We have all heard the exhortation, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” And so what do we make of Donald Trump supporters? I’m not speaking of those folks grudgingly voting for the worst candidate ever fielded by the Republican Party in a Presidential election. They generally understand that Trump is more than just a flawed candidate; he is in fact abysmally rotten. But for them, the horrific thought of the criminal Clinton parking her felonious derriere in the seat of power is unfathomable, and so a vote for the only “opposing” candidate seems the logical choice. I fully support this thought process as it exhibits, at least, some actual thought. But a recent conversation with a rabid Trump supporter perfectly encapsulated the flawed Trumpian movement for me.
It began like any other conversation between anti- and pro-Trump advocates (naturally) with Trump’s latest foot-in-mouth faux pas, and progressed immediately (of course) to vulgarity and name calling by the Trumpist – with exhortations to “just go vote for the c@#*(Hillary) if you want!” Ah, the intellectual depth of Trumpism must be personally experienced to be fully appreciated.
During the course of the “conversation” the Trumpist revealed to me that he is “no longer a liberal or a conservative, just a pissed off mother@$#^%& who wants to stick it to the Democrats.” Well sure, because revenge is always a solid political philosophy. Right? The saddest part of this shtick is that whether Trump wins or loses (and I’m pretty sure he’ll lose… Yuge!) is that Trumpists will be the most disappointed, and soon forgotten, group of people in American history. If he wins and doesn’t stick it to the Democrats (or illegal aliens, or the Establishment, or the dirty Joos, or the Chai-nees, or the RINOs – whatever that means at any given moment – or pretty much any other target group that doesn’t actually support him) it will demonstrate what many of us instinctively knew from the beginning; that Trump isn’t actually a Republican or a conservative or even a particularly adept politician. If he loses (no matter by how much), then we’ll hear for years to come how the election was rigged and how the #NeverTrump movement sabotaged his campaign.
I was driving in my truck – thinking about the pending despondency of the Trump movement – when a song on the radio caught my ear. It was Taylor Swift’s vastly overplayed hit “I knew you were trouble.” It might as well become the theme song for the post-election Trumpists. In Swift’s words,
“I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
Flew me to places I’d never been
‘Til you put me down, oh
I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
Flew me to places I’d never been
Now I’m lying on the cold hard ground…
And the saddest fear comes creeping in
That you never loved me or her, or anyone, or anything, yeah.”
Of course, for those of us who haven’t fallen under The Donald’s hypnotic spell, we knew he was trouble from the beginning. We have wanted to avoid the cold, hard ground all along, but that is where it seems a minority of Republican voters have wrestled us down to.
The bottom line is that the Trump movement is first and foremost about revenge. And revenge, at its core, is rash and shortsighted, always leaving its protagonists unfulfilled and discontented. Even if Trump et al. were able to completely vanquish their liberal foes, they would nevertheless be restlessly seeking other targets to destroy. The truth is they will never be happy because they will never be satisfied because they have no firm footing. In other words, they won’t know when they’re done.
When the Trumpist mentioned above revealed to me that he is no longer a liberal or a conservative I was left wondering, then, what he is. If he stands for nothing then what is his fight for or against? This person is not an outlier. He is in fact the epitome of the Trump movement. Trumpists cannot competently claim to be advocating for the Republican Party or against the Democrats, despite their hearty pretense to the contrary. They likewise cannot claim to be Constitutionalists, as their talisman candidate understands little about the document itself or the guiding principles of the Founders. Their motivator is anger and their goal is destruction of the status quo (however loosely defined that is).
What is most revealing is when one mentions conservatism or the Constitution to a die hard Trumpist. The response is often along the lines of, “You’re another RINO,” or, “You’re part of the Establishment,” or, “You’re stuck in the past,” or, “You’re too rigid (or academic or conventional, or formalistic, etc.).” Rarely is there acknowledgment of the things that have actually built and sustained the world’s most successful historical aberration. That’s what America is, after all. It’s an aberration. It is a full throated departure from every other form of government ever devised by mankind. What we have today, the way we live, the rights we protect, the things we take for granted are a direct result of the oddity designed and built by the Founders. But what Trumpists seem to want is to burn down the ramparts, not realizing that what follows can never be what was. They are so focused on the damage that a Clinton presidency will certainly cause that they have completely lost sight of the damage a loose cannon will cause. Rather than burning down the ramparts, our course (as always) should be instead to shore them up, to become more Constitutional, more conservative, more set in the formalistic ways that built this country. What is needed is not destructive anger and resentment, but rather focused energy. For Trumpists, though, that is considered a RINO mindset. Yes, the Founders were rebels who started a war, but they were disciplined rebels who had studied history and understood why governments function successfully or fail to function. And before they upended Britain they devised something to replace it – a republic – knowing full well that revolution in the absence of a valid replacement government would lead only to anarchy. Trumpism, though it may at times and in varying degrees claim adherence to founding principles, is nevertheless wholly untethered from them. It is anarchy. No single Trumpist can claim to speak for the movement because Trump himself cannot. There is no mooring or anchor for their ship which tosses wildly on the storm-driven Trumpian sea.
It seems Trumpists, not standing for anything in particular, have fallen for orange ambiguity. When Trump says we should abandon Obamacare, Trumpists shout hurrah! When he later says he believes in a single-payer healthcare system, they huzza with equal vigor. When he says he’ll deport every illegal alien, they cheer with unbridled delight. When he later says he’ll let the “good ones” back in, they applaud with duplicate rapture. When he says he’ll protect the Constitution they acclaim, “You see? He’s a Constitutionalist!” When he later says he’ll use executive orders to bypass Congress (just like Obama has done), or that he’ll seek legislation to punish press outlets that write unflattering stories of him, they chant “pragmatic politics!” When Trump claims he’s a free-market advocate, his devotees swoon with delight. When he subsequently says he’s in favor of raising the federal minimum wage, the swooning continues unabated. When he says Obama has ruined the economy, the bootlickers chant “Yea Verily!” When he later says he’ll double Hillary’s infrastructure spending, they shout it louder. If I were a Trumpist I’d have already contacted my chiropractor for a neck brace.
The point of this rambling has been to demonstrate that Trumpism cannot make America great again. The only thing that can is that which made it great in the first place – Constitutionalism. And Constitutionalism’s best friend in the modern world is conservatism. Now I grant you that conservatism can sometimes be as difficult to pin down as a bowl of Jell-O, but in order for something to be called a movement it must have some meaning. Trumpism is, dare I say, meaningless. It cannot firmly attach itself to conservative moorings, nor liberal or libertarian ones. It reaffirms and then contradicts itself so regularly one would be hard pressed to call it a movement at all. It is more rightly a theater of the absurd where contradictory claims can each hold equal status. Liberalism thrives because it staunchly adheres to a model of statism which holds that “the government” (people smarter and better positioned to make decisions than you or me) should control the economy and social policy. It is a very attractive philosophy for those who want to believe in something but do not want to do the hard work of figuring out why. Conservatism, as best as one can define it, at least believes firmly in a free-market, limited government and light regulation by that government, equal opportunity, personal liberty, and national security. And all of that should occur within a strict adherence to the Constitution. The Constitution is conservatism’s anchor. It is at the very heart of what we stand for. And that is why we cannot fall for a Cheeto Jesus clad in gold.
So where does that leave us as a nation moving forward after November? Obviously, the Republican Party is fractured – probably beyond repair. And although Trumpists, such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, intend to hold non-Trumpists “accountable” for not supporting their shiny object of a candidate, I suspect a great many Trumpists down the road will be looking for a place to hang their hat.
Conservatism, though, has always considered itself the “Big Tent” party and that should not change in this case. When Hillary Clinton successfully turns our once great republic into an oversexed, racist, secular, late-term-abortion nightmare, Americans who seek a better path will need a place to gather. If Trump gets his hand on the reins, Americans who recognize his very statist-like comportment will likewise be seeking shelter. Conservatism is that shelter and needs to survive in order for America to survive.
Hopefully, conservatives will not be looking to hold accountable Trumpists and their bitterly flawed attempt at righting a sinking ship. They got one thing wrong, but they are, in the end, patriotic Americans who just want things to be the way they once were. It will be our job as Constitutional conservatives to provide them with a soft landing, and to remind all Americans that the road back to normalcy begins where it always has – with the Constitution.