The Thoughtfuls vs. the Roughneck-in-Chief

When it became increasingly clear in the spring of 2016 that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president, a group of Catholic Thoughtfuls penned a letter that March warning that the Catholic project was in “grave danger” because of Trump’s “vulgarity, oafishness, shocking ignorance and . . . demagoguery.” They made a point of emphasizing  Trump’s” demagoguery,” in fact, while also charging him with making a racist appeal to voters.

Strong stuff. More the stuff of Roughnecks than of Thoughtfuls.

The letter came out at the time when Trump had winnowed the field of candidates to just three others, with only one of them—U.S. Senator Ted Cruz—having any more than a whisper of a chance.

So, the letter was quixotic at best. At worst, it was an intellectual temper tantrum.

Reasonable People May Differ
Now, I want to emphasize, a lot of dear friends and longtime allies of mine signed that letter, including a member of my organization’s board of directors, also several members of my board of advisers. The pedigree of these men and women, and the anti-Trump atmosphere among the smart set was so strong that the letter gained national attention. It was painful for those of us who, while not supporting Trump at the time, nonetheless looked kindly upon him.

My wife and I were early and enthusiastic Cruz supporters and stayed with him until the moment he dropped out. I thought he could deny the nomination to Trump by sticking it out until the convention and win on the first ballot. Even so, we defended Trump all along. We liked his roughness, his willingness to bruise the tripartite enemies of all that is good: the GOP establishment, the media, and the Democrats. Boy, did we take our lumps for defending him.

The letter stated that key Catholic issues were under threat from Trump including “providing legal protection for the unborn, the physically disabled and cognitively handicapped, the frail elderly, and other victims of what Saint John Paul II branded ‘the culture of death’.” They worried that Trump would do nothing to protect or further endanger freedom of religion and conscience, and that he would do nothing to protect and promote man-woman marriage nor would he “reestablish constitutional and limited government” as if any Republican had taken any real steps to do this to date.

Mote, Meet Log
It’s worth noting George W. Bush, whom many of these men and women enthusiastically supported, also failed these tests. Government expanded extravagantly under Bush. He was quite fine with nominating justices with unknown or questionable pro-life judicial pedigrees. Recall, he had to be forced to withdraw the nomination of his friend and former counsel Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush didn’t do an awful lot to promote man-woman marriage in his last presidential campaign and did even less in his last four years. But the Catholic Thoughtfuls assured us, they were worried because Trump said he would torture terror suspects—never mind that was something Bush had actually done.

One of the more shameful charges was that Trump appealed to voters along racial and ethnic lines. The Catholic Thoughtfuls offered no evidence for this. It was supposed to be self-evident. After all, blacks were yelling at white Trump supporters who were yelling right back. Blacks were being punched at Trump rallies, except what we know now, and what many of us knew then, is that these were agents-provocateur sent by the DNC into Trump rallies to cause trouble and establish a narrative that even the Catholic Thoughtfuls fell for. I attended a Trump rally in Northern Virginia, and it was remarkable for its “diversity.” Brown people all over the place. Even turbans.

Trump did get tough rhetorically on illegal immigration from Mexico, specifically on some of the authentic criminals coming across the border. He also went after “radical Islamic terrorism” and called for closing borders to them. But the charge of “racism” was an echo of the racialist Left that continues to cause bloody strife all over this country and it was probably the worst part of a regrettable letter.

Reality Check
So, how has Trump done so far? How has he done for the concerns of the Catholic Thoughtfuls?

The nomination of Neil Gorsuch alone should be enough to refute the concerns of the Catholic Thoughtfuls, at least with regard to the issues of life and religious freedom, but also as regards Trump’s commitment to returning us to  “constitutional and limited government.” But Trump has gone far beyond Gorsuch alone and he has gone far beyond what George W. Bush did with the federal judiciary.

Kimberly Strassel published a remarkable piece in the Wall Street Journal called “Scalias All the Way Down.” As of October 12, Trump had named 60 judges, more than Obama appointed in his entire first year. There are another 160 to come. It’s not just the numbers, though; it is those he is appointing. Strassel says the contrast between Trump and Bush is stark. Granted, Bush worked with Leonard Leo and Ed Meese on judicial nominations but, according to Strassel, Bush picked judges and justices by committee with a premium placed on caution. Strassel says, “Dozens of advisers hunted for the least controversial nominee with the smallest paper trail.”

Trump has given his team carte blanche to work with Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society to find “the most conservative judges.” This means Trump will remake the federal judiciary in ways the Bushes didn’t even dream of doing.

But that’s not all. Trump has appointed pro-life and pro-family Evangelicals and Catholics all over the administration, including at the White House. I will not name names—no need to put more targets on their backs—but a few dozen of them are personal friends who are committed social conservatives and orthodox Christians. This includes picks high up in the State Department. This includes the most pro-life vice president and cabinet in history.

Where previous Republican presidents signed the Mexico City Policy, which traditionally restricted U.S. family planning money from going to groups overseas that promote or perform abortions, this only affected a relatively paltry $500 million worth of aid. Trump expanded the restriction to include all global health foreign aid, subjecting $9 billion to this test.  

He signed an executive order to protect the religious liberty and conscience rights to pro-life people and groups, settled 16 of the contraceptive mandate cases with plaintiffs seeking relief from the Obamacare contraceptive mandate (including Catholic bishops and Notre Dame). Notre Dame has subsequently voluntarily restored contraceptive coverage, so it seems Thoughtful Catholics might consider how much more they have to fear from feckless Catholics.

President Trump even waded into the transgender issue by rescinding the Obama-era guidance letter of the Department of Education mandating the transgender agenda on school kids. This effectively ended various bathroom lawsuits. And he banned transgender people from military service.

Trump even withdrew the United States from the government-expanding job-and-economy killing Paris Climate Accords.

Any Second Thoughts?
I asked a few of the signatories to the “Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics” what they thought of the letter at this remove and whether Trump is still “manifestly unfit to be president.” Most did not want to comment, even without attribution.

Only Professor David Upham of the University of Dallas responded on the record, “He has, I think, been less bad than feared in three respects. First, his rhetoric has been less divisive, as he has not, as president, issued sweeping indictments of immigrant groups based on religion (e.g., Muslims) or national origin (e.g., Mexicans). Second, he has been less vulgar as president than he was as a candidate. Third, and most importantly, his policies and appointments have thus far been as pro-life as one could reasonably hope for from any President. Still, such action has been in the President’s short-term political interest. It remains to be seen whether Trump will remain pro-life if it is no longer in his short-term political interest.”

To be fair, Robert George of Princeton, who appears to have been the primary author of the letter, along with George Weigel, has praised Trump when he has done good things. Most of the signatories, as far as I can tell, have been silent, even when Trump has done things that demonstrate their worries were misplaced.

I wonder if the essential repugnance they felt, then, was merely stylistic. They live and work in highly refined circles where Roughnecks are mostly embarrassments. Trump is the Roughneck-in-chief. I wonder if many would prefer a gentlemanly loser to a vulgar winner.


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39 responses to “The Thoughtfuls vs. the Roughneck-in-Chief”

  1. Quoting David Upham: “[H]is policies and appointments have thus far been as pro-life as one could reasonably hope for from any President. Still, such action has been in the President’s short-term political interest. It remains to be seen whether Trump will remain pro-life if it is no longer in his short-term political interest.”

    That illustrates a problem I have with “never Trumpsters” (of which Prof. Upham appears to no longer be): it is not all about Trump! Trump was a catalyst that has made it impossible for Democrats to behave rationally (at least so far): and it appears that they will make their obsession to ensure that it is in Trump’s “short-term” interests to be pro-life (and much else that is good) throughout his presidency.

    • Upham denounces Trump for doing the right thing–but for a reason Upham disapproves of.
      Yes, Upham is divorced from reality.

  2. Of course, they would prefer a gentlemanly loser. They gave us John McCain and Mitt Romney, didn’t they? Res ipsa loquitur.

  3. Trump might have written the “Art of the Deal”, but he keeps going from strength to strength.
    I can’t say he “compromises”, since that has meant, see the 2015 Dec. Obamanibus that gave Obama more than he wanted, was unconditional, preemptive, surrender.
    Trump is either a fighter or tough negotiater. Evangelicals lay hands on him and pray for him (Humility? Well, he apparently respects God more than anyone at least since Reagan, if no Washington).
    I liked Rand Paul, and the righteous, principled father Ron earlier, but Cruz TALKED a good game, but mushy rhetoric usually means even mushier action. Tough, strident rhetoric at worst means a small backing down on some lesser thing to gain a greater thing. Hence when choosing, I picked Trump over Cruz.

    The way I put it at the time, Cruz is 90% conservative, but I can only expect him to fight for and achieve 10% (=9%). Trump is only 60% conservative but he will achieve 80% – including things I don’t like (=48%).

    Worse, I tried to get Cruz and his supporters (including an open letter to Glenn Beck) to ask Cruz the hard questions and to see if he had the gonads, energy, “T”, to go on the record and promise in detail and fight.

    Cruz might have appointed these great judges. Or he might have folded, melted, compomised – like most GOP Swamp denizens. Trump was binary – either he was lying or would deliver. No mushy moderation middle.

    • The President is a great man. Despite the fact that he was a moderate/liberal and commercial failure, the President he strongly reminds me of is Harry S, Truman. I know that the nuclear codes have never been in safer hands, because I know he’ll use them if “push comes to shove”, to use a British expression.

  4. Being a Catholic myself I find the ideology of the Left which is extremely anti Christian and anti Christ, to be far more dangerous. Wise cracks against Catholics came from the Left this year.
    Hillary Clinton is the furthest from a Christian woman and so is her husband. Had she become President then Bill would be First Man and former President. The power of the left would have been unbearable. Plus Obama’s nightmarish legacy of 8 years of the “Dark age” would be cemented forever.

    I could see it now. The faces of Bill, Hillary, and Obama together in a photo. It would be the picture of the unholy trinity of Evil.

    • I upvoted you because it is a perfectly reasonable perspective, but neither of the Clintons strike me as unChristian, but Hillary was raised Methodist and the only mainstream Christian church that was solidly behind abortion rights from the outset, less so in recent years, was one of the Methodist churches. Harry Blackmun who authored Roe v. Wade was also of that denomination. At best you can say that Rev. Wright was a liberation theologian – essentially a Communist.

    • I think the whole Christian, decent, well-spoken, gentlemanly, etc. rationalizations for disliking Trump are just that: rationalizations. The truth is much simpler. a) Insiders don’t like him because he’s not one of them: witness ostensible Republicans like Jonah Goldberg, who would no doubt prefer that Hillary occupy the WH–for she’s one of them and Trump isn’t. b) Some R voters don’t like him because he doesn’t look like a politician from Central Casting–i.e., like an insider.

      Bottom line: it’s all about that. As Rush Limbaugh says, DC is a club. Whether or not you belong to it, you expect those in it to look the part. And Trump doesn’t. Simple as that.

  5. Trump has done far better than one could reasonably hope. His HHS’ Strategic Plan states that life begins at conception. No other administration had done that. The alternative was Hillary who was worse on every issue they cared about.

  6. Excellent essay, a thoughtful arguement. The signatories might show some character and talk about their current views on Trump. It was all well and good to join in the intellectual temper tantrum when everybody who was anybody was also doing it. They woul do well to be leaders of faith with a little spine.

  7. Exactly right. We needed someone who would behave as a man and not as a gentlemen’s personal gentlemen – a butler. Mitt and McCain are both auditioning for Sir Anthony Hopkins’ role in “Remains of The Day”.

  8. Austin Ruse, your confusion would vanish once you realized that Donald Trump offends the sensibilities of all those who call themselves NeverTrumpers. It’s no more than that. Every other thing they criticize about him is simply a rationalization of their personal disgust with his “Bridge and Tunnel” personality. Sooner or later in every critique, no matter how strenuous the ostensible policy opposition, that visceral revulsion is expressed. It never fails.

    Buckley said that he’d rather be governed by the first 200 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. Buckley meant it, and he knew how those first two hundred people talked and thought. His morganatic epigones also say those words, but they don’t mean them. The plumbers, clerks, steam-fitters, waitresses and truck drivers of Boston are repellent to the NeverTrumpers, who find them, as they find Trump, “unfit for the office.”

    He’ll, they’re probably even unfit for the cruise ship!

    • Trump’s chief offense in the eyes of the NeverTrumpers isn’t his brashness, his language, or even his tweeting.
      No, Trump’s unforgivable offense to NeverTrumpers is that HE PROVED THEM WRONG. They all predicted he would lose by a landslide, and, if somehow elected, would crash the stock market and economy and destroy the country. This outsider, political newbie has embarrassed them, and they will hate him until their dying day. Just look at Rove or Kristol or McCain.

      • No, it was his dickish behavior toward his primary opponents, especially Ted Cruz, that outraged #NeverTrump.

      • He’s now the President and they’re not, “dickish”!!

      • I’d still prefer Cruz, who has about 80 IQ points on Orange Jesus. About 120 on Hillary.

      • Awww, you’re just butthurt because you lost. Now I’m going to be the MUCH BIGGER MAN and let you have the last word, loser.

      • He may certainly have more IQ points but not nearly the same level of testosterone or intestinal fortitude

  9. I am quite sure these elite Catholics applaud our Pope Vladimir Lennon II berating us on “climate change”, exiting the Paris Accords, and trying to close our borders from free access to all.

  10. And yet despite these catholic leaders demonstrable incompetence, they retain their positions of influence. Just like the catholics in charge during the kiddie diddling are still there too. Hmm, I think I see the problem with catholics.

      • You’d rather have Hitlery as Pope, right? Well, I got a news flash for you, they both suck big donkey d**cks!!

      • Moron, I voted Constitution Party. Went to the trouble to write in my vote for Darrell Castle.

        As for my comment above, I’m talking about Francis, not Trump.

      • He and Hitlery are your Bro’s , Bro!! And I wasn’t referring to Trump either, arsehole!!

    • You mean the problem with “some Catholics” right? Don’t talk like an ignorant lefty POS!!

      • you do realize that the entire hierarchy of the catholic church is composed of predatory homosexuals, don’t you? as far as I am aware, no one in a position of authority has ever been held accountable for all the kiddie diddling. but you go on believing the bullshit and excuses.

      • You silly Protestant Bastard, the Church has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars and gotten rid of every priest that was diddling little boys. A lot of them went to Prison. FACT! I suggest you look into all your Protestant Religions and you’ll find the problem is even worse, scum bag!! But you seperate your denominations so if a Baptist gets caught diddling little boys they call him a Baptist and not what they should be calling him A Protestant which encompasses many different churches. What’s you answer to that P OOPY D ICK?

  11. Not only The Catholics the entire western religious establishment distorted Jewedeo

  12. The reality is that President Trump is a mortal threat to the existence of the pervasive overwhelming criminal extortion racket that constitutes the cesspool of our federal government (and all of our state governments too). The President is steadily outing the Congress and the bureaucrats’ endless “delays and negotiations” for what they really are — more time to extract more under the table bribes from lobbyists. If he continues his triumphant march through this term then a second, he’ll be well on his way to freeing us from these awful Washington criminals and restoring Constitutional governance to the US.

  13. This particular pope worries me. He seems to have made globalism his God and we are all expected to follow along like lemmings over the cliff.

  14. They absolutely prefer to be gentlemanly losers. I tell you what Roughnecks consider to be coarse and vulgar. A person who doesn’t keep his word. Someone who is mealy mouthed or a lick spittle. The egg heads in their ivory towers have more than their share.

  15. The left has been beating Republicans – discrediting George Bush, smashing McCain and Romney – by vilifying them. In the post and Linsky era, vilification is what the left does. Genteel Republicans have been loath to respond and is a constant spirit buried by the vilification. Trump, a man who is utterly fearless, a man who is definitely combative, did not back down in the face of vilification by the Democrats, the legacy media 90% of whom are Democrats, or the Republicans in name only hoop sold out to large corporate donors and only other conservative words during elections followed by liberal actions after elected. Trump not only confronted the vilification, he used the tactics of his opponent against them very effectively. The legacy media are utterly discredited. The Democrat identity is non-salable outside of regions controlled by large numbers of government employees or populations dependent on welfare. Trump has increased the growth rate to 3%, remove the stupid rules of engagement on our military that precluded victory and in doing so allow the annihilation of all ground territory held by Isis, has reversed the horrible Obama hyper regulation that imposed a $2 trillion a year cost of regulatory compliance on the American economy, and appointed a great Supreme Court justice not to mention having the most conservative cabinet since Ronald Reagan, perhaps more conservative than the cabinet of Ronald Reagan. Trump did all of this with no help from the Republicans in name only and rather opposition from them, obstruction from them, and constant vilification from the left and their cronies in the media. And along the way illegal immigration is decreased more than 60% despite the refusal to fund the wall. Imagine what Trump could do if the Republicans actually lived up to conservatism and supported him.