Home Donald Trump Conservatism in the Age of Trump (My latest challenge to the conservatives)

Conservatism in the Age of Trump (My latest challenge to the conservatives)

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This is my weekly op/ed in my very red congressional district (VA-06).

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The Ideal of the Conservative

Picture the man or the woman who embodies the virtues of the good conservative.

(Many of them are liberal virtues as well, but I think they figure closer to the top of the values in the ideal conservative.)

The good conservative considers character to be an important component of the good, and something we should all cultivate within ourselves and support in others.

The good conservative is a “man of his word,” and is guided by his principles. She is a force for decency in the world, while also upholding certain standards.

Good conservatives believe in the rule of law, and in playing by the rules. They honor tradition, and the norms that compose the culture that enables the world to be more whole.

Indeed, the conservative believes that the good of the whole should be something one should be willing to sacrifice for. That’s what patriots do. “Greater love hath no man than this…”

It matters to the ideal conservative that things been done fairly.

How different is all that from the Republican world of today?

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Judging by the Faces on Mt. Rushmore

How does Trump, as President, compare with those four men whose heads are carved into Mt. Rushmore?

  • How does Trump compare with George “I cannot tell a lie” Washington, the one man that all sides in the new nation trusted to use his presidential powers justly?
  • How does Trump compare with Thomas “all men are created equal” Jefferson, the man with such a probing mind that he could write Notes on the State of Virginia; the scientist; and the champion of human rights (even if he didn’t free his slaves)?
  • How does Trump compare with Abraham “with malice toward none” Lincoln, a man of extraordinary empathy and deep moral commitments, who proved himself highly skilled at bringing people together – from his cabinet (that “team of rivals”) to the whole Union side – and at navigating huge and delicate political challenges. A man eager to hold out an olive branch to those on the other side (even if also unwilling to sacrifice deep principle to appease and maintain the peace)?
  • And how does Trump compare with Teddy “No man is above the law” Roosevelt, a man of extraordinary physical courage and deep-seated dedication to seeing that the vital interests of the common citizen were protected from the wielders of great wealth and power.

I try to understand the thinking of a conservative American who looks upon Mount Rushmore with feelings of patriotic pride, and who then also tells a pollster that he approves of Donald Trump as President.

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In the Expectation – and Perhaps Desire – of Defeat

People who were in a position to know have told us that Trump never expected to win. Even that he didn’t want to win. His bid for the presidency, they say, was rather a marketing strategy—a way of bolstering the name of “Trump” far beyond even what he’d accomplished by being the head honcho of the reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”

Didn’t expect to win. And yet he prepared the way for his defeat to rend the fabric of the nation. He told his millions of followers that if he lost, it would only be because the election had been “rigged.” With his accusations of a “rigged system” – for which he offered no evidence because there was none – this nominee of America’s conservative Party undermined in the minds of his supporters the legitimacy of the democratic system by which Americans have traditionally fought their political battles through elections, and without violence, and have then accepted the outcome.

As it happens, of course, Donald Trump won a majority in the Electoral College (if not a majority of votes cast) and thus won the presidency—apparently to his own surprise. And so the seeds of civil disorder and possible insurrection that he sowed during the campaign never sprouted, never bore their evil fruit.

But still it remains true: Mr. Trump – who expected to lose fair and square, who apparently ran simply to raise the value of his “brand” – chose to use the defeat to wound American democracy. Gratuitously. Destruction for no apparent purpose (except perhaps to escape from having to publicly acknowledge his not being the “winner” he always insists on being).

What does that choice tell us about the man? What would a good conservative think of such a person?