As we now know, Trump won a surprise victory in this election. This post provides some analysis of the Republican race, and what it means for the nation. I am saying farewell to this blog, and I explain my reasons below.
The following video was created in February 2016, just after the IA caucuses. I’m not going to say much about it. I thought William Kristol and Rich Lowry had some very keen, early observations of Trump, particularly that he’s a moderate, and that in fact the Republican Establishment decided it could live with him, but not Rubio or Cruz. A few of their conclusions were wrong, including that Trump could not win the nomination or general election, but I think it’s worth a listen
This interview with Kristol and Jonah Goldberg was done in July 2016, just before the Republican convention.
“The Trump non-sequitur” that Goldberg talked about 22 minutes in really hit home for me. I saw that constantly in this election. I had the same reaction to it as he did. It just did not make sense to me that people could go through a list of issue positions, with which I agree, and then say, “So we need to vote for Trump.” Trump for me represented none of those things. I always said he “mentions” issues when he’s talking with people about them. He doesn’t flesh them out, except when he’s given a speech to read on teleprompter, which was written for him. It usually sounds nice when he’s had a prompter (he’s gotten better at it the longer the campaign has gone on), but I don’t have confidence in that, because when he’s off prompter, he doesn’t seem to have it in his head, or he doesn’t talk about what he said in a recent speech. It’s like he’s just mouthing the words. What good is that? What it tells me is it’s not on his mind. He’s saying it because people like me might like to hear someone say it, but it doesn’t mean anything to him.
At 31 minutes, Goldberg says that it’s possible that the people who made up the Tea Party basically gave up on its core reason for being, and just went for broke. He said that there was a basic deal that the Tea Party had with itself that, “You told us that if we stuck to our principles that we would win the day. We held up our end of the bargain.” They saw Mitt Romney lose the election in 2012, and felt betrayed. Goldberg said he thought after that, people in the Tea Party just said to hell with all that “principles” stuff. They just wanted to win. I think there’s truth to that. I didn’t think Trump represented the Tea Party, but rather was using the Tea Party in a crafty way to create a sufficient coalition that would win him the presidency, and then he would continue the Establishment agenda, since he’d been part of it for so many years. I called it “running against the base,” while winning them over during the election. I’ve heard other conservatives say that there is in fact a lot of support in the Tea Party for Trump.
I didn’t make the connection at the time, but Glenn Beck talked about the same thing as Goldberg did, during the primaries. He said that “he could see it in the eyes of voters,” that they were giving up on the reform agenda. They were just going to throw their lot in with Trump, even though they knew he didn’t represent limited government principles, because they wanted to win. Beck said several years ago that it’s common in reform movements for this to happen, that just when the opportunity arrives for the movement to make some gains on its principles, the people in it give up. He said that’s what happened in this election. Republicans had the opportunity to nominate Cruz, but they didn’t trust him, and didn’t think he could win. They thought Trump was the train they could hitch their car to, and he would drive them to victory. They were right, it turns out, but I’ve asked conservatives to ponder this all along: What’s it worth to win, but not get what you want? In other words, what’s the point of winning if you’re not going to advance a principled agenda? I think many would argue that it puts a stop to the progressive agenda. I say that’s an illusion. What they’re really doing is pausing it, or slowing it down. I don’t think Trump is going to reverse it. Reversing it would mean dismantling parts of agencies (as a start), or ending them altogether, and taking out entire line items in the budget, particularly in entitlements and welfare programs (both for individuals and corporations which are dependent on them). Nothing in what Trump has talked about indicates he’s going to do that. He’s talked about repealing Obamacare, but, as an example, in 2015, after he’d been running for a few months, he said re. health insurance, “We’re going to take care of everybody,” and, “The government is going to pay for it.” That sounded like single payer, and should have raised alarm bells for everybody in the Republican Party! In fact, it didn’t. A survey showed that the moment Trump said this, Republican approval for single payer health care went from 19% to 44%! That’s the state of the Republican Party in a nutshell. It’s not very conservative. It’s Democrat-lite.
I have a different take from Goldberg on how the Tea Party felt betrayed. I think it’s possible the problem came earlier than Romney. If people will remember, the Republicans tried to pick anyone but Romney in 2012, but ultimately Romney won out, because the other candidates had some major flaws that made them unfit in some way. Romney was not the Tea Party’s first choice. He didn’t really reach out to the Tea Party, and what I was hearing was that the Tea Party was dismayed with him. He didn’t represent their principles. Romney lost in the general election, possibly because Tea Party types stayed home. It’s possible they regretted that decision, seeing what happened subsequently in the 2nd Obama term. Benghazi seems to be a particular turning point. Secondly, Obamacare came into effect after the election, driving employers away, and cancelling people’s policies that they were counting on to keep themselves and loved ones alive. Political correctness became more intense. That broke them.
So, they’ve given up on principles, and thought that being less judgmental of the candidate was their path to victory. In a shallow sense, they were right. Trump won the election, but I think all Republicans have won is a temporary reprieve from the pain they’ve experienced. They’re not solving the fundamental problems, because they either don’t want to deal with them, or don’t think they can be solved politically. They went for what I call “the morphine drip” once again, easing the pain, while they continue toward death in proverbial hospice care.
I sympathize a lot with Goldberg’s “What I got wrong” segment at 53 minutes, where he talked about how it’s been 10 years since he published “Liberal Fascism,” and he admits he gave the Right a pass in the book, basically putting all of the fascist tendencies in our country on the Left. He sees now that was a mistake. He said he made it because he thought that the Right was too dogmatic about its sense of independence from the government, and its skepticism of it to give in to authoritarian tendencies. He said he’s not afraid of an Orwellian dystopian future, as much as Huxley’s “Brave New World.” I found that very interesting, because that’s the same argument that Neil Postman made 30 years ago. Goldberg said that Trump has brought out emotional tendencies and states of mind in Republicans that he didn’t think were possible. At the end of his mea culpa, Goldberg said of his politics, “I feel homeless in a way that I have never felt in my entire life.” That really struck a chord with me, because I feel the same way. I thought of the Republican Party as “the thinking person’s party,” a place where serious intellects could advance the cause of liberty, and the interests of our nation, and that would influence policy in government. That isn’t how I see it now. The thinking man and woman is now an enemy in the Republican Party, at least until they cast their intellectualism onto a burning trash heap and support Trump. The charge against the intellects is, “You’re the ones who got us in this mess.” And since people like Kristol and Goldberg came out publicly opposing Trump, they’re seen as traitors who not only wanted to elect Hillary Clinton, but who have secretly been on the side of Democrats and their agenda the whole time. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think many Republicans should be looking in the mirror on that one. This is one reason I left the Republican Party in August. I got tired of Republicans week after week telling people like me that if we didn’t support Trump, we should be ashamed of ourselves. The other reason is I watched the Republican convention, and was kind of disgusted by it. They didn’t even follow their own rules, at least not in spirit. I realized it wasn’t going to get better from here.
I thought a few years ago that the Republican Party was teachable re. conservatism, that if the two major parties chose two non-conservatives, constitutional conservatives should just vote for the Democrat, and that way Republicans would learn that going that direction doesn’t work. It doesn’t elect Republicans. This election has proved me wrong. The moderates won, defeating the argument that it’s moderates who have been losing, not the conservatives. (Past moderates who lost were just bad candidates.) I’ve also come to realize that even when evidence was put in front of Republicans, they couldn’t see it. It’s not just that people are in denial. It’s that they literally cannot see the better answer. Trump was not just a blip. The problem is structural. As the saying goes, I didn’t leave the Republican Party. It left me. If people are wondering why Sen. McConnell was siding with Democrats, passing Democratic legislation week after week, after Republicans won their majority in the Senate, this is why. That wasn’t just an aberration. This is where the party is now. Speaker Ryan, even though he had a history of being to the Right of McConnell, also threw in with the big-government Establishment, because that’s where the party is. The indications show that Trump’s election hasn’t changed that. It’s affirmed it.
In this materialistic atmosphere, where the perceived choice is between “Thing 1” and “Thing 2,” where one is on “your side,” which cannot be defined (other than in a bumper sticker that says “I love America,” with no explanation of what that means), and the other is the devil incarnate that’s not on our side, the thinking is if you’re not for one, you’re for the other. That’s the only possibility that can be seen. People like Goldberg and Kristol have become symbols of hatred, the object of scorn. Rather than defeating evil, we become perceived as evil.
This is going to sound overly dramatic, but the ending to “The Dark Knight” comes to mind. The one who actually is evil is perceived as the hero, because we need heroes. People like Trump represent our aspirations for us, without embodying them. We take the illusion over the real thing, because it’s easier to understand. Sometimes people’s faith deserves to be rewarded. People like me are not heroes, but we are protectors of the ideas of what America is, what makes it great. We are conservatives. If the people hate those ideas, even while they chant, “USA!”, we can take it, as can America. It isn’t the first time it’s seen this hatred, and it won’t be the last, at least I hope it isn’t.
People might ask how I could call Trump “evil.” I’m going to be nuanced about this. I don’t know that Trump has evil intentions, but something about this man assuming he can be president strikes me as serving evil, rather than the good of this nation. He has not in my mind demonstrated the skill I think is necessary for the job, other than his skill at being a campaigner, which he drew from his many years as a salesman. Of course, for the good of the nation, I hope I am wrong about all of this.
This conversation with Kristol from June about “Where is the Republican Party headed?” provided what I thought were some good insights about what’s been going on in this election.
The most “down” note that Kristol made in this is that this election has looked a lot like those that have happened in the Third World. They’ve played out in Argentina, Eastern Europe, and Brazil in years past. They’ve had plenty of elections where one candidate is a socialist, one is an insider who’s gotten rich off the political system, and another is an authoritarian demagogic populist. What he didn’t address is how we’ve gotten to this state. I argue the reason is not economic. It is political. More deeply, it is epistemological. Not to say that we exist in an era where there are not economic problems, but that they’re a symptom. The cause is our ideas about how we should live together. The Obama presidency created a semi-banana republic, where the very wealthy could be looted at the whim of a dictatorial regime, but the property of most citizens was left untouched, though Obamacare is creating conditions where that’s becoming a problem for ordinary Americans as well.
This video by Bill Whittle explains that the Third World is really what “natural humans” create, humans who have not been educated morally and historically in the notions of equal rights, which include the natural rights of speech, association, religion, property/commerce, travel, among infinite others, and why we decided they should be respected, not just by us, but by our government, and that the government is there mainly to protect those rights.
Whittle said, “We’re the freaks.” We’re the ones who live unhumanly good lives compared to the rest of the world, because of our work ethic, and our understanding of freedom. I wonder if Kristol’s point is very observant. I wonder if what Whittle believes about us is a lie. If Kristol is right, we’re seeing a symptom of our decline in this election. The result isn’t going to get us out of our decline, because it is a product of our decline.
I should note that in the last couple weeks of the election, Whittle became a Trump supporter. I hope his faith in Trump is fulfilled, and Kristol is wrong. However, I don’t think that putting teleprompters in front of Trump is going to turn him into a more small-r republican executive. Habits don’t change that easily, and we should know better than that. I don’t see that level of understanding in our electorate.
Just to be clear, I would be saying the same thing if Clinton was elected. Once the Republican nomination happened as it did, the die was cast. The problem is our conception of the moral project of politics.
I’ve come to a pretty firm conclusion that I don’t understand the politics of this country anymore. I used to feel like I understood it somewhat. I saw it as a battle between progressives and semi-small-r republicans. Now, it’s progressive vs. progressive. We might as well say you can have any color you want, so long as it’s black; some dark shade of grey.
It used to be possible to have a reasonable conversation with many Republicans, at least (Democrats are largely a lost cause). Now, I think Republicans are mostly a lost cause as well. There wasn’t a strong affinity for my ideology of constitutionally limited government in the Republican Party, but there was some empathy for it. That is now gone. Limited-government Tea Party conservatives got crushed in this year’s Republican primaries. There will be fewer of them in the next session of Congress. Perhaps Republican voters thought good riddance. Less risk of another government shutdown with them out of the way, so that the public trough can be reliably full for them to feed off of. Romney’s 2012 statement about the “47%” was not off base in its basic thrust. Its criticism included Republicans as well as Democrats. I wish he had worded his statement differently, though. Not all dependents deserved to be painted with the same brush of “helplessness.”
I looked for third party candidates to support in the presidential race, but they were wanting as well. So, I didn’t vote for President in this election, and I think I will be leaving politics altogether, at least in the way I have pursued it. I want to understand better how to be influential in our culture. I have a desire to either enter education, or help educators, to help create better citizens, because what I see is that most of our citizens don’t understand what makes America great, even if many of them want greatness for our country. As a society, we don’t know what that means anymore, except for our memories of what it once was like. What I’ve been doing to help promote that understanding has utterly failed. Time to give that up, and do something that works.
This will be my last post. I’ve only been posting on here once a year, anyway. If I happen to see pro-liberty candidates for office, I will continue to vote for them.
I find it highly ironic that I’ve used this blog in an attempt to challenge political correctness in Boulder (and to talk about national political matters), and what’s convinced me to end my use of it is a political candidate who made running against political correctness his campaign theme. I think my departure from this blog will be for the good.
The American people have their own ideas for what they want this country to pursue, and it clearly doesn’t want people like me to be a part of the political discussion. So, I will leave the rest of you to it. Clearly, you’ve made our bed, and we’re all going to have to lie in it.
I leave you with this scene from the HBO series “Rome.” It illustrates the realization after Julius Caesar was killed that the Roman republic was dead. He was killed in the Senate, but caesarism did not die. All the people wondered afterwards was who would replace him as unquestioned ruler. In this scene, the defenders of the republic who killed Caesar are confronted by Mark Anthony, who offers a deal: Don’t call Caesar a tyrant, and you can stay as you are with no opposition from me. If you refuse, I’ll make your life a living hell, and I will do everything in my power to destroy you. Inside, the republicans debate whether to kill Anthony while they have the chance. Brutus, one of the republicans, refuses to consider it, saying basically that the reason they killed Caesar was his tyrannical acts. Anthony has done nothing wrong, and he’s offering a truce. They should agree. The others say no, Anthony is too dangerous. He was a close friend of Caesar’s, and he would betray them. In the end, Brutus speaks for all of them, and takes the deal. The republic was still dead. Nothing changed.
What Anthony got was the legitimacy of Caesar’s will, which would have been invalidated if the republicans had not taken the deal. All of Caesar’s wealth was bestowed on Octavian, but Anthony planned to use it all for himself. I see parallels with the game the country is now playing. We have the illusion of victory for “America,” but we’re dealing with power players who are playing their own game, carving up the spoils. The big question I think we should be asking ourselves is whether the republic is dead, or just in remission.