Someone recently told me that he was tired of all the Cruz bashing. Welcome to our world, where many of us have been derided most despicably, not because we support Trump, but that we welcome what he potentially brings. It is easy to get lost in the politics of the man, and the anti-Trump crowd has been fervent in deriding the man despite his obvious conservative bonafides. More astonishingly, most have forgotten the Machiavellian admonishment to try to “touch the man” in who he is. Touching the man means arriving at some truth of who he is.
The #NeverTrump/anti-Trump crowd has failed, and rightly so. They deserve their loss. They had no plan to address the real problems facing the Republic other than to just say no. And just say no never works (apologies to Nancy Reagan).
We have laid much criticism at 538 because Nate Silver has failed to capture reality and his methodology has been woefully inaccurate, but this much might be right: “Donald Trump has had a good run of numbers lately. While his victory in New York this week was expected, he got 60 percent of the vote, more than the roughly 55 percent projected by the polls. He appears headed for victories in Maryland and Pennsylvania, which vote on Tuesday. He’s gained ground in California and is narrowly ahead of Ted Cruz in the first public polls of Indiana. He’s added about 2 percentage points over the past two weeks in our national polling average.”
Cruz is having a lot of problems with his narrow campaign, and when he chose to play the insider’s game, the voters started to leave him because his craven ambition was on display for all to see. He never was an “outsider.” Further, he never spoke to the concerns of the regime, and his campaign was a traditional 80s style campaign bent on reviving the old religious morality claims attached to the Constitution. In many ways, he revealed himself as a logical positivist not as a Constitutionalist. But as we considered this week, those days are over, and whatever one might think of Trump, Kempism of the 80s died because the Republican Party killed it in 1988. Peter Spiliakos is right about the death, but a few decades off on when it expired.
The Wall Street Journal has had two provocative editorials in succeeding weeks. The first is by Yuval Levin, and it represents a Mastiff of sound. But this is all yada yada yada behind a black mask of the same old tired and worn rhetoric that has not been delivered upon nor, the people suspect, is really believed by those who assert it.
Levin mis-perceives the problem when he writes:
Mr. Trump marks not the beginning of a new phase in American politics but the end of an old one—the exhaustion of a mid-20th-century model of national politics that can no longer meet the needs of 21st-century America. Mr. Trump disgorges an angry aggregation of failures and complaints, but he offers no solutions and no way forward.
The last sentence just is not true. To assert he has no idea of the future, after ignoring that he wants to “return” us to “greatness” means he has some idea of what he wants. Levin does to address with depth and seriousness the message resonating with a majority of the public in this regard.
But Levin thinks Trump means this:
Much of Mr. Trump’s appeal has to do with his even vaguer nostalgic message. He mentions no specific peak to recover and offers little in the way of a policy agenda; he just harks back to a lost American greatness and says that he alone can recapture it by reversing globalization, immigration and other modern trends. And in the process, by impugning Mexicans, Muslims and women, he embraces the ethnic or cultural animosities of some of those who most resent the ways America has changed. He has taken the logic of our nostalgic politics to its absurd conclusion.
This is an absurdity because it’s incomplete. Levin’s criticism also reflects much of the criticisms of the left on the right, and if you want to know why many Republicans are supporting Trump in the electorate, all you have to do is see how the stalwarts of the party and intellectual conservatism have so quickly latched onto the left’s attacks on the right as a reason to oppose Trump. More Republican voters than I can count have said to me, “we always knew they were not committed conservatives because they never really fought the left when it mattered.” That may not be entirely correct, but it is easy to see why they might think so. Still, National Review has abandoned good people when they should have been defended. Derbyshire anyone? We have been waiting for the same fate to be visited upon VDH.
As an aside, its likely time that an alternative be created to National Review and the Weekly Standard. Though we respect them, it’s time for new blood. As we note, Noonan speaks to this sad development on the right below.
Levin speaks of “immigration,” when he should be talking about Borders–you know like the Romans should have been thinking of borders. He speaks of Muslims, when he should have been speaking seriously about the Declaration’s understanding of Safety & Happiness (hell a simple reference to Publius in this regard would have been nice). But no, Levin trollops out the tripe of a vacuous ideology that has already died. New Conservatism to him is, after scratching the surface, more of the same emptiness. Trump in Waterbury, Ct. on Saturday (April 23) poked fun at exactly this in his speech that morning.
Listen to Levin, and ask yourself if there is anything new here:
The greatest challenges that America now confronts are the logical conclusions of the path of individualism and fracture, dissolution and liberation that we have traveled since the middle of the last century. And the greatest resources at our disposal for tackling those challenges are the products of our having traveled this path too. We face the problems of a fractured republic, and the solutions we pursue will need to call upon the strengths of a decentralized, diffuse, diverse, dynamic nation.
And what are the prescriptions?
- Diversity of bottom up economic approaches
- Healthcare? Liberate insurers.
- Education? Liberate parents
- As progressives die, and they will die, conservatives can make the above points more “boldly.”
This is not a serious answer to the serious problems the country faces. Levin needles at the edges, and his “conservatism” does not even begin to see the Republic’s deeper problems, much less provide a basis for a new conservatism. He doesn’t seem to get the regime is at stake, and that question is most comprehensive and serious. Trumpism is the only opportunity that attempts to answer it. Trumpism is the only candidate who takes the foundational aspect of consent serious, and celebrates it. His is not progressivism, or populism, his is Declarationist.
Levin is wrong in a most fundamental way: Trump does not mark the end, he marks a potential beginning for Progress AND Return.
It’s enough to make the old guard cry. Peggy Noonan is weeping. There’s much to weep about. On ABC This Week on Sunday both Bill Kristol and Anna Navarro literally capitulated to the Clinton/left talking heads on their panel assenting to everything they had to say about “Republicans” by not defending republicanism. Yes, there’s a lot to weep about to be sure. Noonan notes this:
I was offended that those curiously quick to write essays about who broke the party were usually those who’d backed the policies that broke it. Lately conservative thinkers and journalists had taken to making clear their disdain for the white working class. I had actually not known they looked down on them. I deeply resented it and it pained me. If you’re a writer lucky enough to have thoughts and be paid to express them and there are Americans on the ground struggling, suffering—some of them making mistakes, some unlucky—you don’t owe them your airy, well-put contempt, you owe them your loyalty. They too have given a portion of their love to this great project, and they are in trouble.
It is indeed shocking-not the Trump phenomenon, but the fact that people who were respected intellects have devolved into the vapidness of the opposition. Behind all of it is a contempt for the average voter and those who disagree with them. Locke’s Toleration has certainly been forgotten, if even read. A conservatism built on the contempt for fellow citizens who are predisposed to assent to some general conservative vision of America is one destined to fail. In this way, NR and WS have stood in direct opposition to the Declarationist intent of the nation, especially the likes of Kevin Williamson.
Like Levin, Noonan is sorrowful for the past, but the new past of her life. Things are changing in the country. But where Noonan sees something to weep about, we see something to be hopeful–we see opportunity. For Noonan the way things are is frittering away. Part of her sorrow is a generational angst. The older generation never thinks the new generation is doing well. Indeed, the older generation thinks the world is going to Hell. But, they forget that historically speaking there are generations where much is given and not much received in return. These are hard years, but necessary for formation. Athens and Rome knew this well. So did the Revolutionary generation.
This finally gets us to Leo Strauss and “Progress or Return.” Strauss write o the surface as if he is speaking about religious return at the admonishment of the prophet. We are admittedly extrapolating from that and making it more political in terms of return. The juxtaposition in Strauss is that the prophet speaks to the rebellion of the people to return to their former faith calling the “people to account” (RCPR, 229).
Progress, Strauss notes, looks back at the most imperfect beginning. There’s something wrong with the beginning of things. The Democrats are progressives in this sense, but the modern Republicans too have nodded at the argument in some way. Strauss concludes on a pithy paragraph on America v. Judaism that, “No one claims that faith in America and the hope for America are based on explicit divine promises” (RCPR, 233). Instead, the parties have not so much a belief in progress, but the idea of progress and the belief in it.
This is unraveling in the phenomena of Trump. Trump is anti-progress as conventionally used in our political discourse. He is not for “change” but he questions how that change has worked out for us the last 30 years. In that sense, there is no difference between Bush, Clinton, Gore, Romney, McCain, and Clinton. Trumpism represents a complete rejection of progress as progressive.
What we are witnessing is not the end that Levin and Noonan speak of, but a call to Return to an ancient political faith and in that Return, we will have actual progress. progress here is the flourishing of religious faith (by ignoring it, non cognizance), by economic recovery (through the rebuilding of our infrastructure, including manufacturing–the NEW Internal Improvements), and finally, through a resurrection of the Idea of America by protecting our borders, and not exporting democracy abroad. There are more specific themes Trumpism calls to our attention, but the most fundamental ideas of Faith and Founding are most present in Trumpism. Trump’s call is a preemptive strike against the Cato-like criticism that “you have lost Rome!”
Strauss asserts that Western Civilization has been formed on the twin polls of το Βιβλιον και φιλοσοφια (religion/Bible and Philosophy–reason and revelation–Faith and Wisdom). Trumpism does not seek to “harmonize” reason and revelation, but her certainly takes the claims seriously (RCPR, 245). Trumpism stands in distinct opposition to Ich Woll! (I will or THE will). His religious non-cognizance and revival of federalism represents a recovery of the Jeffersonian understanding of the rights of conscious–one of the basis of the Declaration’s claims the Nature bestows upon ALL men.
Unlike Cruz or Kasich, or Clinton and Sanders, who in some way want to use the Will to “substitute” a political “morality” (RCPR, 242), Trump represents a Return to our Ancient political faith baptized in the Natural belief of “all men are created equal.” This is the heart of his anti-political correctness assault. To put it in Strauss’ terms, Trump opens the debate and offers a tendentious alliance between the anthropocentric, theocentric, and cosmocentic elements of political thought. Trump asserts a sense of natural rights (think of his stand on the 2nd Amendment), with the ancient sense of duty in his campaign–it’s why he’s running. He says it at nearly every speech.
Trumpism does not offer a choice between Progress or Return, he offers Return and Progress.