2016 Election • American Conservatism • Donald Trump

What Trump Might Do That Hillary Will Not

"In politics as in emergency medicine, triage is king."

“In politics as in emergency medicine, triage is king.”

Do you ever get the impression that the contemporary conservative movement is just a giant false flag operation? A living example of Conquest’s Third Law? There may be other explanations for its fecklessness, stupidity, and willful blindness, but this is the simplest.

Attempts to refute my “Flight 93” thesis continue to trickle in and they remain near-perfect representations of the brand of “conservatism” that I attacked. An alternative explanation to the false flag hypothesis is that all these “refutations” are being written by people who secretly agree with me yet who, for whatever reason, feel they cannot say so, but wish to indicate their support by writing dead-on parodies of how vacuous “conservatism” has become. If so, I can only thank them—and assure them that I understand the need for secrecy and discretion.

Jay Cost repeats the truism that “Donald Trump Cannot Save Our Republic,” as if I had asserted that he could. To repeat (because endless repetition is apparently necessary up against conservative reading incomprehension): Donald Trump will not save us. But he may—may—make it possible for us to save ourselves. Trump is, however inchoately, asserting the sovereign right of the people to control their government. He seems intuitively to grasp, unlike every other Republican in this cycle or last several, what is at stake. He is to be sure an imperfect vessel for these hopes—leaky and prone to going off course—but he is also the only such vessel to come along in a generation.

By contrast, the other vessel promises the certainty of anti-constitutional administrative state consolidation, all with a left-wing bent and a desire for vengeance against real and perceived enemies. More “fundamental transformation” as far as the eye can see, none of it remotely conservative in any way, and most of it explicitly anti-conservative.

Yet the conservatives continue to see Trump as the greatest danger to America since Aaron Burr and to conservatism since … Obama? No, that can’t be, since so many “Obamacons” bandwagoned with Mr. Fundamental Transformation himself back in 2008. Maybe since Nelson Rockefeller? I don’t know.

Cost offers yet another example of conservative magical thinking that I have called out elsewhere. He speaks in the name of “constitutionalism,” as if that magnificent document still operated even remotely as designed, as if nothing has changed over the past 100, or 50, or even 7.5 years. But then, trying out a little jujitsu, Cost has to admit that something has changed after all. Cost points out that I claim to be anti-Progressive, but continues that I advocate betting all on a potential president, whereas the presidency is designed to be constitutionally weak while Progressivism elevated that office to its current imperial centrality.

Nice try! No really, I mean that. It has a surface plausibility and a touch of originality all too rare in the responses I’ve seen thus far. Nonetheless, it fails.

First come the strawmen: “If we anti-Trump conservatives concede that the president is some sort of governmental superman, functioning as a king in all but name, then every four years the future of the republic must be at stake.” Because of course we pro-Trump conservatives not only see Trump as a king but also have no problem with that. No. See above.

Then Cost traces the root of our problem to the “imperial presidency” and congressional ineptitude. “Imperial presidency” is of course a liberal coinage invented to discredit Richard Nixon. I have my issues with Nixon. But I would still credit Tricky Dick’s conservatism any day over Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s. Would Cost? In any case, I do look back fondly on a time when liberals used to care, or pretend to care, about the Constitution!

Cost mistakes what is mostly a symptom for the underlying disease. I have tried to explain that our malaise has many causes. That the Constitution no longer functions as designed, Cost and I agree on. Cost seems to think that here is the disease, whereas I think it is both symptom and disease, and more the former and the latter.

Why does the Constitution no longer function as designed? I tried to answer that, and my answer had many layers. Cost addresses none of them. He simply takes for granted that the machinery of government has been tinkered with (indeed it has!) and that the solution is to tinker it back. Get under the hood and fix it! Would it were so easy!

Cost’s solution is for Congress to reassert its enumerated powers. I agree, to the extent that I, too, wish Congress would do that. I disagree, first, on the likelihood that Congress is going to do this any time soon and absent any serious external pressure, and second, on the prospect of this trend saving us.

As to the first, Cost urges us to “insist… that the legislature reconstitute itself under the Framers’ original vision.” OK. I insist! Now what? What lever do I have, or does Cost have, to make Congress do it? To overcome all the obstacles, real and perceived, in its way? Assuming Congress has the will—which it evidently does not. Cost does not say.

Cost does not address the second point at all. That is, he gives no account of how Congress reasserting its rightful, Constitutional powers would right the ship of state. It would help make the government function as designed; this I concede and support. But I don’t see how it would address all the other underlying problems, including the problems that have caused or encouraged Congress to abrogate its powers, and Cost does not explain this either.

The reason—or one reason—I think the 2016 election is so important is that here is a lever “We the People” can actually pull right now that might make a difference in the near term. It’s not that I place all my hopes in the presidency, much less in Donald Trump. It’s because this action—electing a man who at least professes to be against elite consensus and is therefore implicitly against administrative state rule-by-fiat—is within the people’s immediate grasp. Restoring Congress to its proper constitutional function is not—or, if it is, I have no idea how and, once again, Cost does not say.

Furthermore, I think electing Trump would be beneficial for two other reasons. First, Trump offers a corrective to the worst excesses of the last generation of bipartisan misrule. An end to open borders and indiscriminate legal and illegal mass immigration. A careful consideration of trade and industrial policies through the lens of what benefits American workers and communities as opposed to just the ruling class or “the economy.” A more judicious use of American power abroad, considered strictly through the lens of American interests. These policies are a crying necessity just now and while they won’t solve all our problems, they will stanch some of the worst bleeding. In politics as in emergency medicine, triage is king.

Second, a Trump victory could pave the way to a restoration of proper constitutional government. Note to speed-readers: I said “could.” Hillary surely won’t. Trump might. He at least offers us a chance to begin the process of achieving a restoration for ourselves. If he wins, he will have done so against a tidal wave of opposition from every commanding height—political, intellectual, cultural, fiscal, technological—in this country. That will at the very least deliver the ruling class a most unpleasant shock. The ones who don’t move to Canada will eventually rally and regroup. But there will be a moment—six months? Longer?—during which constitutionalists will have an opening. Wouldn’t it make more sense for us (I’m with you on the Constitution, Jay!) to prepare for that eventually, however unlikely, so that if it happens, we can make the most of it, rather than to expend all our efforts to ensure that it doesn’t happen?

Finally, if Trump is bad as Cost says he is (which I do not believe), there may be a silver lining. An out-of-control Trump who lets loose his “all-consuming lust for power” in executive overreach might actually rouse a Congress that already hates him to finally remember that it has constitutionally enumerated powers and try to exercise them. Here is a prospect that Cost and I both would welcome.

51 replies
  1. Sandy Daze
    Sandy Daze says:

    Said another way, an imperfect Trump might (or could) provide a 50% solution. In this environment I’ll take 50% of something over 100% of nothing, which is what never-Trumpers seem to prefer.
    ~~
    Am reminded of those last lines of the Declaration:

    And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the
    protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our
    Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

    When I think of DJT’s efforts. Sure he is an imperfect man… Perhaps he didn’t think so when he started, but this campaign will either be successful, or they will bury him and his family. Even his daughter, Ivanka, now has Secret Service protection. Can you imagine the vile threats she has received ?

    Evidence… the current president’s campaign manager tweeting on 13 June 2016

    @davidplouffe

    “It is not enough to simply beat Trump. He must be destroyed thoroughly. His kind must not rise again.”

    ~~~~~~~~~

    His kind. Get it? His kind is everyone that does not kowtow to the progressive leaders.

    • jack dobson
      jack dobson says:

      Agreed. I also am amused how we all blithely assume Trump will be allowed to take office if he is outright elected. Who can reasonably doubt there haven’t been discussions at the highest levels about how to conduct a run-of-the-mill coup? The only reason there might not be one is the plotters could lose. The country is that rotten and corrupt now.

  2. John Ash
    John Ash says:

    Boring. The idea that Trump is a Constitutional messenger of any kind is the triumph of hope over reality. He is actively supporting further erosion of the Constitution. Hillary isn’t even doing that. Hillary will continue to push the status quo.

    This is just continued BS rationalization of why Republicans should suck it up and vote for Trump instead of supporting the obviously more constitutionalist Gary Johnson.

  3. Nick
    Nick says:

    Place not your trust in mere man….

    Trump may give us breathing space, but the real solution is still the Article V Convention of States http://www.conventionofstates.com. Its the only thing that can restore the American Experiment to its correct course. It will get rid of directly elected senators, making the Senate, once again, the representatives of the STATES. It will give the state the ability to overrule the Supreme Court and the President. It will give Congress the ability to take back control of the monolith of regulations that the Executive has created to impose the new fascist state.

    Anyone who doesn’t support the COS is not serious about fixing the problem.

      • Nick
        Nick says:

        I agree. I also felt that some of Mark’s amendments wouldn’t leave State’s enough time or capability to overrun a particularly heinous federal law or SCOTUS decision. Two years is not enough. Four years gives the electorate an opportunity to debate the issue and to see the fallout from poor decisions.

        Excellent article by the way. Thank you for being one of (what I consider) few voices calling for this on the conservative side.

    • Jeremy Klein
      Jeremy Klein says:

      I am serious about fixing the problem, but a COS is not the answer, because the Constitution is not the problem. It’s a perfectly good document just as it is. Oh, it could stand a tweak or 2, but that’s not the point. The problem is the Sovereign of this nation, We the People. We are a wicked and lazy Sovereign, who can’t be bothered to read, understand, and enforce our Foundational Law. Congress passes any durn-fool thing they want and claims the Commerce Clause allows it when it obviously does no such thing; the POTUS passes grossly unConstitutional laws in the form of executive orders; the SCOTUS makes up items in the Constitution out of whole cloth (Roe v Wade, e.g.), and no branch of the Federal government, and none of the states’ governors, do anything about it. The Separation of Powers is failing to keep wickedness in government in check as it was supposed to. Change the Constitution, and they’ll just keep doing whatever they want to, because No One Cares.
      There is a saying: the 2nd Amendment guarantees all the rest. Lately, not so much. I almost hope the Lizard Queen gets in, packs the SCOTUS with tyrants, and they go for just one bridge too far: an Aussie-style gun grab. That would probably trigger Civil War 2.0, and none too soon.

      • Nick
        Nick says:

        So you like Senators being elected directly, instead of being the representatives of the states? You like the Supreme Court, who took over the ability to be the final arbitrator of law in Marbury v Madison, to never be overruled? You yourself state the idiocy of the commerce clause.

        Read Article V. It IS part of the constitution, and it was put there specifically by the founders because they suspected this day would come. They didn’t know what the solution was, but they wanted the states to try to make a last ditch effort.

        As for wanting CW2.0. I have children. My wife watched her father be shot to death in Bosnia and saw girls being dragged off to be raped. When you wish for such a thing, as opposed to the peaceful return to Federalism, you show that YOU are wicked and evil. Look to your own eye.

        • Jeremy Klein
          Jeremy Klein says:

          I sympathize, and even agree that changes could/should be made. I am confident, however, that the wickedness of the vast bulk of our citizens will a. keep any such changes from being made, or b. keep them from being effective if made. We the minority of rule-of-law loving citizens are progressively being oppressed by wicked and lazy tyrants. There will be no peaceful return to Federalism, alas. Sometimes surgery is necessary…

          • Nick
            Nick says:

            I am sympathetic to the concept you seem to desire. But would do anything to avoid it.

            The Founders gave us the tool to try to fix this mess. We should do so. Then the libs will just be able to go and screw up states and not the nation. Its better than a bloodbath.

      • Milton Orgeron
        Milton Orgeron says:

        Which of course brings to mind what the 2nd President, John Adams, said:
        “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Quod erat demonstradum

      • Eric Johnson
        Eric Johnson says:

        You don’t need a Constitutional Amendment to solve some of our problems. The 10th Amendment gives to the States authority over election requirements. Number of signatures to get onto the ballot and whatnot.

        Amend the Constitution of a State so that Congressional representation is subject to term limits. Congressmen and Senators would be also subject to recall elections if enough signatures get on the petition. We already know California and Wisconsin allows this for their governors, why not the people it sends to Congress?

      • Brother John the Deplorable
        Brother John the Deplorable says:

        I almost hope the Lizard Queen gets in, packs the SCOTUS with tyrants, and they go for just one bridge too far:

        Almost. But not quite.

  4. Carl Eric Scott
    Carl Eric Scott says:

    So–it’s betting on the possibility that a Trump presidency stems the bleeding a bit, but dismissing the possibility that he seriously damages conservative electoral chances for many years to come, thus preparing the way for massive future bleedings. All the focus is on certain issues of the 2017-2019 window, including the SCOTUS damage, and none upon what happens in the elections of 2018 and 2020. And for the longer term, everything depends on enough currently progressive-leaning citizens taking the right lesson of a Trump victory to heart, and thus becoming some kind of quasi-moderates, and this number outweighing the number of other progressive cits who will use his rise as an excuse for everything noxious about the scorched-earth politics they’ve been increasingly letting their leaders practice.

    So–it’s talking all calm and rational in this piece, lowering expectations, and sketching silver-lining possibilities of winning over some Dem support for constitutionalism if Trump is awful on exec power, but in the Flight 93 piece, it’s openly suggesting that the Republic might fall if HRC gets her stinkin’ 4 years, years burdened at the least with a GOP House, and with not a silver lining in sight.

    The ONLY way to get around the basic moral objection against supporting a man as vicious, unjust, and shameless as Trump, which is also the objection against suggesting for all future conservative politics that there will be no final barrier to situational justification in the selection of presidential candidates, is to show that we are in a genuinely emergency situation, where either a) the full leftist despotism or b) no more plausible chance to stop the slide into it, is likely to be put in place with HRC’s presidency. Decius knows he can’t show that, or anything approaching it.

    BTW, if you reject the weight of the basic moral objection, then why not a never-convicted-of-a-felony gangster the next time one is popular and leans rightward? Will not the Republic also be at risk in the future? Cicero justified such with respect to Milo, right? Of course, Cicero was living through a REAL well-underway collapse of republican government, and of the kind that actually threatened his LIFE. But hey, didn’t some wise man of our day say that “Politics ain’t beanbag?”

    • jack dobson
      jack dobson says:

      The sarcastic all caps show you refuse to face the reality that we are in a very real and rapid collapse. I’m not as optimistic as Decius the Republic can be saved any longer but will afford Trump the chance. If HRC gets elected there will be an irredeemable polity known as the “United States” that is a corrupt and graft-drenched police state with nuclear weapons to threaten its stiffed creditors. I’ll just laugh in private at the court jesters known as “conservatives” as they do prat falls and tell fart jokes disguised as political discourse.

      • Carl Eric Scott
        Carl Eric Scott says:

        Well I’ve been among a minority of bloggers who have openly speculated that the U.S. may be entering Late Republican Times. Notice the “may be” and the word “speculated.” But how do you know that ours will be an “irredeemable polity” if HRC is elected? Is it gut wisdom revealed only to a select few, or is it knowledge–I grant that it would be knowledge regarding probabilities–that can be communicated to your fellow citizens? It a very serious conclusion to arrive at. For if you are right, then a strong case for revolutionary action of an armed sort can be made, and much more, if she wins. Words have consequences. Back in the day, say, 1980-2012, it cost us all very little to talk broadly about “founders rolling in their graves,” or the “republic failing if such-and-such continues,” but now it has become a much more serious matter. Our words need to reflect this. The day really may come, and in our lifetimes, when we need to pull our fellow citizens aside and say, “the hour is now” and “the wolf has come.” But who will believe us if we continually speak like you, and like Decius, in the meantime?

        • jack dobson
          jack dobson says:

          I’m not speaking carelessly. I never have made the claim/cried wolf before. It is probabilities based on HRC’s own words. Just go through her speeches and notice the lengths she goes and stresses she places to delegitimize nationalism. She will and
          even indirectly says she will dissolve the nation-state as we understand it. Everyone will have to act based on their own conscience.

          I hope your implication of overheated rhetoric proves true but am convinced it will not.

        • Oscar
          Oscar says:

          Writing from Europe, I think America’s problem, and particularly conservatives’ problem, is the refusal to acknowledge how little remains from the original Republic. It’s hard to find people not in denial about this, who refuse to repeat the same old platitudes of “American exceptionalism” and the like. Back in 1830 America was truly exceptional, but not so much now.

          You chosed to become an empire, continental first, global later, and you payed a price. Empires never benefit the ordinary metropolitan citizen.

          You can not have the kind of governance Switzerland has on a continental scale I am afraid.

    • Milton Orgeron
      Milton Orgeron says:

      “So–it’s betting on the possibility that a Trump presidency stems the bleeding a bit, but dismissing the possibility that he seriously damages conservative electoral chances for many years to come, thus preparing the way for massive future bleedings.”

      Any future bleedings are only relevant if you don’t bleed out now from the cut artery that is gushing now. I’m not one to be fussy about a better tourniquet not being available. No one cares about possible future bleedings from a cadaver.

  5. christopher swift
    christopher swift says:

    Seriously, at the very least, Trump seems to be interested in solving the problems that most Americans see as destroying the country. He may not succeed but showing some enthusiasm for them puts him ahead of many of both stripes.

    • Gene Schwimmer
      Gene Schwimmer says:

      Trump is interested in pursing the same policies as Clinton; only difference is, Clinton is running on the Democratic ticket, so she can tell the truth.

      • Brother John the Deplorable
        Brother John the Deplorable says:

        Not even remotely true. Trump is where he is because he is the first and only major political figure running for office to use the word “deport” without first using the word “can’t.”

        Even if he’s lying about that, that is still 180 degrees apart from Hillary’s aims.

  6. MisterH
    MisterH says:

    Decius, You are spot on with these clear-headed observations. I know a Clinton presidency will take us further down the path of executive overreach, a further weakening of governmental transparency, endless tinkering around the margins of liberal doctrine about how the government “creates” a growing economy, and more handouts to politically connected cronies. I really don’t know what a Trump presidency would bring us for certain, other than some moments of outrageous conduct and intemperate outburst that turn into moments of farce. He is not “presidential” in the traditional sense.

    Trump at his core is far from the “elitists” we decry that have distorted our economy and corrupted the inner-workings of government. He is an outsider. Who knows- part of his personality disorder might be anchored in some deep-seated resentment of the “elites” who have snubbed him or think he is too vulgar, unpolished and irredeemably politically incorrect to be allowed access to their social ranks.

    I think he will question a great many of the assumptions about how to get things done in Washington and may lead us into finding solutions for some of our most intractable problems simply because he is so outside the system. I figure at worst case, he will outrage and annoy so many from both Democrats and Republicans that he may get them to actually cooperate to do something positive; if only to curtail his worst proclivities. Think of this in terms of a sci-fi B movie scenario from long ago where the Americans and Soviets finally work together to stop Godzilla from flattening them all.

  7. Gene Schwimmer
    Gene Schwimmer says:

    The chink in He-Who-Fears-to-Identify-Himself’s argument is that he begs the question by assuming that while there’s a chance that Trump might not be better than Clinton, he couldn’t be worse. And if he were, that might actually be good because it might – might – get Congress to assert its authority.

    A former business associate described Trump as a spoiled, petulant thirteen-year-old, who won’t change because changing would be a sign of weakness. Say what one wants about Hillary, but that description of Trump does not remotely apply to Trump. If HWFTIH wants to convince this NeverTrumper, he needs to admit that the description is accurate and explain why a spoiled, petulant thirteen-year-old – one who, as is well know, does not listen to advice and refuses to read briefing papers – should be President of the United States.

    In doing so, HWFTIH also needs to take the “(Mark) Cuban challenge” and make his argument without once mentioning Hillary Clinton.

    And finally, HWFTIH must base his arguments on – and refer to – ONLY positions Trump has stated before he decided to run for president.

    But for now, I will not vote for a spoiled, petulant, arrogant ignoramus, who is every bit as corrupt and authoritarian as his opponent and, also, like his opponent, a liberal Democrat, over a former two-term senator and Secretary of State, who at least is honest about what she would do as president, which is what Trump would do if he were to tell the truth.

  8. Haywood Smith
    Haywood Smith says:

    As to the solution identified as Mr. Cost’s, namely having Congress “reassert its enumerated powers,” I consider that We the People have tried that already, at least as much as we are able, by giving the GOP control of both houses. That hasn’t happened, and I’m somewhat surprised that Mr. Cost would even bring it up.

  9. Peter Henderson
    Peter Henderson says:

    My theory of Trump: Trump is basically sincere a) on immigration, b) on trade, c) on wanting to get along with Putin. Professor Steven Cohen (see his videos) seems to agree on the last point. It is alarming that we have no peace candidate. When we faced down a Communist movement that had gone from zero to control of half the world in only 30 years, there were peace candidates everywhere. Now that there is no draft and our enemy is a bunch of countries and groups that vaguely threaten Israel there are none – other than the ‘stealth’ candidate Donald Trump.

  10. John Ash
    John Ash says:

    Wow, I finally read James Pethokoukis’ article and that was quite a beating he gave you. Your ability to pretend you didn’t get that beat down is pretty impressive.

  11. hcat
    hcat says:

    I myself just voted for Gary Johnson. But one somewhat tolerable argument for Trump is precisely if he were President, the media would give him no mercy, whereas they would give Hilary a pass. In any case, the Presidency, because it is in the media spotlight, is the place where authoritarianism is least likely to come from. More likely from the courts (not just the Supreme Court), the unelected officials, and local government, which is today less in the media spotlight and so farther from the people than D.C. I realize the last treads on cherished conservative myths, but it’s true.

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