In Mr. Trump we encounter a politician who uses social media to bypass the realm of ideas entirely, addressing the sentiments of his followers without a filter of educated argument and with only a marginal interest in what anyone with a mind might have said.
.. National identity is the origin of the trust on which political order depends. Such trust does not exist in Libya or Syria. But it exists in America, and the country has no more precious asset than the mutual loyalty that enables the words “we, the people” to resonate with every American, regardless of whether it is a liberal or a conservative who utters them.
.. Those first words of the United States Constitution do not refer to all people everywhere. They refer to the people who reside here, in this place and under this rule of law, and who are the guardians and beneficiaries of a shared political inheritance. Grasping that point is the first principle of conservatism.
.. Our political inheritance is not the property of humanity in general but of our country in particular. Unlike liberalism, with its philosophy of abstract human rights, conservatism is based not in a universal doctrine but in a particular tradition, and this point at least the president has grasped.
.. But as Edmund Burke pointed out in one of the founding documents of modern conservatism, his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” we must “reform in order to conserve.”
.. In another of conservatism’s founding documents, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith argued that trade barriers and protections offered to dying industries will not, in the long run, serve the interests of the people. On the contrary, they will lead to an ossified economy that will splinter in the face of competition. President Trump seems not to have grasped this point. His protectionist policies resemble those of postwar socialist governments in Europe, which insulated dysfunctional industries from competition and led not merely to economic stagnation but also to a kind of cultural pessimism that surely goes entirely against the American grain.
.. Conservative thinkers have on the whole praised the free market, but they do not think that market values are the only values there are. Their primary concern is with the aspects of society in which markets have little or no part to play: education, culture, religion, marriage and the family.
.. He is a product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion. And perhaps the principal reason for doubting Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials is that being a creation of social media, he has lost the sense that there is a civilization out there that stands above his deals and his tweets in a posture of disinterested judgment.
Conservatives said we agree with the general effort but think you’ve got human nature wrong. There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order.
.. “The question of which comes first, liberty or order, was to divide liberals from conservatives for the next 200 years.”
.. The practical upshot is that conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed. This space is populated by institutions like the family, religion, the local community, the local culture, the arts, the schools, literature and the manners that govern everyday life.
.. Over the centuries conservatives have resisted anything that threatened this sacred space. First it was the abstract ideology of the French Revolution, the idea that society could be reorganized from the top down. Then it was industrialization. Conservatives like John Ruskin and later T. S. Eliot arose to preserve culture from the soulless pragmatism of the machine age.
.. Then it was the state. In their different ways, communists, fascists, social democrats and liberals tried to use the state to perform many functions previously done by the family, local civic organizations and the other players in the sacred space.
.. They both fizzled because over the last 30 years the parties of the right drifted from conservatism. The Republican Party became the party of market fundamentalism.
Market fundamentalism is an inhumane philosophy that makes economic growth society’s prime value and leaves people atomized and unattached. Republican voters eventually rejected market fundamentalism and went for the tribalism of Donald Trump because at least he gave them a sense of social belonging. At least he understood that there’s a social order under threat.
The problem is he doesn’t base his belonging on the bonds of affection conservatives hold dear. He doesn’t respect and obey those institutions, traditions and values that form morally decent individuals.
.. His tribalism is the evil twin of community. It is based on hatred, us/them thinking, conspiracy-mongering and distrust. It creates belonging, but on vicious grounds.
.. In 2018, the primary threat to the sacred order is no longer the state. It is a radical individualism that leads to vicious tribalism.
.. At his essence Trump is an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear — the habits and institutions that cultivate sympathy, honesty, faithfulness and friendship.
.. You can’t do that rethinking if you are imprisoned in a partisan mind-set or if you dismiss half of Americans because they are on the “other team.”
One of the more reliable themes in literature and popular culture is the idea of “staying on the path.” In Breaking Bad, Walter White plays a decent, hardworking high-school chemistry teacher. By the end, he’s a mass-murdering drug lord. The journey, like all such journeys, begins with a simple plan to take a single small step off the path.
.. Staying on the path is for lesser, weaker men.
.. In one sense, staying on the path is the simplest thing in the world. But as anyone who has tried to stay on a diet, go to the gym regularly, or start writing that term paper well ahead of the deadline can attest, the simplest things in life can often be the hardest. As Al Pacino, after his late-in-life graduation from Over-Acting School, says in Scent of a Woman, during the final “trial” scene:
I’m not a judge or jury. But I can tell you this: He won’t sell anybody out to buy his future!! And that, my friends, is called integrity! That’s called courage! Now that’s the stuff leaders should be made of. Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here’s Charlie. He’s come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It’s the right path. It’s a path made of principle — that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey.
.. Ron Haskins, also of the Brookings Institution, has identified what he calls the “success sequence”: “at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.” If young people do just these three things, in that order, they are almost guaranteed to climb out of poverty. “Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class (defined as earning around $55,000 or more per year).”
This is the path that almost guarantees a relatively decent life for poor people. And yet, many don’t follow it. Why? One reason: because it is hard. The pull of human nature is strongest when we are young — all those hormones! All of that adolescent arrogance! We think — feel, really — that the rules are for other people and that we can handle all of the possible consequence of indulging our glandular impulses. (Another reason more people don’t follow this path: Our culture and many of our elites heap scorn on it.)
.. Staying on the path may be the most conservative concept there is. “What is conservatism?” asked Abraham Lincoln. “Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?” People who think conservatism is opposed to all change miss the point entirely. Paths go places. They might not get us where we want to go as fast as we would like. But the conservative is deeply skeptical of shortcuts and simple plans to save time or effort. The rationalist temptation to “out think” the simple rules — what Oakeshott called “making politics as the crow flies” — may not always lead to tyranny or oppression, but the odds that it will are too great to justify the attempt.
.. Of course, he doesn’t deserve anything like all of the blame; conservatives often responded to his norm-breaking with norm violations of their own. The culture itself was ready for a president like Clinton, and that is its own indictment. Indeed, as Bill has often suggested, he was a victim of a breakdown in media practices and other norms that once would have protected him. That’s why he loves to hide behind whataboutist arguments about JFK’s transgressions. But it wasn’t just the sex. He broke norms, legal and otherwise, like a tornado ripping through town. Shaking down foreign donors , the White House travel-office firings, “Filegate,” selling pardons, the list goes on.
.. And Hillary Clinton wasn’t just standing by her man baking cookies. She was part of the racket. From her impossible genius at playing cattle futures, to her insidious cultivation of Sidney Blumenthal and David Brock, to her off-book email server, Hillary Clinton has always seen norms as something that should constrain other people.
.. I know liberals hate any “This is how you got Trump”
.. Donald Trump cast himself as a capitalist übermensch, who transcended the rules of a corrupt system he boasted about being a part of. He was one giant middle-finger to the norms, and he has invited a responding counter-attack on norms — from journalists, judges, and, it seems, at least a few FBI agents.
.. For instance, in a normal time, a man with his sordid sexual history could never get near the Republican nomination, never mind the presidency. But we live in a moment of whataboutist asininity when hypocrisy is considered a worse sin than the actual transgressions we’re hypocritical about.
.. It’s as if a murderer, who had a history of preaching against murder, is seen as more of a villain for violating his principles than for killing someone. No wonder Donald Trump could neutralize his transgressions simply by pointing to Bill’s. The common denominators cancelled out the numerators.
.. Point out that no reputable economist thinks we lose money from trade deficits the way Trump constantly insists, and the retort is, “Why don’t you want to make America great again?”
.. Point out that Trump Inc. is making money off the presidency in ways that would make the Clintons green with envy, and the reply is either eye-rolling or a fecal fog of whataboutism.
.. To paraphrase Nietzsche: Norms are for losers. Fighters make their own norms. Unity is the creed of MAGA, and its mantra of the One True Prophet is the order of the day. And if that means supporting a white-nationalist wannabe for the Senate, so be it. Campus conservatives used to define their intellectual rebelliousness by their support for certain ideas, now some define it chiefly by their fawning over a single politician.
Taft, whom Rosen calls “the only president to approach the office in constitutional terms above all.”
Wilson was the first president to criticize the American founding, particularly for the separation of powers that crimps presidential supremacy. Roosevelt believed that presidents are free to do whatever the Constitution does not forbid. Taft’s constitutional modesty held that presidents should exercise only powers explicitly granted by the document.
.. Romanticizers of Roosevelt ignore his belief that no moral equivalent of war could be as invigorating as the real thing
.. Taft“extended federal environmental protection to more land than Roosevelt” — and he created 10 national parks — “and brought more antitrust suits in one term than Roosevelt brought in nearly two.”
.. Roosevelt thought that, in industry, big was beautiful (because efficiently Darwinian) if big government supervised it... Taft unsuccessfully resisted President William McKinley’s entreaties that he become governor of the Philippines (“I have never approved of keeping the Philippines”)... In 1912, Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” promised populism rampant and a plebiscitary presidency untethered from constitutional inhibitions: “I don’t think that any harm comes from the concentration of powers in one man’s hands.”.. And “I believe in pure democracy,” the purity being unmediated, unfiltered public opinion empowered even to overturn state court decisions by referendums... The 1912 strife between conservative and progressive-populist Republicans simmered until Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 sealed conservatism’s ascendancy in the party.