Trumpism Without Trump: Not Kinder and Gentler, But Harder and Fiercer

The Democrats stole the election. President Trump is right to fight this. The U.S. Supreme Court was wrong to stand aside and let it happen. (Texas had standing to sue over it, for whereas Texans must grin and bear it when we are outvoted fair and square by other states, if our votes are nullified by cheating in other states, then we have been injured and we have a right to seek redress.) Even without the cheating, the impact of massive private subsidies aimed solely at boosting turnout in Democrat strongholds, pre-election bias in the press, and censorship by Big Tech may itself have been enough to tip the results in Joe Biden’s favor.

As always, leftists project their own behavior onto others. After four years of making baseless claims about “Russian collusion” and other supposed indications of Trump’s illegitimacy, they now call Trump’s claims of election fraud baseless. But the fraud seems obvious to me, as it would to anyone who allows himself, or is allowed, to examine the evidence.

So, what to do about it? I wouldn’t blame Trump or any Republican if he chose to absent himself from the inauguration, lest he be scorched by the thunderbolt that might strike Biden when he utters the words, “So help me God.” But there are better ways to express our resentment of what has been done to us. We should make the Democrats pay for it, yes, but not through pettiness and spite. They may project their sins onto us, but let us not emulate their sins in return.

Instead, we should attack the Left where it is most vulnerable, and that is on policy.

Obviously, lots of knowledgeable people are already on the case, and I wouldn’t presume to butt in on any of their areas of expertise. Let me focus on just one neglected point, a field I’ve had pretty much all to myself.

That point is the issue of crime and punishment—especially capital punishment.

A Return to Law and Order?

I’ve plowed this ground many times before, and I don’t revisit it now in the spirit of “woulda coulda shoulda.” Rather, I urge people to realize it’s not too late for that issue to become a powerful weapon in our hands. It can help us turn back the Democrats’ bid to gain the Senate majority next month in Georgia’s runoff. It can help us take back the House in 2022. It can even be the horse on which Trump (or, should old age sideline him, his successor) rides into the White House in 2024. 

We should remember that when Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination in 2016, he said: “I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon—and I mean very soon—come to an end. Beginning on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored.” And as he was inaugurated on that January day, he repeated that vow: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

Those statements have been commemorated more often by the Left than by the Right. Liberals such as Jonathan Chait of New York magazine love to throw it at us, like so: “In 2016, Trump Promised to Make America Safe Again. He Failed.” Conservatives, meanwhile, seem to have forgotten all about Trump’s “law and order” talk, as if his failure to follow through on it embarrasses them. And why should it not?

When Trump first came out with his “I mean very soon” line, the liberal scoffers included Rick Perlstein, who wrote a derisive review in The New Republic. Perlstein picked away at every aspect of Trump’s oration, but especially at the speed and ease with which its goals were supposed to be achieved: Trump, the solitary hero, “accomplishing everything immediately, as if by magic.”

“Magic,” Perlstein wrote. “It’s one more word we have to add to our expanding analytical lexicon to think through the Orange-Haired Monster. . . . The spirit of magic pervaded everything: Trump, with his wand, making awesome things happen instantaneously . . . turning coal into diamonds, bending steel with his mind.” All by magic tricks. Such as in this passage Perlstein cited from the speech:

Our steelworkers and miners are going back to work again. With these new economic policies, trillions and trillions of dollars will start flowing into our country. This new wealth will improve the quality of life for all Americans.

In fact, the quality of life did improve greatly for all Americans under President Trump. Upper-, middle- and working-classes all shared in it, the latter to an unprecedented extent. Until the coronavirus panic saved the Democrats’ bacon, this broad-based prosperity augured a landslide Trump win that would have gone far beyond the margin of fraud. 

Eventually, we’ll get over the Wuhan Flu. But what about crime? It never took the nosedive Trump promised, and in the wake of this year’s George Floyd riots, with the police demoralized and murder surging in cities across the country, few today would be as complacent about it as Perlstein was in 2016.

Compared to his economic successes, Trump’s “law and order” program has indeed been a failure. Try, then, to imagine an alternate reality, in which Trump’s wild boasts about a sudden and radical abatement of crime actually came true.

When Trump made those boasts, I didn’t scoff, because I knew they could be made good. As I wrote at the time, “The fact is that crime could have been crushed long ago. Public safety can be restored quickly—not by magic, but by blood. American history proves it.”

I was referring to a report, “The American Vigilante Tradition,” that historian Richard Maxwell Brown had contributed to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. That commission was created in 1968, America’s previous annus horribilis, in an attempt to get a handle on what Perlstein acknowledges was an “unprecedented” surge in violence. Brown’s report is worth reading in its entirety

I prefaced my summary of the report (which dealt with frontier vigilantism, not racial lynch mobs) with these words:

Before proceeding, let me make clear that neither Brown, nor I, nor Trump, is an advocate of lynch law. Swift and certain enforcement of the death penalty against murderers can indeed make criminals fear the law. The trick, pace Perlstein, is to achieve that goal without sacrificing due process. 

Then I added this:

Brown wrote that from 1767 until the closing of the frontier around 1900, ‘vigilante activity was an almost constant factor in American life.’ Brown counted 326 vigilante movements; among them they killed more than 700 known victims and frightened away countless others. In most cases, he wrote, the vigilantes’ immediate impact was ‘socially constructive.’ By brandishing the hangman’s noose, they overthrew and scattered even powerful outlaw gangs, pacifying large areas with amazing speed. ‘Movements which lasted as long as a year were long lived,’ Brown wrote. ‘More commonly they finished their business in a period of months or weeks.’

In an expanded version of that American Thinker essay, published in National Review on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, I continued:

Here, then, is the issue for Trump. If that ‘law and order’ promise of his is to be more than just empty bombast, he needs to find a lawful means of matching the vigilantes’ positive impact.

Trump never solved that problem. It is now too late for him to do so—unless he stages a Grover Cleveland comeback. (I’ll be rooting for him if he does.) But it’s not too late for us. How can we convert Trump’s dream—an America freed from the curse of rampant crime—into blessed reality? 

The “lawful means” which Trump never found—what would that involve? Spoiler alert: It involves, among other things, a constitutional amendment. 

Capital Punishment Must Be Enforced to Be Effective

The reason is that capital punishment can be a powerful deterrent only when it is actually enforced. And death for murder can become the rule, rather than the extremely rare exception, only after the Supreme Court’s death penalty jurisprudence has been swept away. A constitutional amendment is the only practical means of doing that.

This would not involve repealing the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments.” Rather, it would involve restoring the Eighth Amendment to its original meaning. That’s what I argued four years before Donald Trump was sworn into office. That’s what I have believed ever since.

Over the last four years, in a series of articles for American Greatness, I developed the theme. The writers I mustered in support of my arguments include Stephen Ambrose (cited here), Thomas Aquinas (here), Janet L. Barkas (here), Charles and Mary Beard (here), Raoul Berger (here, here, here and here), Ambrose Bierce (here), Warren Burger (here), William E. Burrows (here), John Calvin (here, here and here), Benjamin Cardozo (here and here), Midge Decter (here), Isaac Ehrlich et al. (here), Desiderius Erasmus (here), Henry Fairlie (here), Henry Fielding (here, here and here), Dov Fischer (here), Alan Keyes (here), Ed Koch (here), C. S. Lewis (here, here and here), Martin Luther (here), James Madison (here and here), John Marshall (here, here and here), Désiré Cardinal Mercier (here), Glenn Reynolds (here), Will Rogers (here and here), Theodore Roosevelt (here and here), Harold J. Rothwax (here), Mike Royko (here), Kurt Schlichter (here and here), Alexander Solzhenitsyn (here and here), Thomas Sowell (here), Alexis de Tocqueville (here), Harry Truman (here), Joseph Wambaugh (here), George Washington (here and here), and Byron White (here).

The gist of it all can be summed up in this passage from “Teddy Roosevelt’s Rules,” published October 28, 2019:

Can anyone doubt that achieving a radical reduction in crime would be of tremendous benefit, not only to the country but to the fortunes of the president and his party? It’s a political weapon, lying there in plain sight, waiting for anyone to seize it. Someone needs to get the word through to the boss: ‘Mr. President, here is a ‘big stick’ with which you can lay waste to the Left. You’ve glanced at it often enough. Now pick it up and use it!’

It falls to us to use that big stick now. If we must maintain Trumpism without Trump, let it not be a pale shadow of the old man’s example, as Reaganism without Reagan was. Let it not be, as Don Surber ruefully recalls of the Bush years, “kinder and gentler.” Trumpism without Trump should be, not kinder and gentler, but harder and fiercer.

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About Karl Spence

Karl Spence is a retired journalist living in San Antonio. His work has appeared in National Review, the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker and at www.fairamendment.us.

Photo: Pete Marovich/Getty Images