Since the final debate between GOP contenders for the party’s presidential nomination before primary voting or caucusing starts in Iowa next week, the National Review set off an intra-party firestorm when it criticized the apparent front-runner, Donald J. Trump, as the beginning of the end of American conservative movement.
His [Trump’s] obsession is with “winning,” regardless of the means — a spirit that is anathema to the ordered liberty that conservatives hold dear and that depends for its preservation on limits on government power. The Tea Party represented a revival of an understanding of American greatness in these terms, an understanding to which Trump is tone-deaf at best and implicitly hostile at worst. He appears to believe that the administrative state merely needs a new master, rather than a new dispensation that cuts it down to size and curtails its power.
If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives? The movement that ground down the Soviet Union and took the shine, at least temporarily, off socialism would have fallen in behind a huckster. The movement concerned with such “permanent things” as constitutional government, marriage, and the right to life would have become a claque for a Twitter feed.
Trump nevertheless offers a valuable warning for the Republican party. If responsible men irresponsibly ignore an issue as important as immigration, it will be taken up by the reckless. If they cannot explain their Beltway maneuvers — worse, if their maneuvering is indefensible — they will be rejected by their own voters. If they cannot advance a compelling working-class agenda, the legitimate anxieties and discontents of blue-collar voters will be exploited by demagogues. We sympathize with many of the complaints of Trump supporters about the GOP, but that doesn’t make the mogul any less flawed a vessel for them.
Some conservatives have made it their business to make excuses for Trump and duly get pats on the head from him. Count us out. Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.
In my point of view, it’s hard to judge where the beginning of the end actually started. In the emphasis that I added to the quote, in my world as an IT specialist and sometime technology strategist by day, and a liberal arts hobbyist, I am caught in a shade of gray between intellectuals and what is referred to here as blue-collar. I am a corporate employee. I depend on the heath of enterprise for my livelihood as most working class people do. I have also, over the years, taken an interest in history and political economy with a hypothesis that no one lives in a bubble, public policy can have a dramatic influence in shaping our expectations of the world. Thus, my views have sympathies toward both sides of the fence in this debate.
I have, at times, been completely torn between Trump supporters and people who know better because I have encountered the same difficulties as blue collar voters while understanding that poor public policy is at the heart of the matter, and Donald Trump’s proposals would only serve to exacerbate current economic problems.
The Donald Trump phenomenon, however, is not the beginning of the problem with the GOP or the conservative movement. It is merely the inevitable result of the failure of the somewhat insular body of conservative intellect to recognize years, or perhaps decades, of economic policy failure, much of it pre-dating the Obama Administration, for what it is, to call it out, and recommend meaningful reform in order for economics to better serve the General Welfare. The Great Recession did not create itself or persist on its own. Nor did the narrative of the rise in defaults being related to extravagance on the part of average people create itself, when nearly everyone who has an IQ over 60 understands putting up one’s house is the only way for average people to access capital markets to finance entrepreneurial endeavors or put a kid through college. Almost nobody in the conservative intellectual establishment understands bubble fear-mongering as a contradiction of principle, and they discuss bubbles as if economic freedom and broad ability to access capital markets are terrible things. Indeed, the conservative intellectual movement have been blinded by conceit and elitism that foisted a humanitarian disaster upon the world and fostered a political environment of every-man-for-himself.
Especially in regard to the National Review, I lost count of the number of articles in that publication since the 2008 economic crisis deriding QE and preaching impending inflationary doom as a result of those programs. Disgusted with the implied brazen disregard for human suffering in a deflationary environment, or those blaming the resulting unemployment problem on the unemployed, I tuned it out years ago. Or perhaps it is worth counting the number of articles in the National Review over the last five or six years that describe the nation as something like drowning in a sea of illegals even though the estimated illegal population experienced a dramatic decrease since the 2008 economic crisis.
And one need not single out the National Review for this sort of criticism. Just look at what has happened to the Hoover Institution and to the Heritage Foundation, two once magnificent forces for conservative intellect, now collectively infected with the worst cases of cognitive atrophy since the fall of the Roman Empire.
If conservative intellectuals believe that Donald Trump is degrading the once successful conservative intellectual movement, the first place they should look for what went so terribly wrong as to have conservative voters in such a rage as to not even particularly care what Trump says is in the mirror.
The truth will make you miserable, but then it sets you free.