I came of political age during the era of Reagan, without the depth of knowledge of Goldwater or Hayek or even Buckley. It was always clear that the three pillars of his presidency were what defined conservatism;
• Strong national defense to maintain our unique – exceptional, even, if you will – political culture
• Lower taxes to keep money in the hands of people who use it most efficiently and effectively – most decidedly not(!) the federal government, and
• Lower regulation to encourage creation and development without the hindrance of poorly conceived and ineffective obstacles. Simple.
At the same time, the coalition that developed military interventionists, social conservatives, and fiscal conservatives seemed to be the triad most associated with conservatism. Under these parameters, over the last decade or so, four of the political writers I most admired and followed were Allahpundit of HotAir, Kevin Williamson of NRO, Ben Shapiro of Breitbart, and Jonah Goldberg of NRO (along with Michelle Malkin and Mark Steyn among others). Post 11/8 (A.T.), I eventually stopped following all four of those writers on Twitter. This would have been unimaginable to me a year ago. It seems to me to be a problem for the idea of Republican unity, not one that should be readily dismissed.
I have had many discussions with friends over conservatism, we all make compromises. I am not religious, many people immediately want to re-categorize me in the Libertarian camp, but I appreciate what Christianity has done for Western Civilization, America, and humanity, and the absolute inseparability of the American spirit and culture and the Christian ethic and ethos from which those rose. I am indifferent on whether we should be actively engaged with our military, or withdraw into a true fortress America, but I do think we should do one or the other without prevarication. However, I am adamant about the evils of government because of the weakness of Man. So in all, I reject the other side of the communist pipe dream coin that is libertarianism, and I join with my fellow imperfect conservatives in the fight of the totalitarian and inhumane left.
Trump, having come out of nowhere (relatively speaking) to take the mantle of the Republican Party, has a different focus that essentially boils down to America First. This seems as good a new definition for conservative under the Republican banner as any. Allow me to add my own: a conservative makes decisions on reality, the left on fantasy. Period. This has, of course, been discussed countless times over the centuries and is not a new idea. At its core, most of the ideals we look at in conservativism come back to this marker.
The hope of the left is that the government will make all the rules that will lead to a fair and just society (by whose definition is another matter). Reality teaches us different on this matter, it teaches that people are too weak and too self-interested, and when vested with the power of the sword, they will largely work to protect and enrich themselves, no matter the real cost to others. The hope is that a high tax rate will even out the wealth in a way that allows for all to be taken care of and subdue class differences and envy. The reality is that unfair taxes punish, discourage, and only shift the privilege to a different sector (Big Government). The hope is that by being “against war” we will have a world of peace and harmony. The reality is that weakness will be filled by power, and in most cases, that power will be wielded by evil. Basically, one man’s peace in one part of the world is another man’s (or more likely woman’s) slavery in another part.
This brings us back to Trump and the conservative writers I have recently eschewed. They seem to be clinging to their ideas of free trade and the conservatism that they have espoused for decades no matter whose ear they lose. There is a passage I like from a Jack London book has to do with the character trying to plead with his sister to get people to adopt socialism. He uses Jesus as his example (controversial among conservatives, I know), she says that over all the thousands of years people still have not listened, so maybe it is time to give it up because he does not convince anyone. The NRO conservatives risk going the way of reason and the libertarians in being irrelevant because they have not convinced anyone.
The deficit is at $20 trillion, and few people seem to be serious about doing anything about it. Certainly, Trump seems to be all on board with a monster spending “infrastructure” stimulus. His fealty to free trade is tenuous at best. Nobody on the left even pretends to care about deficits or forward thinking economic policy (to them, every day is a freeze frame that requires their fairness adjuster without care for past or future). In an election with a plethora of genuine conservatives, the voters on the right selected Trump. NRO and your kind, the people have listened, and you do not convince them.
This should not be a surprise when we look at unions. For decades, the stereotypical union man would likely love his country, embrace his guns, probably be Christian, and yet, he would vote lock step with the left because of the union support. Many of these voters have finally been driven away by the anti-America left, and they have brought their economics with them. So be it. Trump wants strong borders because the reality is that weak borders weaken the American culture and its foundation in the rule of law, which in turn weakens the world’s delicate grasp on freedom and democracy. The reality is that Trump wants to lower taxes and regulation to allow for creation and weaken the DC grip on wealth. The reality is that Trump wants a strong military presence without bogging down in wars to protect American interests. The reality is that Trump wants to spend money on this country and protect our interests in trade. None of these should be so hard for the NRO conservatives to get behind, but they can’t get away from their own fragile egos and insecurities. That to me is a shame.
The reality is that Donald Trump is rude and crude and doesn’t play by the accepted Queensberry rules that have made the right impotent over the last 20 years, and allows all the usual players to play the game knowing the outcome ahead of time, an outcome that they will all benefit from at our expense. The reality is that Donald Trump will define conservatism going forward, whether the discarded, smarter set on the right want to come along or not. Based on the results the right has delivered since 1988, that is an unqualified good thing from where I stand.