National Review has declared all out war against the candidacy of Donald Trump. But will their passionate and truthful polemic be proven to be irrelevant?
[dropcap size=small]G[/dropcap]ore Vidal once said to William F. Buckley Jr. in the heat of one of their famous 1968 debates, “If there were a contest for Mr. Myra Breckinridge, you would unquestionably win it. I based her entire style polemically upon you–passionate and irrelevant.” Fast forward nearly half a century later, and we find in the pages of Buckley’s legacy publication, National Review, a new contest for who can seem the most passionate yet irrelevant in denouncing the newest demagogue to appear on the American political scene–one Donald J. Trump.
Whereas, Vidal’s Myra was an exploration into the mutability of gender and the power dynamics underlying sexual relations, National Review’s recent symposium “Conservatives against Trump” reads as an exploration into the mutability of the “conservative” identity and the power dynamics underpinning the right wing. And their passionate appeals may very well have driven them into further irrelevancy–after publishing the collection, National Review received an extra lesson in the right’s power dynamics, as they were booted by the RNC from co-hosting the next GOP debate.
The symposium includes a hodge-podge of the well-known and the lesser-known, Tea Partiers and Neoconservatives, Libertarians and “movement” activists, all denouncing the rise of Donald Trump as the standard bearer for the disaffected working class. Many of the commentators focus on Trump’s political evolution, pointing out that Trump’s political persuasions seem about as pliable and open for change as Myra’s gender. The whole collection is quite strange, androgynous even, a mix of establishment critiques and grassroots back bencher rants. The only thing that seems to unite the writers assembled is their opposition to Trump. I am too opposed to Trump, but I know the true threat is not the Donald whatsoever, a lesson in democracy I fear we will all learn soon enough.
Glenn Beck kicks off the passionate irrelevancy:
While conservatives fought against the stimulus, Donald Trump said it was “what we need,” praising Obama’s schemes of “building infrastructure, building great projects, putting people to work in that sense.” While conservatives fought against the auto bailouts, Donald Trump claimed “the government should stand behind [the auto companies] 100 percent” because “they make wonderful products.” While conservatives fought against the bank bailouts, Donald Trump called them “something that has to get done.” Let his reasoning sink in for a second: “[The government] can take over companies, and, frankly, take big chunks of companies.” When conservatives desperately needed allies in the fight against big government, Donald Trump didn’t stand on the sidelines. He consistently advocated that your money be spent, that your government grow, and that your Constitution be ignored. Sure, Trump’s potential primary victory would provide Hillary Clinton with the easiest imaginable path to the White House. But it’s far worse than that. If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, there will once again be no opposition to an ever-expanding government. This is a crisis for conservatism. And, once again, this crisis will not go to waste.
David Boaz from the Cato Institute then chimes in:
From a libertarian point of view — and I think serious conservatives and liberals would share this view—Trump’s greatest offenses against American tradition and our founding principles are his nativism and his promise of one-man rule. Not since George Wallace has there been a presidential candidate who made racial and religious scapegoating so central to his campaign. Trump launched his campaign talking about Mexican rapists and has gone on to rant about mass deportation, bans on Muslim immigration, shutting down mosques, and building a wall around America. America is an exceptional nation in large part because we’ve aspired to rise above such prejudices and guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to everyone…Without even getting into his past support for a massive wealth tax and single-payer health care, his know-nothing protectionism, or his passionate defense of eminent domain, I think we can say that this is a Republican campaign that would have appalled Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan.
Brent Bozell then plays the movement loyalty card:
A real conservative walks with us. Ronald Reagan read National Review and Human Events for intellectual sustenance; spoke annually to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Young Americans for Freedom, and other organizations to rally the troops; supported Barry Goldwater when the GOP mainstream turned its back on him; raised money for countless conservative groups; wrote hundreds of op-eds; and delivered even more speeches, everywhere championing our cause. Until he decided to run for the GOP nomination a few months ago, Trump had done none of these things, perhaps because he was too distracted publicly raising money for liberals such as the Clintons; championing Planned Parenthood, tax increases, and single-payer health coverage; and demonstrating his allegiance to the Democratic party.
Skip ahead a few people, and we have the neoconservative Bill Kristol railing against Trump via Leo Strauss and the specter of Caesar. One can hardly wonder from his use of the phrase “two-bit Caesarism” if Kristol would rather have a first-rate Caesarism:
In a letter to National Review, Leo Strauss wrote that “a conservative, I take it, is a man who despises vulgarity; but the argument which is concerned exclusively with calculations of success, and is based on blindness to the nobility of the effort, is vulgar.” Isn’t Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity? In sum: Isn’t Trumpism a two-bit Caesarism of a kind that American conservatives have always disdained? Isn’t the task of conservatives today to stand athwart Trumpism, yelling Stop?
Thomas Sowell then strikes closest to the heart of the matter, saying (emphasis mine):
In a country with more than 300 million people, it is remarkable how obsessed the media have become with just one—Donald Trump. What is even more remarkable is that, after seven years of repeated disasters, both domestically and internationally, under a glib egomaniac in the White House, so many potential voters are turning to another glib egomaniac to be his successor. No doubt much of the stampede of Republican voters toward Mr. Trump is based on their disgust with the Republican establishment. It is easy to understand why there would be pent-up resentments among Republican voters. But are elections held for the purpose of venting emotions?
To answer your question with respect, Mr. Sowell: yes, elections are held for that purpose. They are held for any purpose “the people” want. And let’s be clear: all politicians, political parties, and pundits play on the people’s emotions. Trump is just playing this game better than any of the people claiming to stand on principle against him.
When will the “intelligentsia” learn their lesson and stop fooling themselves? Democratic elections aren’t about enshrining high ideals or sober policy prescriptions; elections are about winning power by any and all means. Rather than worrying about Trump as the new Caesar, these writers should be worried about America’s true collective emperor: the people.
For, “the people” are authorized somehow someway to do as they please. They are the authority by virtue of their strength in numbers. And if an opinion is unpopular–such as the anti-Trump sentiment these days–then its passion, truth, and wisdom is of little to no consequence. In fact, such an opinion may very well be irrelevant.