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.