Last month I threw away nearly all my old National Review magazines. Watching the decline of a publication once home to a conservative intellectual elite has been sad to watch, and it has darkened many friendships. But the times called for clarity and for distinctions to be made.
Although we may long for reconciliation, that appears unlikely in the near term and may not be desirable under current conditions. Here’s why.
Trump has won the election, and the time has never been more ripe to revive the idea of America that can only come with the gathering of serious minds who are honest proponents of liberty. The #NeverTrump faction was not of a like mind. It did not believe in or fully understand the American Idea.
Trump’s campaign and ensuing victory has exposed the reality that the parties and the country are perhaps even more divided than any of us thought. We shall never again be the same. This was not caused by Trump. Those who thought the divisions within the Republican Party were a thing to behold will see something even more spectacular within the Democratic Party. Both parties are in disarray, but Trump has the opportunity to rebuild the Republican party and restore it to its foundations.
Just how significantly the electoral map is revolutionized remains to be seen. However, one thing is clear: this election was not one of consensus. It was one of choice. Make no mistake, the new American majority will be fashioned by the intrepid outsider.
The election should call to mind the Harry V. Jaffa’s eloquent essay in Equality and Liberty, titled, “The Nature and Origin of the American Party System.” In times of normal politics, parties seek consensus. It is the only way that a party may garner a majority and, hence, earn a majority of the seats in government. Parties seek a broad consensus from an “infinitely varied, contrary, and sometimes contradictory demands of the electorate.”. If they do not, one party will always be relegated to the minority. Single party government would reign. Because a diversity of interests (as opposed to skin color) is constantly changing and ever present, as Publius noted in Federalist 10, parties are tirelessly searching to cobble together a governing majority.
Parties are not always consensus-seeking entities, however. In “different times” one party may offer a choice instead of a consensus. These usually occur in times where choice is needed for the very survival of the Republic. The lead up to the Civil War was one of those such times. Jaffa believed that the “Civil War [revealed] the innermost character of that politics.”
Usually, though, it’s the individual, not the party, that represents choice. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas were their respective party’s representatives and articulated the positions that shaped their party: “neither was the spokesman of a party so much as he was the embodiment of a principle and a policy about which the structure of parties—and of political power in the nation—was to reshape itself.”
We are not living through the kind of sectional division that afflicted the country in 1860. Nevertheless, these are grave times. Trump represented a stark choice. It is the first real choice of its kind that we have had since Lincoln’s election. The gravity of the choice was noted by Publius Decius Mus in his excellent essay on the Flight 93 election.
Trump is not Lincoln, but Lincoln was not Washington. Trump is not Reagan, but Reagan was not Coolidge. Each spoke to the people in the times they lived. We easily forget that Lincoln gave far more speeches in public about current topics than did our Founding Fathers, who ran on their reputation and character, leaving the politicking to surrogates. Trump seemed more vulgar because he is a democratic man who speaks his mind. But in the 1850s and ’60s, we should remember, people considered Lincoln’s ways more vulgar.
Trump is the first candidate since Reagan to take the fight directly to the opposition. For the most part, he does not instigate fights, he finishes them. Only after he is attacked does he go all in and defend himself and (it is important to add, the country) while simultaneously leading a counterattack on his opponent. His penchant to counterpunch aggressively has unhinged his opponents, the Clintons in particular, who literally paid people to harm fellow citizens at his rallies. Only someone like Trump could defend the United States against such thuggery. It was his penchant to defend himself, and this country, that ultimately led to his victory.
Jaffa is right about one important thing in this regard. Great statesmen are those who appeal to a timeless ideal and enduring principle.
As Jaffa noted in Crisis of the House Divided, Lincoln’s argument pertained to the rights we all possess by nature. It is this person who gives “rise to legitimate government.” Against the backdrop of one candidate’s attempt to circumvent consent, one thing the anti Trump people have failed to consider is that Trump is actually persuasive and reviving the twin pillars of safety and happiness. That he has attempted to persuade is a necessary condition to legitimate rule. Jaffa is explicit about this: “the first task of statesmanship is not legislation but the molding of that opinion from which all legislation flows.” He goes on to remind us that the “Constitution and Union were means to an end,” that secures “the equality of all men.”
Trump is a particular figure for a particular time no less than Lincoln was for his. Just glance at any number of his speeches, and you will find that his stated intention is to restore America. We also find that the economy’s dangerous trend of increasing debt has the effect of placing our country into a form of slavery—a slavery that is compounded by forcing people to pay for unusable healthcare insurance. His support of school choice and deliberate non-patronizing appeal to black voters is a direct assault on the academic Jim Crow that presently afflicts this nation. His remarkable goal is the restoration of our ancient faith by defending without apology our Constitution and those natural rights stated therein. As Ken Masugi noted, his campaign’s focus on the fraudulent and rigged nature of the electoral system was not a complaint, but a defense, of the natural right of the consent of the governed. His opponent sought to overthrow that consent. Trump made the case for the consent of the governed. The voters responded by giving their consent to him.
Trump is thus a restorationist and a Declarationist. This is most obvious in his Lincolnian inspired promise to return the government to one “of the people, and by the people.”
Lincoln believed in building up the Union and re-adopting its idea. The current “conservative” elite believe in burning down the house to save it. But, nothing could be gained from destruction of the Republic by handing it over to what is clearly a criminal crime family. It is imprudent at best to suggest that the country could have been saved by handing it over to a party that does not seek our enlightened consent. Yet, our consent is but one aspect of the American Idea. The other is having the ability to secure the blessings of liberty in order to pursue our own happiness. Trump argued that liberty and happiness is strengthened by the means of gainful employment.
NAFTA is a free trade document of more than 1,700 pages. Almost 700 of those pages are the treaty itself. TPP is another marvel of “free trade” weighing in at more than 2,000 pages. Neither are truly free trade agreements. They are riddled with crony capitalism and side deals that defy the very meaning of freedom. While the agreements are supported by many of the Never Trumpkins, the fact is it has not benefitted the majority of the people of this Union in a meaningful way. Cheap goods may be good for the consumer, but not when the consumer is out of a job. As Decius noted, free trade is not a principle, but, following Jaffa, it should only be a means to realizing our humanity founded in our natural equality.
America’s Founders were not strict free traders. Alexander Hamilton’s “Report on the Subject of Manufactures” remarks that domestic markets are preferable over foreign markets. He does not mean this in terms of rejecting foreign trade, but as a matter of national wealth, and even as a defensive mechanism so as not to rely on foreign nations for subsistence. The foreign obstacles to domestic business, are impediments so great, Hamilton believed, that they cannot conduct business equally. Foreign trade must exist on “terms consistent with our interest.”
The longest serving treasury secretary after Hamilton, Albert Gallatin, though in theory a proponent of free trade, stated in his “Free Trade Memorial” of 1832 that equal intercourse with Europe was not desirable because it would not encourage “domestic manufactures.” He supported a duty on imports of 25 percent so they fall “equally upon all.”
As it pertains to Trump, he is the first candidate in the 20th century to be in such concord with the Founders not only in his economic policy, but in the reason for such a policy: the defense of the American Republic against trade that harms the nation. In a modern context, free trade means literally the end of America because it is coupled with a borderless politics.
“The preservation of the hope of an equality yet to be achieved, was the ‘value’ which was the absolutely necessary condition of the democratic political process,” Jaffa wrote. “That men may be called upon to fight for such a conviction cannot be called a failure of democracy. It would be a failure only if they refused to fight for it.”
Those who abandoned our ancient faith failed because they did not fight for the heart and soul of our nation and the idea that gave it its birth.