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When President Donald Trump on Friday agreed to sign a government funding bill without any money for a wall or barrier along the southern border, reversing oaths including one in which he proclaimed “so help me God,” we likely witnessed the beginning of the end of the Trump era.
Prior to the 2016 election, in an essay called “After The Republic” at the Claremont Review of Books, I wrote that, although Donald Trump really did not care much about the substance of his campaign promises, he knew that some of these—e.g. opposition to abortion, stopping alien migration—were so integral to his identification with his supporters that any blatant infidelity to them would finish him. But I also noted when Trump joked that his supporters would stand with him even if he shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, he had already fallen into the delusion that dooms so many politicians—believing that people support him for who he is rather than as a vehicle for their own concerns.
The 2016 election cycle was not about Donald J. Trump. It unfolded as it did because most Americans were seeking desperately to shake off the uniform, bipartisan, progressive class that rules the country unaccountably—a class including most of the bureaucracies of federal and state governments, the judiciary, the educational establishment, the media, as well as major corporate officials that had separated itself socially, morally, and politically from the rest of society. It’s a class that affirms its superior worth by endlessly humiliating other Americans, people who feel good about themselves by deploring, hating, and hurting those they deem their inferiors.
Trump, for those who voted for him, is neither more nor less than what serves their desires for protection from, and payback to, that class. He was elected not because of anything about himself but because of what his voters expected of him. By the same token, only incidentally is the ruling-class Left’s virulence against Trump. What they truly fear is the Deplorables’ resistance to their rule. Their purpose was and remains to crush the Deplorables’ resistance.
People who voted for Trump expected that he would use the full weight of presidential power on their behalf. That is why his personal misbehavior did not shake their support, nor could any amount of opposition from the Left and from the Deep State do so. The opposition’s virulence only confirmed that the people who elected Trump in 2016 would likely re-elect him in 2020, precisely because they saw him as a reliable barrier against that class.
Flirting with Faithlessness
But Trump has proved he is no barrier, no defense. Today, Trump notwithstanding, political correctness weighs upon Americans more than ever, and speech is becoming more constrained by the day. Being on the wrong side of the right people is more dangerous than ever.
Trump’s fiery speeches had led some supporters to look past the fact he has found it easier to proclaim victories over middle America’s enemies than to achieve them, that he makes loud statements and then quietly walks them back, that often he protests the ruling class’s outrages while gratuitously acquiescing in them, as he did on March 23, 2018, when he signed the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill that financed every progressive cause and priority but contained not a dime for a wall. That is also what he did on September 14, 2017, by signing a joint congressional resolution that urged all U.S agencies to combat “hate speech”—and defined “hate speech” in such a way as to accuse his own supporters of it. Having finally declared that he would declassify some of the trumped-up documents by which the intelligence agencies had maligned him to the media, he let himself be convinced to continue letting these agencies play their illegal games. Bluster followed by surrender has political legs both short and shaky.
Yet none of the above had broken the bond of faith that bound Trump’s voters to him. Yes, often-heavy flirtations, and even clandestine relations, with the ruling class raised unwelcome questions about his character—though very different ones than raised by the Left. But no flirt explicitly violated any solemn oath about essential matters. His voters continued to believe that, in a crunch, Trump would be true to his vows.
Then the crunch came. What Trump did on January 25, 2019, was infidelity itself, of the in-your-face, unforgivable kind.
Infidelity Has Consequences
The wall, the substance of the infidelity, is less important than the infidelity’s very wantonness: casting aside something of fundamental importance to Trump’s voters is beyond doubt. Over months, in a manner that bespeaks irresponsibility, he led his followers out on a limb and then sawed it off. Now the voters know what his vows are worth. Like loss of virginity, that is something that can never be undone.
Trump’s self-humiliating surrender to the ruling class, despite his possession of full power to trump that class by declaring the national emergency that he said he was ready, willing, and able to declare, showed he really had never prepared nor meant to declare it. Or if he had, he had been frightened into blowing with the prevailing wind. Thereby, the president proved either contempt for his supporters, cowardice with regard to his opponents, or both. By so doing, he cut one of his own main political arteries and started a hemorrhage of support that it may well be impossible to stop.
Subsequently, the Left crowed victory, not in one battle, rightly, but in the war itself, mistakenly. They ridiculed Trump, whose promise to fight another day is incredibly sad.
But the Left’s taunts of Trump’s supporters are as stupid as they are gratuitous. The Deplorables should “learn their lesson,” shut up, and accept subordinate status. In fact, between 2016 and 2019 the country in general and the Deplorables in particular have learned lessons bigger and very different from those the Left intends for them to learn.
America learned that there is a very large, unmet demand for leadership against the ruling class and a swelling host of ordinary citizens eager to take up political arms in its own defense. Since the law of supply and demand works equally in all human affairs, we can be certain that much talent will devote itself to filling it.
Writing at The American Mind prior to the 2018 elections, I drew the logical conclusions about the elections’ several possible outcomes. Among these was the following:
Were the Democrats to regain a majority in the House of Representatives in 2018, there is no doubt that they would redouble the “resistance,” and that a substantial portion of the Senate’s Republican majority would be friendly to it. That would leave the 2016 electorate’s defense to Trump—who would be forced to fully deploy Presidential powers in that task or to abdicate it to whomever would campaign credibly to fully exercise those powers after the 2020 election.
Increased ruling class power and militancy left Donald Trump with two shining alternatives: you must use the presidency’s power on their behalf fully—as you never did when it would have been so much easier to do so—or abdicate the leadership of America’s Deplorables to whomever might claim it.
By default, Trump chose abdication.
For better and for worse, the Trump era is over. Time to deal with the stark choices that our would-be totalitarian ruling class poses. We cannot know who will lead 2016’s winning coalition in 2020. Positively and negatively, Trump’s virtues and vices helped define what the characteristics of that leadership must be. Neither ambiguity nor flirtations. Integrity, personal and political. Commitments explained relentlessly and redeemed with every ounce of available power. The ruling class’s “full court press,” answered in kind and in detail. Bloodyminded determination to undo the layers of unearned privileges that are making a mockery of the idea that “all men are created equal.”
The closing lines of “After the Republic” call on us to reflect on the seriousness of our problems: “We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is difficult to imagine how we might step back, and futile to speculate where it will end. Our ruling class’s malfeasance, combined with insult, brought it about. Donald Trump did not cause it and is by no means its ultimate manifestation. Regardless of who wins in 2016, this revolution’s sentiments will grow in volume and intensity, and are sure to empower politicians likely to make Americans nostalgic for Donald Trump’s moderation.”
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