Kevin Williamson’s Faustian Bargain

Kevin D. Williamson recently published an article at National Review titled “The Infernal Art of the Deal,” which compares President Trump to the devil and portrays Trump voters as intellectually dishonest and morally compromised. With no concrete evidence, Williamson then moves on to make broad and false generalizations about Trump supporters—to say nothing about his inclination to ignore the NeverTrumpers’, by now well-established, tendency to compromise its own supposed principles.

What distinguishes this Williamson piece from his many others in this vein, is that he manages all of this without mentioning Trump by name even once. Instead of attacking Trump’s policies, ideas, or statements by name he simply (and we suppose he imagines, cleverly) discusses the German legend of Doctor Faust.

The legend focuses on a wise scholar, the titular Faust, who grows bored with life and sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the power to indulge in earthly pleasures. Though Faust enjoys himself for a time, ultimately he must pay the price and face eternal damnation. Hence the term “Faustian bargain,” referring to a tempting deal that gives short-term benefits but causes long-lasting damage.

See where this is going?

The implications are clear: Trump is an evil, irredeemable human being, and conservatives who support him are selling their souls and entering a Faustian bargain. If there is any doubt Williamson is specifically referring to Trump, consider this sentence: “Faust had worthy political causes, too: to improve the schools, to defeat the occupations of foreign tyrants, to Build That Wall!” Subtle.

Who’s really sacrificing conservative principles here? If Trump governed like a socialist, Williamson might have a point.

It would be easier to respond to Williamson’s arguments if he didn’t hide behind literary allegories or could offer an example of a certain Trump policy or action with which he disagrees. Given the timing of his article, one can only assume he published it in response to the mass-shooting in El Paso, to show Trump supporters the cost of supporting a supposedly “white nationalist president”—one who, we must suppose, is somehow responsible for the bloodshed. Others have already done a good job of responding to this ludicrous claim, and Trump himself repeatedly has condemned white supremacy and racism in no uncertain terms. But apparently it isn’t enough. It will never be enough.

Williamson argues in bad faith, even suggesting that Trump supporters know deep down they’re evil.

“[W]hen someone makes a deal with the devil,” Williamson writes, “his immediate object . . . is to convince those around him—and himself—that he made a really, really good deal, that it was worth it, that the price was only a trifle.” In Williamson’s view, anyone who voices support for the president is just providing evidence that he’s trying to stifle his own conscience.

This is a gross generalization that’s not only wrong but also morally repugnant. Williamson can’t fathom why anyone would vote for Trump. He can’t see why a coal miner whose job is in danger of disappearing, or a manufacturing worker in a decaying Rust Belt town, or anyone else sick and tired of being called “privileged” by well-connected millionaire politicians would possibly vote for someone like Trump.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, considering Williamson has nothing but contempt for these people, who should just shut up and work harder. As the man himself put it in 2016: “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.”

Besides the disgusting attack on fellow Americans as “negative assets” and “morally indefensible,” Williamson’s worldview also ignores the various motivations conservatives had for voting Trump. Some were hardcore Trump supporters from the start. Some were reluctant supporters who preferred U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, but saw Trump as the lesser evil in an election where Hillary Clinton was the only other viable option. Some disliked and did not trust Trump, thinking he would govern as a Democrat, but have since come to appreciate him after seeing his conservative policy victories.

Yet these victories don’t matter to Williamson, who decries the “cult of success,” the “might makes right” mentality which he insists Trump supporters hold. Williamson disparages the “so-called realists” who dismissed Mitt Romney as a “gentlemanly loser.” In his worldview, these “so-called realists” are willing to sacrifice conservative principles in order to win.

Shifting Ground, Malleable Principles

But who’s really sacrificing conservative principles here? If Trump governed like a socialist, Williamson might have a point. Instead, Trump has cut taxes, launched an ambitious deregulation agenda, consistently condemned socialism, appointed two Supreme Court justices and more than 100 federal judges, strengthened the military, got our NATO allies to spend $100 billion more on their defense, moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and contributed greatly to the fight to defend unborn lives. The NeverTrump mock of “But Gorsuch” has never rung more hollow.

Rather, it’s NeverTrumpers who are sacrificing their principles, even as they lecture the rest of us about their own moral purity. As they consistently vilify the president and even attack those on their own side who support Trump, many of them are making common cause with Trump’s leftist enemies, even when that means reneging on policy positions they’ve held for years.

Just look at Bill Kristol, former chief of staff to Dan Quayle and the former publisher of the failed Weekly Standard. As some of his team attempt to regroup at The Bulwark (funded by leftist billionaire, Pierre Omidyar) their product evinces few recognizably conservative qualities. Just why the self-proclaimed “home for the best of American conservative opinion” would hire someone like Molly Jong Fast, a left-winger who openly supports late-term abortion and chairs an organization that trains “progressive foot soldiers,” is a mystery. Nor is it clear why Kristol, who claims to be “conserving conservatism,” would tweet in 2017: “Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state.”

Kristol isn’t the only one, of course. George Will, the current “Dean of Conservatism,” urged conservatives to vote against the GOP in the 2018 midterms. Former Wall Street Journal op-ed editor Max Boot did the same, while comparing the GOP to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, regimes that murdered tens of millions of people. Or consider David French, who has consistently attacked fellow Evangelicals, calling them hypocrites for voting for Trump and claiming they are motivated by unbiblical “fear.”

Fear and Loathing on the NeverTrump “Right”

So let’s recap. The NeverTrumpers, who are supposed to stand on principle and keep conservatism pure from the Bad Orange Man, consistently have attacked conservatives, voiced support for the destruction of our democracy by the deep state, and urged us to vote for a Democratic Party that is hurtling to the Left. And these are the people “conserving conservatism”?

Meanwhile, as NeverTrumpers are focused on destroying conservatives, the left is growing more and more radical. Williamson and his comrades tell us that Trump is the root of all evil in our political system, even as the left pushes for illegal immigration, supports unconstitutional wealth taxes, calls anyone to the right of Lenin a “white nationalist,” and supports industrialized mass-murder and recycling of babies.

Trump supporters aren’t the ones permitting the advancement of these evils. They’re not the ones encouraging violence against political opponents. They’re not the ones calling for a complete breakdown of our immigration system or the lawlessness that would permit. Williamson and his NeverTrump buddies would rather allow the Left to win by attacking those who used to be on their own side than sully their reputations as respectable, rarified intellectuals who sometimes get mainstream gigs. If that’s not a deal with the devil, I don’t know what is.

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About Elad Vaida

Elad Vaida is currently enrolled in the Heritage Foundation’s George C. Marshall Fellows Program, and the America’s Future Foundation Writing Fellows Program. He has a Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University, and a Bachelor’s in Political Science from Penn State University.

Photo: Dea/Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Getty Images

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