June 22, 2016
The Republican Party set its life upon a cast, and must stand the hazard of the die. The die’s come up Trump. Even those who think they hold the indoor and outdoor records for opposing Donald Trump in the primary season should, and can without modifying their principles, support the GOP primary system’s selection, if only because of the alternative.
In 2014, at the fiftieth anniversary of the Philadelphia Society (the nongeographical clubhouse for the intellectuals of the conservative movement), the society’s president and 14 of his predecessors spoke for three minutes each about: “The Future of the Philadelphia Society in the Light of Its Past.”
One of them made these two points: The conservative movement began almost 60 years ago, in 1955, when Bill Buckley launched National Review magazine. Since then, with a few notable exceptions, it’s been downhill all the way. The state has grown relentlessly, and our freedoms have been curtailed.
In tennis and squash, and probably most other sports, the rule is: If you’re playing a winning game, keep it. If you’re playing a losing game, change it. We have been losing for 60 years. We are losing today. We need to change our game.
Now, two years later, we see Trump may be the game changer. He’s a one-man earthquake that may shake the voting blocks off their traditional shelves. Economically marginalized blue-collar workers, the unemployed, the disenchanted, the fearful, the resentful, and minorities may flock to the anti-Washington, anti-PC candidate. Voting patterns could be changed for generations. That would be great news.
Style Versus Substance Objections
No doubt, however, many of the people who were at that Philadelphia Society meeting are dismayed by the rise of the horrible and seemingly unstable Trump. Many will sit out the election. A few will make their peace with Hillary Clinton. One conservative movement intellectual has written:
Hillary Clinton, while definitely no angel, is more predictable, will be less dismissive of the Constitution, will promote policies that are more rooted in reality, will be less insecure in office, and has a greater understanding of how to get things done (even if you don’t like them) than Donald Trump.
True or not, that represents, more or less, the position of some conservatives today. Still, that is a program only for sticking out your chin and hanging on, not a call to arms befitting a free people. It is also certainly not a call that remembers the central role of Congress in the American tradition. We can do better.
We need to behave like adults and ask ourselves which of the two — and only two — candidates on offer would we rather have as president: an anarchist in the world of taste and judgment and the nation’s most conspicuous vulgarian, (which is how Buckley described Harry Truman) whose behavior, if not his principles (always assuming he has any) require us to despise him, or a liberal-socialist-progressive — who in her spare time just happens to be, with her husband, the world’s most conspicuous liar and crook (think Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, Filegate, Chinagate, Travelgate, cattle futures, the Marc Rich pardon, and stealing everything from the White House that wasn’t load-bearing)?
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a liberal Democrat, has fumed that Trump’s remarks disparaging Mexicans, women, prisoners of war, and the disabled “evince a man who lacks empathy. This — not his narcissism, not his lying, not his unfathomable ignorance — is his most dangerous characteristic.” Whoa, Nelly! Who knew? Who knew that empathy was the sine qua non for public office?
But notice: all the characteristics Cohen and many others who oppose Trump object to are just rhetorical noises. What about substance? What about Hillary Clinton’s substance?
A president Hillary Clinton, working with, let’s assume, a Democratic Congress, is a guarantee of the continuing growth of the state and the continuing loss of freedom. Riding high on the triple-crown steed of identity politics (race, gender, and, er, sexual orientation), Hillary Clinton will seriously diminish our freedom to enjoy and preserve the culture of Western Civilization, by a thousand rules enforced by liberal-progressive judges.
Our freedom to do business (and support our families) will be diminished by a myriad of monumentally oppressive regulations enforced by busloads of bureaucrats. Our freedom to live in peace will be diminished by perpetual war, goaded by the immensely incompetent Benghazi bungler who decided to depose an aging Libyan dictator who was no threat to the people of this country, a decision that left another part of the Middle East in chaos. The Supreme Court will be packed with liberal progressives, hot to reinterpret the First Amendment to ensure freedom from religion, to restrict free speech and democracy, and to restrict the right not to associate with people we don’t like (and don’t want our children showering with), and cocked to reinterpret the Second Amendment to disarm the citizens. And socialized medicine will, finally, come.
Yes, Hillary knows how to get things done all right, and for four (maybe eight) more years government would continue to grow, and freedom to shrink. How can the anti-Trump people be sure there’ll be enough tinder left then to reignite the flame of liberty?
Or Congress Could Get a Backbone
Conservatives who posit that Trump, with either a Republican Congress or a Democratic Congress, could be worse than Hillary Clinton have a case that even O. J.’s lawyers couldn’t make.
Could Trump build a wall all by himself, or might he need Congress’s approval? Could Trump deport a million illegal immigrants all by himself, or might he need Congress’s approval? Is there, really, anything Trump could do all by himself, without Congress’s approval? Is there anything he could do that would not be subject to being undone, or prohibited, by Congress?
The answer is twofold. First, Trump would clearly have some power to act unilaterally by executive order — and Democrats, having for seven years cheered on the extravagant use of that power, are understandably apoplectic as they contemplate Trump using the same tool. (We will now pause for five minutes of smirking.)
Second, whatever the president does, Congress, if it has the will, can amend or undo. With a lot of empathetic Democrats in Congress, Republicans, whether constituting a majority or not, should have little trouble managing a President Trump.
The point is this: If Congress ceases to be an actively functioning political institution, political liberty in the United States will come to an end. All Americans, and especially conservatives, need to understand that if a Trump presidency is a constitutional or military disaster (to be distinguished from a disappointment), the real fault will lie, not with President Trump, but with Congress, which holds the high card and will need to remind Trump of that every day: unlike Annie’s tomorrow, always a day away, impeachment can be voted on today.
Donald Trump too, like Richard III, has set his life upon a cast. Conservatives must see to it that the hazard he will stand is Congress.
Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of Education and Research Institute and senior director of White House Writers Group in Washington DC. In addition to serving as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Ronald Reagan, he was executive editor and subsequently chairman of the board of National Review.