So I have been watching the Trump presidency for a while now . . . well, actually it has had my attention the entire time. I have come to some tentative conclusions which, ahem, I would I would like to share with you.
But let me get some preliminary things out of the way. I did not support Trump through the primaries, and I did not vote for him. I had all kinds of reasons, which I still consider to have been reasonable, sound and good. One of the central reasons is that I did not believe him—centrally I didn’t believe him on pro-life judges, and didn’t believe him on a number of other line items either.
As things have unfolded, since I was expecting almost nothing, I have been pleasantly surprised on more than one occasion. More than that, I have been pleasantly surprised more frequently that I was with many other Republican presidents, meaning the reputable ones. At the same time, when the diehard never-Trumpers point to some of his antics and say “there, that is what we are talking about!” I know what they are talking about. I see what they see. I know.
But I also think I see a little more than that, so bear with me for a moment.
Let us divide the active political populace into four groups. There are the progressives, who detest everything about Trump. They just hate him with the heat of a thousand suns. Then, on the other end, we find the people who were enthusiastic about putting him into office. Let us call these people the “deplorables,” red MAGA hats and all. In the middle we have conservatives and RINOs, and they divide into two groups—but the line cuts them into an odd cross-section, with conservatives and RINOs on both sides of that division.
These are those who voted for Trump because he wasn’t Hillary, on the one hand, and on the other there is also a mixed multitude of true conservatives and RINOs who just can’t handle Trump’s antics (but for different reasons). The conservatives who remain #NeverTrump do so because he is a populist, and no conservative. The RINOs who remain #NeverTrump do so because they are progressives, and no conservatives. This latter group reject him for the same reasons the progressives do, only their detestation is somewhat muted.
The leftists just hate him (e.g. Nancy Pelosi). The “deplorables” love him (Kurt Schlichter). The conservatives who support him do so with some embarrassment (Ted Cruz). The conservatives who oppose him do so with some awkwardness (Jonah Goldberg). The RINOs who oppose him do so for convoluted reasons that try to pretend they are not progressive at heart (John McCain). And then there are those in transition—like Jeff Flake, who was in the process of going native. He would rather bow out of public life by pretending to be a statesman making his high-minded farewell speech, rather than the way it was going to happen, which was in an electoral fireball a mile up in the Arizona sky.
I am a conservative, and not a populist. On the merits, I find myself often in agreement with conservative Trump critics like Ben Shapiro and Jonah Goldberg. I see the antics, and I do deprecate them. Okay. But . . .
This really is a populist uprising, one which gets some important things right and other things wrong. As an uprising, with people on the cyber-barricades throwing Molotov cocktails, this is not a time when you should be in any way expecting the flow of sweet reason. We are way past that point. If conservatives had wanted to educate the heartland populace on basic conservative principles, they should have done it before that populace was provoked beyond the point of endurance. And we cannot say that we had no opportunity—we had plenty of opportunities.
I have seen in numerous places a hot take response to many leftist outrages, and that hot take runs something like this: “And this is how you get Trump.” That hot take is being repeated so often because it has the advantage of being exactly correct. Treat people as a deplorable caste for long enough, and at some point they will stop caring what you say. The conservative mistake has been in being chummy enough with the wrong people such that they were naturally lumped in with the group that the deplorables don’t care about any more.
And so the conservative movement shares much of the blame for all of this. For all our abilities at identifying “antics” that are not becoming to one in high office, the question arises—why did that ability to discern kick into gear just now? In other words, while Obama was opposed during his tenure in office (i.e. people complained about him a lot), he was not opposed with anything like the magnesium fires that are on display now.
Now I just saw Trump on the news last night, responding to the smoking crater story about how the Clinton campaign and the DNC funded the “Russian dossier.” And what a fun story that is, all by itself. But in the course of his most reasonable response, the president also said that he went to an Ivy League school and that he was “very intelligent.” Okay, I know how to cringe at stuff like that. And I do.
But cringeworthy events have not been in short supply for the last several decades, and respectable conservatives muttered through almost all of them, and all while looking a solemn as a judge. And that is how you get Trump.
Please note. I am not defending Trump’s antics in this. The liberals doing something appalling is never an argument for us to do the same. And I know that a number have made the “fight fire with fire” argument. But that is not my argument. I am not defending antics of any kind. I am simply saying that if the conservative establishment had manifested a fraction of the true indignation they are now displaying, and had exercised it on behalf of ordinary people, instead of aiming it at ordinary people, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are now in.
And what situation is that? Well, everything is kind of a circus, and there are pleasant surprises periodically.