The Case for #NeverTrump (and Never Hillary), in Four Easy Steps
November 8, 2016
First, it’s important to note that people have a lot of legitimate concerns that lead them to support Trump. It would be a serious mistake to write them off as bad or stupid people. It’s just that Trump isn’t the answer to any of their concerns.
For a brief but academic further exploration of this, read distinguished academic Charles Murray’s piece on the subject.
Trumpism is an expression of the legitimate anger that many Americans feel about the course that the country has taken, and its appearance was predictable. It is the endgame of a process that has been going on for a half-century: America’s divestment of its historic national identity.
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Add to this the fact that white working-class men are looked down upon by the elites and get little validation in their own communities for being good providers, fathers and spouses—and that life in their communities is falling apart.
For a more, er, “cracked” perspective, read this actually fairly brilliant piece at Cracked.com (if you don’t mind the rough language).
If you don’t live in one of these small towns, you can’t understand the hopelessness.
For the record, on policy, Trump’s supporters are mostly right. They want the federal government to enforce existing immigration law. Even the famous border “wall”, if understood to include fencing and “virtual fencing” (cameras etc.), is already settled law, passed by Congress and signed by the president a decade ago—the federal government just isn’t enforcing it, the same as the rest of our immigration laws. Many Americans are rightly frustrated and annoyed that the ruling class has ignored us and the law for so long on this issue.
On other issues, too, Trump’s supporters are right. They’re rightly frustrated that America these days fights with one hand tied behind her back; our bureaucratic rules of engagement cost American lives. And they’re rightly frustrated with the way the left uses political correctness to shut down debate (more on which below).
It should also be noted that far from congratulating themselves on their moral superiority, the left should think seriously about its own role in perpetuating the racial group-identity thinking, and even racial resentments within that framework, that have contributed to the rise of Trump.
2. Never Clinton
As a person, liberals and conservatives alike should be able to agree that Hillary Clinton is dishonest, self-serving, and in fact has committed crimes that would have ended her career if she were not Hillary Clinton (see David Petraeus, Peter Van Buren). She thus represents serious corruption on at least two levels—pursuing her own interests through and at the expense of the government and the public interest, and the fact that there is no accountability for her actions, no equality before the law.
- The Clinton Foundation was a giant influence-laundering operation, selling U. S. foreign policy to Russia among others for cash (with a fig leaf of humanitarian good-works projects for cover), as even the liberal New York Times has investigated and reported.
- To dodge Freedom of Information laws and public accountability, Clinton conducted official State Department business through a private e-mail account and a non-secure private e-mail server located in her home. Because foreign powers can hack into such a server, her actions probably compromised national security, and may well have cost lives. Adding insult to injury, Clinton lied and said that no classified information had ever been transmitted through her private system; this was untrue, as even the liberal media, such as the liberal New York Times, have sometimes mentioned (“‘Top Secret,’ the highest classification of government intelligence”; e-mails so top-secret they’ve been withheld entirely). The e-mails that have been released to the public even show Mrs. Clinton herself ordering a subordinate to strip off the classified markings and send a document through a non-secure channel.
- I won’t even get into Benghazi here. (If you haven’t heard of it, look it up sometime—and from now on I prescribe for you a balanced diet including at least some conservative media.)
The corruption is a serious problem, not least because corruption corrupts. As Mark Steyn observes, “So, to add to the corrupt revenue agency and the corrupt justice department, we now have a corrupt national law enforcement agency and a corrupt foreign ministry — willing, indeed, to subordinate national security and its own diplomatic policy to the personal needs of Hillary Clinton.”
As for her policies, they include:
- Taking a big bite out of the First Amendment. (NR: “It is worth reiterating that for all of the apocalyptic talk about all-powerful corporations, the Citizens United decision was at its heart about the fact that the government sought to make it a crime to show a film critical of Hillary Clinton at a time when she was running for office. The First Amendment plainly does not allow this, and the Supreme Court said as much. A First Amendment that does not protect criticizing political figures is not a First Amendment at all.”)
- Repealing the Hyde Amendment and forcing pro-life taxpayers to help pay for more abortions, a position so extreme that her own running mate is running from it.
- At a time when entitlement programs (especially Social Security and Medicare) threaten “a Greek-style fiscal crisis” in America (“According to projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the debt-to-GDP ratio will hit at least 181 percent by 2090, and continue climbing thereafter, unless the nation adjusts its tax and spending policies”), Clinton blithely calls for even more Medicare.
3. Trump’s Benefits: Greatly Exaggerated
Destroying the Republican party or the conservative movement is not a plan. Some Trump supporters describe their goal as primarily negative: They consider the Republican Party or the conservative movement insufficiently effective, and they want to destroy it, whether out of rage, in revenge, or because they believe that somehow the result will in fact represent an improvement on the status quo. But revolutions usually create a power vacuum and result in a new regime worse than the old, not better; the American Revolution was a great success, but it was the exception, not the rule. As Brad Thor puts it:
No matter how badly Americans want to “blow up” Washington, they absolutely must consider who, and what, arises from the embers of that destruction.
After voters drop that atom bomb, what happens next?
Herein lies my greatest concern. What will become of liberty under a Trump administration? Will it grow? Will it recede? Will it vanish altogether?
Meanwhile the traditional alternative—working with the existing conservative movement and Republican Party, being willing to take half a loaf rather than nothing at all, temporarily settling for each incremental victory while we continue patiently working toward long-term goals (as the left is certainly willing to do)—is certainly not nothing. Among other accomplishments, Republicans in the House and Senate during the Obama administration managed the “sequester”—a deal that was all spending cuts, no tax increases—which has coincided with at least temporarily arresting the growth in government spending in proportion to GDP:
Their accomplishments have also included blocking the appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court for nine months and counting, an important and politically courageous move that I would not have expected them to hold to.
And while Republicans in Congress have been unable to repeal and replace Obamacare without a Republican president, they have in the meantime done the next best thing, keeping up the fight and winning signficant smaller victories along the way.
Trump is not a normal “lesser of two evils”. In a normal year, imagine the Republican nominee as about 75% good (relative to the current politico-cultural context), the Democrat nominee about 25%. Obviously the ideal would be a candidate who’s 100% good. However, given that no such candidate is on the ballot in the general election, 75% is clearly better than 25%.
But with a bad enough candidate, eventually both candidates are so bad that it doesn’t matter so much which is worse. Between, say, a 23% good/77% bad Clinton and a 79% bad Trump, sure, it’s still technically true that one of them is the lesser of two evils, but it’s difficult to care at that point, and you hesitate even to engage in that debate, because it risks distracting from the much more important fact that they’re both so bad.
How bad would the Republican nominee have to be before you would say, OK, I no longer have an obligation to support this “lesser of two evils” just because he’s managed to add an “R” after his name? Would it take a long-time pro-abortion, anti-gun Democrat and recent donor to Hillary Clinton, who engaged in moral equivalence between America and Islamists, minimized the crimes of murderous dictators, and promised to order American servicemen to commit war crimes? Oh, wait…
Trump does not exactly have positions. Trump seems to have a strange, postmodern, instrumentalist relationship to the truth—he says one thing one day, the opposite the next, whatever serves his purposes at the present moment, and either seems totally unashamed of himself or else (better or worse?) unaware of what he is doing.
Four years ago he was anti-enforcement on immigration; now he’s supposedly pro-enforcement.
He said Ted Cruz was basically the worst person in the world: He called Cruz “a nasty guy,” adding, “Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him. . . . Very nasty guy.” Two week later, he called Cruz a “total liar”. Literally less than a week after that, he wouldn’t rule out picking Ted Cruz as his running mate, adding, “I’ve always liked him. I’ve always gotten along well with him . . . .”
Trump promised to “pivot” and be more presidential in the general-election campaign, then pivoted to breaking that promise.
Fool me once…
In other words, as Trump himself has gone to the trouble to show us over and over again, his promises cannot be trusted. More or less all of the benefits of electing him are illusory, while the costs are likely to prove all too real.
He says he will appoint originalists to the Supreme Court because he knows it’s what we want to hear right now, and he knows that we will have no way of holding him accountable to that once he’s in office.
Comparisons to Ronald Reagan, King David, etc. are inapt, not least because Trump has no conversion story; he mostly hasn’t claimed to have had any kind of conversion (religious or intellectual) or moment or sequence of events or train of thought that changed his mind. He can’t account for why he said one thing then and says another now, and he mostly hasn’t tried to.
4. At What Cost
Those supporters who emulate him seem to have a strange, postmodern, instrumentalist relationship to the truth. In the primaries, Trump’s supporters practically convinced themselves that Ted Cruz wasn’t an American, because he stood in the way of their Leader. I’ve seen people I know personally (and know should know better, both intellectually and morally) reduced to claiming that black is white, and responding to every link with a personal attack on the author (often with reference to his looks) and the “paper” he writes for, following Trump’s lead.
Importantly, his followers’ substantive positions on the issues do not escape this gravitational pull. As Jonah Goldberg put it last year:
If you want a really good sense of the damage Donald Trump is doing to conservatism, consider the fact that for the last five years no issue has united the Right more than opposition to Obamacare. Opposition to socialized medicine in general has been a core tenet of American conservatism from Day One. Yet, when Republicans were told that Donald Trump favors single-payer health care, support for single-payer health care jumped from 16 percent to 44 percent.
Trump does not bravely stand up to political correctness. Trump sometimes says offensive things for the sake of being offensive, or when he believes it is to his advantage to do so. Other times, however, he buys into political correctness and conventional wisdom just like any other left-leaning conformist, such as when Trump blamed the victim in the attempted murder of those who draw Mohammed.
Like Clinton, Trump is also anti-First Amendment. In both cases, the freedom of speech they care most about is criticism of them, and they want to shut it down. Trump has openly fantasized about shutting down newspapers that criticize him. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is the stuff of Latin American dictators, not American presidents.
Trump is a bully, those supporters who emulate him become bullies, and his success emboldens bullies and encourages further bullying. As Ace of Spades put it:
Second, Trump represents [a] very stupid and dangerous form of authoritarianism. Everything with him is force and bullying. . . .
I personally didn’t oppose the thuggishness of the left just to be bullied by a new thuggishness of the alt-right.
If you have the stomach for it, read about what David French and his family have gone through.
The misery is compounded when longtime friends and allies dismiss my experiences and the experiences of my colleagues as nothing more than the normal cost of public advocacy. It’s not. I have contributed to National Review for more than ten years now, and have been deeply involved in many of America’s most emotional culture-war battles for more than 20. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.
Trump is a terrible person. You know the drill. He has boasted, in print, about committing multiple adulteries. He has boasted that when you’re rich and famous, you can do whatever you want to women. Etc. We said in the ’90s, when the shoe was on the other foot, that character mattered. If we meant it then, we should have the courage to stand by it now.
No, you and his supporters and advisors will not be able to “moderate” or “control” him or “keep him in line”. Trump doesn’t do advice; Trump doesn’t do “moderate”. That’s not a bug; it’s a feature, his main selling point for a lot of his supporters. He’s “macho” or “alpha”; he’ll roll through Washington like a bull in a China shop, flattening all who get in his way. This is the aesthetic he’s been selling for the past year and a half. This is why he’s supposedly the only one who can build the wall, or destroy the Islamic State/Daesh: he can do all things through the unusual force of his indomitable will. If you couldn’t get him to “pivot” or campaign with anything like a presidential temperament when the election was likely to depend on it, there’s no reason he’ll be more susceptible to your control after.
Trump is corrupting. Supporting him is making some of his supporters worse people, making the Republican Party less conservative (i. e., less pro-liberty and pro-Constitution), and making it more difficult for conservatives to persuade our fellow Americans about anything. As Jonah Goldberg observes, “He and his minions have reinforced stereotypes about conservatives that will make it more difficult to win with young people, women, minorities, and persuadable white voters generally for years” (especially if he wins).
He’s not worth it. Protect your soul and protect the conservative movement (and, in the long run, America) by letting his campaign die. As Ben Shapiro writes, this is Dunkirk, and we will live to fight another day.