I have resolved to overcome this unbecoming reticence of mine. The monkeyshines that characterize so much of our public discourse in the Age of Trump have finally gotten to me. They have overwhelmed my reserved and retiring approach to modern politics. I am going to say what I think.
But This is Not About Trump Actually
But despite my reference to the Age of Trump, this is not really about Trump. A recent skirmish among conservatives that helps to continue the optical illusion that it is somehow about Trump was an exchange between Sohrab Ahmari at First Things and David French at National Review.
So I want to speak to what I would call the responsible conservative middle, the judicious conservative mainstream. This conservative middle is certainly divided, and lots of people think that it is because of Trump, that Trump is somehow the issue, but I do not think that this is so.
I exclude from this responsible middle category those who have gone the Sean Hannity route, on the one hand, or the Bill Kristol or Max Boot route on the other. We were all of us in the middle of this great grassy political meadow, and for some reason the gods of sport decided to have us play crack-the-whip. Hannity has been zinged off in one direction, and the moderate extremists have been launched in the other. Let us leave those guys, still rolling along as they are, out of our calculations.
There are genuine conservatives who are skeptical of and/or opposed to Trump (e.g. French, Goldberg). There are judicious conservatives who are willing to support him (e.g. Hanson, Gagnon). There are others arrayed somewhere along the middle of the line between these two positions (e.g. Erikson). So this is a serious division among those that I would call genuine conservatives. But Trump the man is a distraction. We do not really differ over Trump. That is not what is happening here.
Where It Appears We Agree
In Hanson’s recent book, The Case for Trump, he grants and acknowledges all the faults and foibles that any critics might bring up. If David French were to say that Trump is thin-skinned, or sybaritic, or erratic, Hanson would not disagree. If Jonah Goldberg were to say that Trump reduces pretty much everything to personal loyalty, Hanson would likely agree. I sure would.
In other words, the difference between conservatives has been a difference that has been occasioned by Trump, but it is not over Trump. The disagreement happens in the vicinity of Trump, which causes some to jump to conclusions. If we disagree whenever Trump is around, then we must be disagreeing about Trump. But that is not really the case. All the responsible heads seem to agree about Trump and his issues.
Most recently, with an issue that matters a great deal to me, Trump recently tweeted out his full support for LGBT rights, and touted the pressure he is applying to other nations around the world to lighten up on the homosexuals. If a traditional Christian never-Trumper slapped that appalling sentiment down in front of me and demanded that I explain it, I wouldn’t try. It is appalling. He shouldn’t have done that. God hates that kind of thing. I wouldn’t dream of trying to waffle, or noodle, or backfill. Homo-nonsense doesn’t cease being homo-nonsense just because homosexual activists hate the fact that Trump is supporting them. I hate the fact that he is supporting them too. It really is a true incongruity, like finding an Oreo in your Caesar salad.
A related issue was Trump’s response to the same sex mirage of Pete Buttigieg. The profile of his creeptastic domestic arrangement with Chasten Glezman was recently highlighted on the cover of Time, and when the president was asked about it, he said he thought it was fantastic. To which the only possible response from a thoughtful worldview Christian would run along the lines of gaaakkk!
But before we leave this point, Trump is not the only one folding on this issue. The entire conservative movement, as represented by CPAC, is right there with him. In their most recent go-around, they excluded the pro-family group MassResistance and included the Log Cabin Republicans.
So if we agree about Trump, why all the fireworks then? What is the disagreement about?
What Goeth Down
The real difference between conservatives—and it is a real disagreement—is this. It is over whether we believe our national establishment in Washington D.C. is hopelessly corrupt or not.
Some conservatives don’t believe it is as bad as all that, and other conservatives believe that is probably a bit worse than the pessimists among us think.
And I am not talking about dirty deeds that no one ever heard about. Politics has always had its back room dirty deals. I am talking about the dirty deeds that are being conducted out in public, with the cameras running, and with no approved observer really willing to say out loud what is obviously transpiring. Perhaps they do not say anything out of fear, or perhaps they will not say anything because of paradigmatic blinders, or perhaps they will not say because they are in on it.
No responsible conservatives are enchanted with Trump. There are plenty who are way disenchanted with the national establishment. And by national establishment, I am referring to the disease-riddled nexus of the mainstream media, the deep state, the corporate lobbyists who have both their forelegs in the trough, and all their respective sock puppets in Congress.
This particular widespread disenchantment among many conservatives began with the Tea Party movement, a true grass roots movement concerned about budgetary math, which got branded as racist and extreme. Couple this with the many years, and the many elections, that were characterized by Republicans candidates who appeared to be trying out for a part as one of the constables in Penzance. “We go, we go, we go!” “Yes, but you don’t go.”
And what many respectable mainline conservatives cannot get into their noggins is the fact that all this is happening, not because of a tidal wave of enthusiasm for orange politicians with odd comb-overs, but rather because they finally used up their last remaining credibility credits.
The issue is not where our hope lies—as though Trump represented a new and dazzling political philosophy. The issue is that a multitude of people have abandoned hope in our ordinary civic arrangements and processes, and they have done so for good reason. That good reason is that while large stretches of our country are healthy, our republic is diseased. And it is diseased down in the bones, through the liver and pancreas, in all the lymph nodes, and anywhere else that would indicate that we have got it bad.
I Mean, Think About It
Let us look at the Mueller investigation. That was not an investigation into a cover-up. That was an investigation that was itself the cover-up. Two years and millions of dollars to find out if there was Russian collusion with the Trump campaign? Give us a break. The point was to keep anybody from asking too many awkward questions about what had been happening with the Clinton campaign. Do you really think that people don’t notice things like unsecured servers, destroyed evidence, and tens of thousands of missing emails? And the investigators walked right on by. Dum de dum de dum de dum. People see that, and they draw conclusions. When people lose respect for the integrity of the law, they turn to long shot outsiders.
And so speaking of the integrity of the law, what did our national law enforcement agencies do when Trump won the election, contrary to the wishes of the anointed? A cabal of boy scouts tried to engineer a slow-motion coup. Don’t tell us it didn’t happen. We can see it. And not only can we see what is being done, we can also see that nothing is being done to rectify it. There is one small glimmer of hope here, but the jury is still out on Bill Barr. It is possible that he might restore some credibility to Washington, but only if some boy scouts wind up in jail.
And this leads to the next thing.
Corruption v. Policy
So there are a number of conservatives who do not understand why some of us think things are so dire. Their tendency is to look at the body politic and talk in terms of policies. But policy issues and corruption issues occupy different levels entirely.
For example, Trump loves himself some tariffs. He is a tariff man. As a matter of policy, I disagree with tariffs. Bad idea, and all that. If you gave me a choice between free trade and tariffs, I go with free trade. If someone were to wield the club of tariffs on the innocent victim of free trade, I know what side I am on. But what are we to do when someone wields the club of tariffs, not on the free exchange of goods, but rather on a system of cheating, corruption, and cronyism?
So one group of conservatives really does oppose the liberal policies of the national establishment, but opposes them as though the body politic itself were still relatively healthy. Another group of conservatives sees the national establishment as riddled with disease, and sees the liberal policies in place as the least of our problems. Yeah, we agree that those have got to go. But something else has to be addressed first.
The Chemo Comparison
In the piece I linked to earlier, I repeated Hanson’s metaphor that says that Trump is chemotherapy. Chemo is toxic poison that slowly kills both the cancer and the patient, with the hope being that the cancer dies first. But all the doctors agree on the toxicity of the chemo. That is not the difference. Nobody thinks that chemo is nutritious. Chemo is poison, and it kills.
So where there is a difference, such as we see among conservatives today, it is over whether the patient has cancer, or over whether the cancer is serious or not. The difference is over the threat level of the cancer, and it is not over the toxicity of the chemo.
If we were to grant the most dire and dark take on Trump from the truest conservative you know of who can’t abide Trump, then the toxic treatment might be even more dodgy than the standard chemo. That would just mean that we are not talking about FDA approved chemo, but rather about a poultice made out of apricot pits that the cancer patient in question acquired in a back alley in Tijuana. But the cancer patient says something like “I am going to die in three weeks. Why not give it a shot?”
If his friend says something like, “But you are not going to die in three weeks. The cancer you have is entirely treatable. You are going to die, however, if you spend all your money and time chasing cockamamie cures.”
This difference of opinion between them is NOT over the apricot poultice. Both men might agree entirely that the chance of it effecting a cure is one in ten million. The difference of opinion—and it is an important difference—is over how serious the cancer is. If the man really does have three weeks, what does it matter if the alternative cure makes it two and a half weeks? And going the other way, if he by-passes an approach that really would help him, and does it for the sake of something that won’t, then he is going to die needlessly.
And so this is the question that conservatives ought to be debating. How bad is it really? Give it to me straight, doc.
If these sorts of posts get you all worked up, and you want to go out and do something about our diseased republic, then let me invite you to this summer’s Bible reading challenge. John Adams once said that our constitution presupposes and moral and a religious people. He said that it is wholly unfit for any other. Not only is a massive return to the Scriptures what we need, it is exactly what we need. Tens of thousands of people are already involved in this movement. If it were hundreds of thousands, we would begin to see changes.