuals originally isolated formed an alliance. Those who hold this view have failed completely to grasp the essence of Catholic personality. Nor does the church absorb the individual so that a man’s or woman’s personality can be realized only when they wrench themselves free from it. Those who think this do not know what the church is. When I affirm the church I am at the same time affirming individual personality, and when I speak of the interior life of the Christian, I imply the life of the Christian community.
Guardini uses the term “re-enslavement” to describe the descent to Averno, so to speak. It is not without irony that Guardini knew and perhaps had in mind the Soviet efforts to pacify and make politically malleable their own population through social engineering, which is a conspiratorial and horrifying thought, but nonetheless a historical fact.
What is also perhaps partially ironic is that Guardini is no obscure Catholic thinker, but in fact was a favorite of Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI and — yes — Pope Francis, who quoted Guardini extensively in his encyclical Laudato Si.
What is striking here is that even a casual glance at Guardini’s thought reveals that we have no “liberation theologian” at work in Pope Francis. Nor do we have a weakening of conservatism in the approach of either Ron Paul or Arthur Brooks. One might be concerned that Paul’s libertarianism may stress too heavily on the individualist side, but that perhaps skews what Paul is attempting to argue in his long career. Paul wants what Brooks wants: a condition where individuals can thrive alongside society — not within, not without, but along. Paul rejects the “re-enslavement” that Guardini accurately attacks; Brooks gives us the path to achieve this post-modernist condition in America.
* * *
Having absorbed this, it’s not difficult to understand why Pope Francis — and property educated and catechized Catholics — take umbrage with the path Trump would rather lead America towards, because the end result is the same that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton would offer: a re-enslavement of the human condition in service to the state. It is also plainly evident why Trump will lose not only the Catholic vote, but the conservative vote as well.
Most Trump supporters will simply react to these thoughts. Or ignore them — which is far easier to do. The solution for what ails America is not to be found in more stuff, higher wages, or crass materialism.
The fault, dear Trump supporters, is in our stars and in ourselves. Take a sobering look at how Trump rallies are operated and how Trump stays in the headlines and ask whether your teenager would be impressed. Ask if a pro-choice, protectionist, warmongering attention-grabber is who we really want to represent our values. Ask whether there are better ways to fix America’s immigration system rather than shutting it down. Ask how Trump defines you (the answer should be: he doesn’t). Ask if Goldwater, Reagan, Paul, Kemp, Brooks, Guardini, and countless others were in the business of building walls and identifying themselves by whom they opposed, or whether they built bridges to the opposition and sought avenues to improve the human condition.
Christians build bridges, not walls. Republicans don’t build walls, we tear them down.
My conscience cannot assent to a man who walks on top of another “lawless” class of human beings to achieve power. Nor can it assent to man who condones torture, seeks to expand wars abroad, ready to wage trade wars and oppose free trade for free goods, who has the full-throated support of the abortion lobby while pushing their anti-immigration agenda, and is willing to peddle deals in order to craft power.
Leaders such as Reagan are the ones we should be looking for in such times. That a whole other half of America is arguing over whether Hillary or Bernie is better suited to lead this country is another matter… the faithful remnant of conservatism has a moral duty to push the populists out and forge a better path. Even if it means being a political minority for the next two decades, conscience should triumph over fear, even at the risk of being heroes.