fbpx

The Price of Trump: Year One Reflections on an Unconventional Presidency

The most compelling and prudent argument for Donald Trump’s candidacy remains the best one that can be made for his presidency: that he was, on balance, a better option than the other side of the ballot. Yet in the manner of recent politics, and in the style of Trump’s predecessor, an aura has attached to he alone who can fix it.  The tragedy of contemporary conservatism is the extent, not universal but still substantial, to which it has succumbed to that fervor. The irony of contemporary conservatism is that it has given support and, at times, devotion to President Trump, who is at once a cult of personality yet also strangely devoid of personality. This has allowed the President to be both uniquely qualified by gale force of persona to transform politics yet also divested of all personal traits and rendered a mere vessel for the policy agendas of others who are willing to ignore or tolerate the man so long as he does what pleases them.

As to the policies, there has been some winning, and some of it considerable: Justice Gorsuch, the lower-court judges, the systematic attack on the administrative state and, if it is to one’s liking, the tax bill. The problem is that eggs have been broken to make these omelets. The question, then, is how many needed to be broken. If the President’s sole aim is to disrupt, that is no trick, and he will inevitably do some good in the process. “They who destroy every thing certainly will remove some grievance,” Burke teaches. “They who make everything new, have a chance that they may establish something beneficial.”[1]

That was Burke’s description of the revolutionary French, and it would be facile simply to associate President Trump with them. “Jacobin” is a lazy epithet. There is purpose, or at least a discernible trajectory, to the President’s disruptions. But that does not answer the question Burke compels, which is the extent to which disrupting the customary is necessary to attain the desirable. We might, then, productively ask two questions about President Trump’s eventful first year. First, could his policy agenda have been achieved with fewer broken eggs? Second, will the negative consequences of the disruptions of custom and norms both outweigh and outlast the policy victories in which they are said to have eventuated?

Trump’s Policy Achievements

The first question—did the regime need to crack all those eggs to make these few, if important, omelets—must be confronted in both its theoretical and practical dimensions. Theoretically, there is nothing about the policy agenda that necessitates the lying, tweeting, erratic disposition, or the debasement of his office with commentary on everything from women’s appearances—which itself appears to have entailed a lie—to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s television ratings. Yet practically, it is equally true that it is difficult to identify any Republican—think Jeb Bush or even Ted Cruz—who was not disposed to such behavior who would have pursued this agenda so forcefully or unapologetically even to the extent he agreed with it.

While it is true that the President’s legislative achievements have been scant, his executive maneuvers, especially on the regulatory side, have been substantial. More important, they have been constitutionally intentional. Josh Blackman has persuasively drawn together several elements of the Trump agenda into a constitutionally principled assault on the administrative state that includes, significantly, a diminution of executive power. It emphasizes a reclamation of congressional power, agency adherence to proper procedure rather than circumventing it with informal “guidance” and, finally, less judicial deference to administrative decrees.

Blackman notes that this challenges the conventional wisdom that executive power only accretes and never diminishes:

These three planks of the Trumpian Constitution — delegation, due process, and deference — are remarkable, because they do the exact opposite by ratcheting down the president’s authority. If Congress passes more precise statues, the president has less discretion. If federal agencies comply with the cumbersome regulatory process, the president has less latitude. If judges become more engaged and scrutinize federal regulations, the president receives less deference.

His nomination of Justice Gorsuch will serve this agenda by providing a voice on the Court for “fac[ing] the behemoth” of Chevron deference. So will his largely successful nominations of lower-court judges who appear disinclined to defer unreasonably to agencies.

The economy has been healthy during his time in office, an eternal instance of the post hoc fallacy to which Americans—unwilling to accept the mysteries and disparate forces that free economies entail—cling. The market is rising, and job growth is up. Those measures were on upward trajectories before he came into office, but he would have been blamed had it been otherwise, so give him credit at least for not doing what was decidedly within his power, which was taking measures to disrupt growth.

On the foreign front, ISIS has substantially shrunk. This, too, was happening before he came into office—and his much vaunted secret plan, kept under wraps to pacify the ghosts of Patton and MacArthur, never particularly materialized. But in this case as well, had it expanded or remained static, he would have been blamed. So credit him with the progress. He has generally delivered on his “America First” platform, withdrawing from, or at least not asserting, the burdens of global leadership.

What is striking about these achievements is how few of them pertain to the populism Trump stoked on the campaign trail. There is no border wall and still less any indication of Mexico paying for it.  The infrastructure plan has gone nowhere, the United States is still in NAFTA, the promises of protectionism are unfulfilled. Those who said the glories of the unfettered market were bygone and had to be updated for the populism of a new economic reality can claim as their sole major legislative achievement a tax bill that would make Arthur Laffer blush. It might be said that the hollowing out of conservatism that Trump threatened on the policy front has not occurred.

Conservatives might welcome that. The populism has given way to conservative policies. But they are being achieved in an utterly unconservative manner. Does it matter?

Yes.

The Price of Trump

Yet it is the second question that demands a conservative reckoning. Even when their impact is generational, policies are transient. Judges may outlast the executives who name them, but they do not last forever. To be sure, a good deal of the policy agenda, especially his executive actions with respect to the administrative state, has the effect of constitutional restoration. One hopes it will therefore endure, but the next executive, whose arrival Trump’s erratic behavior may hasten, can—except the judges, which is no small achievement—reverse it with comparable speed. These matter, and they matter a great deal. They should be credited to Trump’s constitutional account.

But to the extent he has undermined norms gratuitously, these must be deducted. Aristotle teaches that constitutions do not run on autopilot. In Book II of The Politics, he advises against rewarding even good changes in the law because doing so encourages gratuitous change, disrupting the habituation that is the real basis of obedience to the law. Federalist 49’s case for constitutional veneration understands matters similarly. Relentless constitutional upheaval, Madison writes, will “deprive the government of that veneration which time bestows on every thing, and without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability.” A premise of conservative constitutionalism is that the informal habits of political life matter as much as, if not more than, what Madison called “parchment barriers”: mere written commands there is no will to follow. They matter both because they are gentle substitutes for harsh coercion and because they are far easier to destroy than to build. (Burke: “Rage and phrenzy will pull down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in an hundred years.) What Trump has called “modern-day presidential”—the tweeting, the vulgarity, the distortions, the yugeness—is now ensconced. A candidate who can compete with Trump will be one who can out-Trump him.

Which matters more? Put otherwise: What price winning? And if the toll being exacted for winning is too high, what are the options? A zealous and literal position of “Never” Trump is inherently immoderate, especially given the fact that the President was elected in no small part because he identified and tapped into issues that the much vilified “Conservatism Inc.” overlooked. Yet joining a personality cult is every bit as anti-conservative. So what to do?

Critics of Trump can hold their breath and stomp their feet, ignoring in the process what he identified and indulging in a longing for what once was that confuses conservatism with nostalgia and is better left to a President who thinks, or claims to, that the glory days of mining jobs are returning to Appalachia. Conservatives can jump enthusiastically aboard the Trump Train, with the clear threat to conservatism—the cult of personality, the coarsening of public manners, the dismantling of political norms—that all of it entails.

There is an alternative: an Aristotelian mean rooted in Burkean reform rather than Trumpian revolution. But first, it must be rooted in a fair assessment of the costs and benefits of the latter.

Donald Trump has forever changed the American presidency, and not for the better. There is virtually nothing conservative about his disposition. He displays a near total incapacity to take criticism or confess fault, a trait whose deeper implications include a likely inability of those around him to correct his notorious impulsivity, manifested most recently in his lashing out at British Prime Minister Theresa May, who quite properly upbraided him for (impulsively) associating himself with a British extremist group. There can be no question that he has given occasional comfort to—witness his embrace of Alex Jones, he of the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory—and only scantly admonished the homegrown extremist elements that seem to feel legitimized by his victory.

Perhaps more disturbing is the extent to which apologizing for such behavior has debased respectable conservatives, who have most recently followed him into outright defending or at least looking away from an apparent child molester seeking a seat in the United States Senate. The Republican congressional leadership—House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the former of whom once called candidate Trump’s conduct racist but supported him anyway, and the latter of whom Trump has openly ridiculed—increasingly look like abused spouses who stay true after the President tells them he loves them even though they know he will strike them again.

The tactics of explaining away Trump’s bad behavior are themselves profoundly unconservative. There is whataboutism, the suggestion that any accusation against the 45th President is unfair or incomplete unless it is accompanied by a ritual recitation of the sins of the previous 44 or some sacrificial Democrat such as Hillary Clinton, as though the President of the United States were incapable of standing alone and assuming responsibility for himself.

His notorious distortions, which range from the trivial to the serious, are so routine it is difficult to imagine negotiating partners either in Congress or abroad taking him seriously—as when, for example, he greeted the passage of his much desired tax bill by declaring his openness to a higher corporate rate. He assigns schoolyard nicknames to everyone from media personalities to foreign leaders with nuclear weapons.

Perhaps more disturbing, the lens through which he appears to look at the world is deeply narcissistic. Things are good or bad for Donald J. Trump. Consider, in this context, his repudiation of Paul Ryan’s entirely appropriate reminder that Trump had “inherited” a 150-year-old Republican legacy stretching unto Lincoln by saying he had, instead, “won it,” as though it were a personal plaything. It was a revealing moment. He does not think historically or generationally. He thinks now, and he thinks Trump. Thus he demands that the filibuster be jettisoned so that his agenda can be passed now: Whether it will be available to block some other President’s agenda tomorrow is someone else’s problem. There are no tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, but surely his demand for personal loyalty at least rings plausible.

His on-and-off populism is constitutionally destructive. His tweeting is the vulgarization of Woodrow Wilson, who predicted the people would run to their President/father for opinions and assurances on all matters: “They are,” Wilson wrote, “as eager to have him settle a literary question as a political; hear him as acquiescently with regard to matters of special expert knowledge as with regard to public affairs, and call upon him to quiet all troubles by his personal intervention.” That and comment on Schwarzenegger’s ratings. Hamilton had something else in mind: that Presidents would correct the people’s errors, not fuel their passions. Thus Federalist 71: “When occasions present themselves, in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed, to be the guardians of those interests; to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection.”

There is a school of thought according to which Trump is naturally yuge, operates at a volume of 11, and must be turned down to be understood outside his native habitat of Queens. That goes only so far. Politics operates by words. Presidents are understood abroad by words. The President has an obligation to make himself understood, not to operate by impulse on the understanding that everyone else will modulate him.  This deflation of words—which Trump commits by lying and necessitates by exaggerating—is itself an attack on the institution of politics. Trump is not alone in it. But he alone occupies the presidency.

The attacks on custom have been furious and fast. They range from the traditional distance Presidents keep from law enforcement—the President has repeatedly harangued his own FBI on Twitter for investigating his own administration—to the traditional distance Presidents keep from the public. These customs are the vital glue of constitutional life. They might, in fact, have protected the President from some of his worst mistakes. They would certainly have protected the regime. They do far more to hold constitutional life together than the mere fact of a written constitution, which, as Aristotle reminds us, “has no strength in obedience apart from habit.” And they are almost certain to be a Trump legacy that endures long after the policies have passed. They are walls that, once breached, crumble quickly and are enormously difficult to rebuild, all the more so given the cultural and technological constraints before us: instant communication with no mediation, deep polarization and bifurcation of media to the point of creating divergent realities. Trump should know, given his penchant for making excuses, that precedents create licenses. Small lies from the next President will seem a welcome relief. Tweeting that emanates directly from the presidential thumbs will seem a requirement of the job.

And yet: If there is no going back from this damage, there is also no going back to what conservatism was before. The economic, social and cultural pain into which Trump tapped demands a reckoning. It is one thing to say “never” to Trump the constitutional phenomenon—the whole package—but it is another to look away from the Trump voter.

The Aristotelian Mean

Burke usefully distinguishes between revolution and reform, supplying several criteria he would use in altering the British regime:

I would not exclude alteration neither; but even when I changed, it should be to preserve. I should be led to my remedy by a great grievance. In what I did, I should follow the example of our ancestors. I would make the reparation as nearly as possible in the style of the building. A politic caution, a guarded circumspection, a moral rather than a complexional timidity, were among the ruling principles of our forefathers in their most decided conduct.

Trump quite decidedly is not burdened by “complexional” timidity, but he could use a dose of the “moral” sort. It might help him to see that the essential difference between revolution and reform is the direction in which it looks: whether it aims to create or restore. Certain of Trump’s changes can be understood to seek restoration. The reforms of the administrative state are among these. Others are fantasies so packaged: the false hopes for restoring the glory days of mining and manufacturing, for example. But others are essentially destructive and new. There is nothing restorative about transforming the presidency into a vehicle of immediate inflammation of the people, for example.

The challenge, then, is to grasp the elements of what Trump has identified that can be usefully converted into a spirit of Burkean reform. Surely the regime Publius explicated can be accommodated to the concerns of Appalachian families without needlessly destroying norms. “Never Trump” risks signaling to these families that no one is even going to run a route toward the deep ball they threw last November. But the cult of personality surrounding the President surrenders conservatism itself. The Aristotelian mean these voters deserve is attention to their concerns while also restoring what remains their inheritance: the constitutional regime. That ultimately entails something of which Trump appears incapable: separating those concerns from the man who identified them.

[1] It has become fashionable in some Trump circles to dismiss Burkeanism as the conservatism of losers (witness Publius Decius Mus). But even if President Trump can be said to have moved conservatism beyond Milton Friedman, if he has transcended Edmund Burke, then stop calling it conservatism.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on January 02, 2018 at 12:00:53 pm

Best Burkean explication of the problem Trump presents to real conservativism. I always ask myself, how would Kirk or Elliot have responded to Trump? I think this piece provides the answer.

read full comment
Image of Bob Scully
Bob Scully
on January 03, 2018 at 09:22:13 am

As a well-read student and ardent admirer of Edmund Burke (whom the Left has always despised) and of Alexander Hamilton ( five decades before the Left made him their musical abolitionist rock-star I was Hamilton-cool when Hamilton wasn't cool) I am disappointed to see L&L publish in the span of two weeks three poorly conceived, badly written, intellectually confused and confusing articles that strongly disparage Trump's presidency. The last two of these articles (by McGinnis last week and Weiner yesterday) damned Trump after faint praise; the first article, a book review two weeks ago, condemned a recent book praising Trump and also condemned its quirky author (the Leftie, Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert) for praising Trump.

McGinnis' article last week set off a firestorm of commentary among L&L readers, not because of its major criticisms of Trump but, oddly, because of its minor compliments of the President. To make conservative matters at L&L even more confusing, its contributor's poisonous review of Scott Adams' book praising Trump generated from L&L readers not so much contradiction of Adams' praise of Trump as antagonism toward Adams for his Leftist past.

And yesterday we got Weiner's mal-encomium of Trump, aimed it would appear at neither praise nor burial, an "analysis" (sic) which is too-confused and confusing even to merit serious comment without its first undergoing a serious rewrite.

Yes, conservatives are Israelites wandering in the Wilderness, Christians approaching their Dark Night of the Soul. But no, Trump did not lead conservatives into the Wilderness, and he does not embody their Dark Night of the Soul. To the contrary, Trump has joined conservatives in, not led them into, the Wilderness and joins them in their soul-searching.

We can get through this but only if we stand together. (Franklin's "hang separately" comes to mind.)

Rightly understood (as Victor Davis Hanson at NR and Charles Kesler at CRB understand and have analyzed the man's motives and politics) Trump, at his worst, is a wrongly-accused patriot, a competent Commander Queeg, perhaps a Fletcher Christian, but certainly not a Lieutenant Bligh, and conservatives will not find their souls through an act of mutiny on the Trump Train. ( Metaphors of Biblical suffering and transportation travail are hard to mix.)

Relentless conservative assaults on Trump are only reinforcing the the enemy's insurrection. Open attacks on their leader are suicidal for conservatives and destructive of the principles for which they stand. It's high time conservatives conspired to wage an apologetic if not a whole-hearted defense of Trump.

Trump reminds me of Dan Quayle, conservatives' only fighter in the 1992 presidential campaign, and of Dick Cheney, conservatives' only fighter in the dismal years of George W. Bush, and of Sarah Palin, conservatives' only fighter in the dismal 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain. ( It so looked like "Refuse-to-Fight" Romney took a dive in 2012 that I can't bear the pain of recalling the campaign.)

Love him (unlikely) or hate the man (understandable,) Trump is conservatives' last best hope to restore constitutional originalism and liberty under the rule of law. (Even Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan seem belatedly to have come to that reality.)

In the Spring of 1862 when the yet-to-be-tested General Grant was widely (but falsely) rumored to be a drunk and had just suffered the stigma of being caught unawares at Shiloh, President Lincoln was urged by his Cabinet to dump Grant. Lincoln replied, "I can't spare this man, he fights."

Not again until May, 1940 when Churchill faced down the appeasers of his War Cabinet would such momentous words be spoken.

Trump fights; he fights the bad guys (and they're really, really bad,) and Trump's winning ''bigly'' in the face of the biggest odds, the most ruthless political sabotage we've seen in America. We can't spare this fighting man because it's a war we're in.

What's not to like about Trump is worth conservatives complaining about , but it's not worth our dying over.

Trump fights, and it's a war we're in.

read full comment
Image of timothy
timothy
on January 03, 2018 at 12:54:47 pm

"Trump is conservatives’ last best hope to restore constitutional originalism and liberty under the rule of law."

That is bizarre .. As a practicing trial lawyer for more than 40 years I understand something of the meaning of ordered liberty under the Rule of Law. ( Despite Chesterton's observation in" The Twelve Men" that the longer a specialist looks at something the less he sees it.)

Learned Hand explained it in his Spirit of Liberty Speech:

" I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much
upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false
hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law,
no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies
there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie
in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do
as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. "

Trump is pure unbridled will. He disparages the legal system because it produces outcomes he despises. By doing so he is just as subversive of the Rule of Law as the radical leftists. Both teach the public that the legal system is illegitimate - just for different reasons. If Trump and the Black Lives Matter folks each finally persuade their respective followers - then the Rule of Law is at an end- as Hand clearly understood.

Trump's attack on his own law enforcement officials ( much less federal judges) is subversive of the habits, forms and conventions ( especially of civility, process, reasoned argument and acceptance of outcomes of proper process as legitimate ) that are essential to the belief of the citizenry in the morality of the rule of law.

That is not Burkean in the slightest degree.

read full comment
Image of Bob Scully
Bob Scully
on January 03, 2018 at 15:35:55 pm

I understand your point: Trump's personality is surely willful, but I do not (yet) equate his crude, even bullying temperament with the Nietzschean political "will to power" which I think Judge Hand so anxiously saw as a threat to liberty, a will which Nietzsche considered to be the prevailing rule of political/social life, the exception being man's drive for conservation/survival, which Nietzsche thought was no longer significant. To the contrary, I see Trump as acting not out of a will to political or personal power, but rather out of concern for national survival and conservation of American values. His public speeches, including his Inaugural Address, make that clear.
Further, I think Trump's legal and national security actions, rather than showing even the appearance of a threat to liberty, demonstrate a refreshing concern with protecting American liberty, both individual and national.

Finally, I would note some interesting similarities between Judge Hand and President Trump:
--they both were prone to making generalizations, as is reflected in your lengthy quotation of Hand and in many of Trump's public statements and tweets.
--they both agree that a judge may not properly decide cases according to his own idea of what will best serve the common good. Trump would call this notion "strict construction." Hand would say the judge must defer to the social will (what his critics called his "democratic loyalty") as reflected in the written constitution and legislation, rather than to his personal view of the desirable.
Hand and Trump advocate judicial restraint and abjure judicial decision-making that would reasonably be described as legislating from the bench.
--they both agree that society has fundamental tenets to be treasured, respected and protected else they disappear or suffer destruction at the hands of violence or intolerance. (Trump is now criticized for embracing respect for those treasures.) As you suggest, "liberty" was a priority for Hand, and as his record supports, liberty is a priority for Trump. His defense of religious liberty is the strongest of any president in our history, and his legal attacks on Obamacare, illegal immigration, unlawful Executive Orders by Obama and unlawful federal regulation by EPA, FCC, DoED and HHS reflect a powerful concern for the individual and economic liberties of Americans.
--they both agree that the rule of law is the institution which chiefly differentiates civilized society from the Hobbesian state of nature. (The passage from Hand that you quote at length would seem to deny this, but, as I said, Hand was prone to making generalizations.)
--Hand described himself as more a Hamiltonian than a Jeffersonian, a concern reflected in the lengthy Hand passage you quoted and a self- characterization which I suspect Trump would proudly endorse given his oft-expressed concerns about mob tyranny and social violence.
--Hand also called himself a "a conservative among liberals and a liberal among conservatives." Sounds like Trump to me.

But there are two matters of "conservatism" where I suspect they differ in ways that favor Trump:
--Hand denied the role of natural law in the Founding, a subject on which Trump has not spoken but as to which I suspect he might agree with Justice Thomas.
--Under FDR, late in life Hand became an advocate of central government intervention (to his discredit and contrary to Hand's oft-expressed concerns for liberty.) Trump has spoken and acted against dirigisme in his campaign to privatize more of the economy than any predecessor since Coolidge, deregulate where feasible more than any predecessor since Reagan and to decentralize where the states can do the job more democratically, a greater deference to federalism than any predecessor since Eisenhower.

Laying these steps is to lay foundation stones in the bed of liberty of which you are so rightly concerned.

Finally, your analysis of Trump as pathologically willful is really a psycho-analysis, whereas, according to Paul Freund who knew Judge Hand as friend, Hand felt that if evaluating a man's character required a deep psychological probing, it was beyond his ken as a judge.

read full comment
Image of timothy
timothy
on January 03, 2018 at 17:13:15 pm

Glad too see that one of the wisest men in America agrees with me:

https://amgreatness.com/2018/01/02/the-view-of-the-blinkered/

read full comment
Image of timothy
timothy
on January 03, 2018 at 23:01:51 pm

Is “Price” a “Cost?”

Professor Weiner is almost always stimulating and often provocative. He packs so much into the subjects of “The Price of Trump” that he achieves both. He is stimulating in touching on three facets of the executive office: The “Personality,” the “Persona,” and the “Presidency,” as distinct things with differing impacts. Where the essay becomes provocative is in the application of a political taxonomy of “Conservative,” “Populist,” and (by implication) “Liberalism” ( U S term).

There seems to be an almost overwrought concern with a conclusion that the expressions of the “personality” should be shaped as a means to the end of a “persona” **required** for, or essential to, participation in the “presidency,” which admittedly is NOT the province of a sole individual.

By the allusion to eggs being broken, there seems to be an implication of a “price” (‘cost”?) related to the “Personality” not being subsumed into a presumed required “Persona.” But, the “eggs” are not identified; and other uses (political or otherwise) for them are not suggested (though they may spoil). So, it appears that the “Price” of this “Presidency” is to be found in the defects of the “Personality” as the means for the “Persona.”

For something like the past 70 years in America we have been experiencing continuing recession of individuality, developing into actual suppressions of individuality under an expanding Administrative State as the most prominent symptom of the expansion of collectivism in our society in that same period.

And yet, the essay does not touch upon (avoids?) that vital issue of our lives under a Federal Administrative State: What has been the impact of this “Presidency” on INDIVIDUALITY vis a vis COLLECTIVISM; and what are its portents on THAT ISSUE for the future? That takes us to the taxonomy of what passes for much of today’s conservatives.

The comparison of the conservatism of Burke, who, during his tenure, stood (in vain) against Parliament’s arrogation of absolute sovereignty, to the political conservatism of our day that concerns itself principally with the “how” of collectivism, rather than the “why,” may well give us some pause as to the “Price” of that kind of conservatism; and, as to whether a “Presidency” that begins the slowing of the expansion of the Administrative State attacking the “why” of collectivism thereby attacks conservatism. The price may be a departure from the forms of political conservatism that have brought us to this junction.

The taxonomy needs be revised.

read full comment
Image of R Richard Schweitzer
R Richard Schweitzer
on January 04, 2018 at 01:07:24 am

For a somewhat more disinterested analysis of these issues take a look at Martin Gurri's " Fifth Wave" blog of 1/03/2018:

https://thefifthwave.wordpress.com/

read full comment
Image of R Richard Schweitzer
R Richard Schweitzer
on January 04, 2018 at 16:03:21 pm

Thanks for the reference to Gurri's article which is useful. Analyzing Trump requires weighing substantial unknowables so that, ultimately, one must go with logic and instinct after collecting lots of empirical evidence. There's is now a mountain of empirical evidence on which I base my favorable assessment of Trump (whom I despised in 206-17.)

I think, also, that Trump analysis should abjure pop-psychoanalysis and a bias for country club manners, both of which which seem to motivate and distort much Never-Trumpism from the political right and by women in particular.

I'll grant you, the man seems to suffer narcissistic personality disorder, but even if we as voters are capable of diagnosing what's in any politician's psyche, neurosis expressed as gross narcissism is a quality of many politicians, including Gurri's favored FDR, the over-sexed JFK and most recently, the solipsistic Bill Clinton.

And I'll also agree that Trump's a pig in political confrontation, but breaking political opponents by demeaning and besmirching has always been the way of America political contest from Jefferson's scurrilous (and often pseudonymous) attacks on Adams (and Washington) to Democrats' attack on Lincoln's "ape-like" features to the relentless assault on W. Bush's intelligence to the never-ending Democrat accusation that all Republicans are misogynists and racists.

Finally a thought about Gurri's closing paragraph, which I quote below:

"Words have an impact, however. The nihilist style of social media, when wielded by the president, is destructive of trust in government and makes a mockery of democratic debate. Basic principles of liberal democracy are sometimes trashed by the extravagant rhetoric. To the extent that this throws open the doors of legitimacy to truly anti-democratic players – nihilists in action as well as words – I would consider Donald Trump an unworthy successor to Washington and Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan."

Of course brutish words have negative consequences. (Someone said something to the effect that "Harsh words wear tall boots and once unleashed are not easily called back.'') Anyone who has been verbally abused by a loved one or who has been publically maligned knows that. But in politics, especially for personal attacks, the consequences are short-lived unless the words embody hatred and scapegoating of social or economic classes or races or religions. Then it's not the words but the ideas that have consequences, as Richard Weaver has taught. And, while I see none of that in Trump, I have seen a great deal of it by Democrats for decades, from FDR's class warfare against the rich to Obama's incessant race-baiting to Hillary Clinton's dismissiveness of working class whites as "deplorables."

So, I think Gurri over-dramatizes substantially the risk that Trump's tactics (and that's what they are, mostly) will "throw open the doors of legitimacy to truly anti-democratic players." That's too abstract an argument and too speculative for me to give it any weight in my own Trump analysis. Indeed, it sounds like the kind of over-intellectualized thing that George Will or Bill Kristol would say.

Moral diffidence dressed up in bow ties and prep school manners does not a statesman nor a prophet make.

read full comment
Image of timothy
timothy
on January 04, 2018 at 18:33:32 pm

Timothy:
"Moral diffidence dressed up in bow ties and prep school manners does not a statesman nor a prophet make."

AND (from Weiner)
"The attacks on custom have been furious and fast. They range from the traditional distance presidents keep from law enforcement—the president has repeatedly harangued his own FBI on Twitter for investigating his own Administration—to the traditional distance presidents keep from the public."

Clearly, there is a contrast betweem Weiner and Timothy's statements. That is obvious;
Yet, there is a connection between the two and The Trumpster is the link connecting the stated and unstated implications of these statements.

Weiner provides a litany of charges / deficiencies in the The Trumpster, yet fails, other than in pyschological terms, to provide any concrete evidence of any constitutional deficiency. Weiner's claim that Trump has abandon or denigrated settled custom and habits may bneed to be assessed with an understanding of precisely what those habits had become in the early part of the 21st Century. Weiner, no doubt, has in mind the political habits and customs of a bygone age, 18th - early 20th century American politics, when it is supposed that Presidents maintained / exhibited a certain restraint when addressing either the public or the political opposition. I suspect that a closer examination of these alleged *customs* and habits during those time periods will provide a somewhat more *robust* political dialogue than it supposed by Weiner and the Never Trumpers. Our political rhetoric has always been more charged, more antagonistic and more personal than Weiner would like to imagine. ("My opponents sister is a noted "thespian" opined one southern candidate for office; comments such as these were commonplace). One need not catalogue all of the specific comments to understand that political communication has never been so "country club" pure as Weiner and others would imagine / desire.

More importantly, however, over the course of the last 40 years, these *aspirational* habits and customs are noticeable by their absence rather than their prevalence in political debate. One need only recall the "deplorables" / clingers / gun-toters / racist, etc charges constantly promulgated by political office seekers / activists / academics, etc. And this *custom* was *habitually* reinforced by a media controlled by a commentariat whose views were, if not consciously driven by a similar ideological [perspective / bias, at minimum reflective of the the new *custom*. the zeitgeist was inflammatory; it was unsparingly negative; it was universally one-sided and ladened with scurrilous charges, personal attacks, and supplemented by a corrupted justice system that sought to first demonize and then criminalize legitimate pol;itical difference. (See Ted Stevens, Tom Delay and, most recently, Ken Paxton (https://spectator.org/anatomy-of-a-witch-hunt/)).

And how did the George Will, Bill Kristol type conservatives address this change in "custom and habit" They ignored it or demonstrated a certain dispassionate interest. It was this moral diffidence of which Timothy speaks that ENABLED the continued abuse and transformation of those old venerated *habits and customs*, about whose passage Weiner loudly laments, by the true corrupters of those aspirational habits. Indeed, in many instances they dismissed it as simply "politics as usual"

Now comes a man, from my native Borough of Queens, who cries, "Stop, no more."
Why is he who seeks to stop the corruption of our *customs and habits* by an inflamed media, an impassioned media and its sponsoring political party, Democrat Party, the one who is liable to charges of corrupting our political habits? Why is man under *preemptive* and almost permanent assault denied the opportunity to question both the factual and motivational basis of the mob inspired charges?
Apparently to do so is viewed by the Never Trumpers as "destructive of our customs."
Sadly, those customs, those country club manners were long ago discarded by the Left; only the country Club GOP believed that those customs were still operative while they clung to the delusional belief that if only WE would behave, would act civilly, then so too, would the other side. This proved inaccurate.

No, The Trumpster fights; The Trumpster may very well be a narcissist; perhaps, one among many in the political world. Yet, it would appear the this very narcissism may very well advance the cause of conservative politics by lessening the undue sway and influence of all the usual suspects in the media / commentariat.

And yes, it works, doesn't it? The view from flyover country has always been: "Why does not someone tell these people, the media, to shut up" Will someone speak for us?"

What did the Country Club GOP ever accomplish? Did it ever move beyond moral posturing? scolding of those whose particular vernacular was "discordant", un- mellifluous, was too "Queensy"
Please consider that the"Queens dialect" of The Trumpster, is shared / spoken (without the peculiar New York cadence, gutturals) by the majority of Americans. In fact, it is more customary than is the country club, bow-tie befuddled morally deficient mush of the George Wills of the world.

In short, Weiners entire essay appears to be a simple diatribe against a peculiar style, a vernacular and more importantly against a not unreasonable response to a direct and determined assault upon the legitimately elected President of the United States.

Tweet away, Mr Trump, tweet away. (But do keep the personal out of it).

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on January 04, 2018 at 20:22:18 pm

Nice writing, good thinking!
Happy that my single sentence served as trigger and segue for Gabe's 600 words of Trump defense, the kind that conservatives should embrace (but don't count on that.)

Makes me feel especially good. Reborn, really!

After recently being called "infantile" by a commenter on this site (whether written by Artificial Intelligence, malware or a human of unspecified pronouns,) "Stockholm Syndrome" had set in, and, behaving like Patty Hearst abused by her Symbionese Liberation Army kidnappers, I was warming up to Democrat strategists.

Free again!
And unbrainwashed, too.

Sort of like Mitt's dad, George Romney, once he got his head right on Vietnam.

read full comment
Image of timothy
timothy
on January 05, 2018 at 12:04:02 pm

Why do people insist on inserting the word "conservative?"

read full comment
Image of R Richard Schweitzer
R Richard Schweitzer
on January 06, 2018 at 15:53:49 pm

Oops, forgot to provide a rather salient example of the effects of *deference* to the zeitgeist:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-secretly-takes-yellowcake-from-iraq/

Wherein, it is FINALLY acknowledged that the infamous "yellowcake", alleged by the Left to be a false pretest for war, in fact, did exist, was seized by US Forces and was provided by US Personnel to the Canadian government.

As I was told the story (some ten years ago), while it was known to the Bushies that the yellowcake WAS found, that "country club" Republican, the genius of political strategy, determined that it was best NOT to publicize it as "this would only rekindle" the whole Valerie Plame business.

Now that is the kind of advice we have been getting from our top Bow-tied consultants for over 40 years.

As Timothy says, it is not the words but the ideas that have consequences. And what is THE IDEA left in the mind of the uninformed public?: - that Bush lied, people dies; that the yellowcake was a false causus belli.

No, I would rather, should a similar situation arise, that The Trumpster immediately take to Twitter and herald the find lest the Lefties propagate a similar "Big Lie."

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on January 15, 2018 at 15:31:20 pm

I read the first paragraph and had to stop. Why do you waste my time by putting this nonsense in front of me, hoping I'll find some important gem of truth from a credible scholar, only to be disappoint by more of same junk that poisons so much of the Internet?

Can we have less political smut and more fact based and substantive content please? This kind of nonsense just gives me reason to not read this site because I despise any flavor of political koolaid, perhaps more than Weiner despises Trump. I am not unique in that way.

read full comment
Image of Scott Amorian
Scott Amorian
on March 12, 2018 at 00:36:15 am

Let's face it, conservatives will tolerate anything Trump does as long as the 1% get their tax cuts and bank de-regulations. After all, we know that failures will be met with bailouts, while families who are struggling will be told they're worthless leeches. Welfare is only for the rich, apparently.

read full comment
Image of excessivelyperky
excessivelyperky

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.