Donald Trump is either a day away from being the next president, or from being the most consequential nominee for the Republican Party brand since Barry Goldwater.
Either way, his achievement is stupendous. Trump has braved the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to a degree not seen since Ronald Reagan, and maybe not even then. He has had tricks deployed against him not just by Democrats, but by the media, corporate America, the technological sector, and even by fanatical quislings within his own party. Indeed, as someone who believes that the “Access Hollywood” tapes emerged as a result of machinations perpetrated by bitter Romney campaign alumni, I think this last group might have been the most unique in the irrational fierceness of its opposition.
With its well-documented hypocrisy, there is not much left to say about this particular group. What chiefly concerns me is the seeming irrationality of it all. What can possibly explain the fact that people who have attacked Trump for endorsing religious tests and for seeking to bar entry to people who do not abide by the norms of Western culture, can also turn around and tell us that Trump must not be elected because he himself fails religious tests, and because he does not live up to their preferred set of norms? Only an imbecile could fail to notice the utterly contradictory illogic involved. I gather these people, whatever other faults they have, are not imbeciles. So what is it in Trump that makes their rational faculties shut off?
Unlike my fellow Trumpists, I do not think it is pure snobbery. Rather, something much more deeply philosophical lies at the root of this rejection, and it is this: Trump has laid bare the tradeoffs that they, as conservatives, must accept in order to have their cultural, economic, and political vision come to pass.
H. P. Lovecraft once wrote, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” Trump, in his own public quest to apply the principles of conservatism as he understands them, has correlated the contents of the conservative mind, and as a result, his opponents are going mad from the revelation. Should Trump lose, what will give his argument staying power is his having shown that conservatism as a political philosophy cannot be applied without allowing that prudence and circumstance sometimes require the sacrifice of certain of its philosophical principles to bolster others.
One does not need pages and pages of analysis to explain this. It can be illustrated by example. Here are the points Trump has grasped since the beginning of this campaign that I believe ought to sway every conservative to his cause on Tuesday and beyond—even if his “conservative” opponents will do everything in their power to deny them for the sake of maintaining their comforting cognitive dissonance.
In no particular order:
Trump senses that Western Civilization, and its enlightenment values, are only sustainable when combined with a people that accepts both. Any religion or ideology that rejects Western civilization and the enlightenment should not be allowed to form a critical mass in the nation most widely understood as those values’ last, best hope. In this sense, Trump ironically takes ideas and religion more seriously than his critics do. When the vast majority of the globe’s Muslims, even in some First World nations, reject fundamental classically liberal norms on everything from women’s rights to gay rights to free speech to freedom of religion, Trump understands that we should take them at their word, even if we also recognize the virtue of the minority of Muslims who dissent from these views. When #BlackLivesMatter preaches violence, insurrection, anarchy, and hatred for the police, Trump understands that we should believe them and react with force and justice in defense of law enforcement, even as we recognize the legitimacy of the grievances and pain suffered by otherwise decent African Americans.
Trump understands Milton Friedman was right that you can’t have open borders and a welfare state, but he also recognizes that in order to shutter the welfare state, you have to first close the border to immigrant groups that seek to exploit and vote for an ever-expanding welfare state. Otherwise, a country will import and spend itself into fiscal ruin, with no peaceful political means to reverse these misfortunes.
Trump understands the Founders and Ronald Reagan were right that lower consumer prices are worthless in the absence of sources of income secured through the dignity of work, and that the price of lower taxes may indeed be trade tariffs—even if those tariffs must be tailored carefully to take advantage of economies of scale. Further, he recognizes that free trade with protectionist powers is an invitation by the free trade nation to be exploited for its money while gaining nothing for its goods.
Trump understands that free speech is more than a procedural protection, and that when the press behaves unanimously in a recklessly illiberal, activist way, then at some point they begin to hamper, rather than help, the tradition of free speech. Further, he understands that stating this openly—rather than hiding behind the fig leaf of a free press while siccing the IRS on opponents—is the only way to approach the issue honestly.
Trump—along with his daughter Ivanka and backer Peter Thiel—understands that in a society where women and gays have become active participants in the bourgeois middle class, women and gays must also be enlisted as allies in defense of the values of that class, rather than alienated for the sake of quixotic sectarianism. Trump understands defenses of women’s independence in the home through new thinking on child care, and of gays’ status as full members of society against hostile religious minorities, are small prices to pay for their being so enlisted.
Trump understands that while conservatives instinctively seek to conserve existing orders, an order that allows its elite to stand unrepentantly on the backs of the people, rather than on their shoulders, is not worth conserving. He understands that there is no moral legitimacy to a political order that actively disdains achievement and earned success, and which rewards signaling virtue more than living it.
Finally, Trump understands that in order for America to be good, it must first be strong and prudent, and that America’s moral authority around the globe ceases to exist when that moral authority is treated as a blank check for endless war, or a geopolitical suicide pact in the name of globalist aspirations.
In other words, Trump has looked at the preferred conservative view of the world and, like any good student of Thomas Sowell, has analyzed it with a constrained vision bound by tradeoffs and the messiness of human nature. He may offer bombastic promises, or wild visions of success, but the core of his agenda is one that acknowledges the same truth that so often blares from the speakers at his campaign rallies: “You can’t always get what you want.” Or at least, not all of it. You have to make a deal. You have to accept some costs to get the goods.
Even if Trump loses, these hard facts about the feasibility of conservative goals, and the compromises required to achieve them, will not go away. Nor will the establishment, anti-Trump conservative “intelligentsia” be able to throw up enough smokescreens to make their own voters forget them. The cat’s out of the bag, and either you let Trump tame it, or you let Hillary Clinton put you in the bag instead.