Eleven Nine— The day after– 43jh.
Americans awoke on the morning of 11/9 to a different political world. There is only one word to explain what happened, and it is called democracy.
The usual claims progressives invoke to deny that real democracy exists in America do not seem to apply in this case. A bought election? Hillary Clinton outspent her rival massively and enjoyed the support of many more of the big donors. There are no Koch brothers to kick around this time. Support from the big organized interests? Major unions, prestigious associations, and the denizens of the most powerful corporate board rooms were overwhelmingly in Clinton’s camp, just as Bernie Sanders had charged. Bias for one side by the major media? No contest here; Clinton enjoyed a huge advantage.
Progressives face a difficult choice. Either they can blame democracy or they can fault Clinton. Much might be learned, of course, if they offered, like America’s own founders, an honest assessment of democracy’s limits. But it is encoded in their DNA to flatter it, at least in public. Only in the back rooms and among themselves do they define democracy as the rule of the deplorables. It is more likely, therefore, that they will turn their animus against the Clintons and blame them for pulling progressives into their culture of unseemly deals and continuing corruption. The civil war within the Republican party may ebb just as the civil war in the Democratic party begins to heat up. Democrats will need to look for new heroes, as Bill Clinton’s luster was destroyed by this campaign and President Obama’s vaunted legacy looks more and more tenuous.
The uprising of the people was so overlooked that even the scientists of democratic behavior, the pollsters, missed it. Hence the surprise victories in both elections of a Republican president and the much-better-than-expected performance of the GOP in congressional races.
The movement of 2016 has no such coherent philosophy. It is the product, for now, of raw and powerful sentiments and of a set of discrete and inchoate positions that can change by the day. It has been tied to one person, Donald Trump, who eschewed this entire intellectual infrastructure, less really from contempt than from indifference. Practicing politics (or anything else) by reference to a structure of ideas is to him simply another world, a different way of processing reality, of getting things done, and of managing affairs. His is not the art of theoretical thinking, but the art of the deal. Some in the conservative intellectual class have even taken to seeing this approach as a liberating step, freeing conservatism from what they charge has become a form of modern-day scholasticism.
Trump’s unlikely emergence was akin to that of a party crasher. No one in the GOP initially took him seriously, as he defied one conservative piety after another. Some of his rivals chose to coddle rather than confront him, hoping to absorb his growing support once he was disposed of. If there is blame to be assessed for his rise, much of it goes to his major contenders who, each naturally ambitious for himself, refused to subordinate their personal careers to a larger set of conservative principles that they held, roughly, in common. Consciously or not, Trump followed the age-old strategy of divide and conquer, and his rivals played their part to perfection, offering themselves one by one to the slaughter.
The prospect of selecting Donald Trump as the GOP’s nominee led to the so-called civil war within the party, as many leaders refused to countenance his nomination and others endorsed it, with more or less enthusiasm. The conflict grew most acute within the intellectual class, even as that class, like the donor class, saw its influence within the political process collapse. The less power the intellectuals had, the more heated grew the debate. The greater part of intellectuals denounced Trump and joined to stop him by forming a movement of their own, referred to as Never Trump, with or without a hashtag. This group saw the danger of a demagogic candidacy and a threat to democratic norms. Opposed were a smaller number of intellectuals, who jumped in, at first tepidly, to defend Trump, admitting some of the flaws but reminding others that this was not a decision made in a vacuum but a choice between two evils. Vexed by what they thought was a lack of realism and a surplus of moralism among their adversaries, many reached their limit when they observed the same criticism of Trump being parroted by the Sultans of Sanctimony on the left, who pronounced daily on Trump’s outrages while referring to any limitations of the Clintons as minor mistakes or flaws.
It was said during the last months of the campaign that this split represented a fundamental cleavage within conservative thought. And as the argument grew more acrimonious, as political arguments invariably do, it came to be thought that fundamental and systematic differences in conservative thinking were somehow the original cause of the division. More sober voices, however, tried to remind everyone that this dispute did not cause the nomination of Trump; on the contrary, it was the nomination of Trump that caused the dispute. Few if any conservative intellectuals had Trump as their first option or favored him as the party’s nominee, and there is practically no correlation to be found between the kind of conservative one is and the position one took during this argument. This fact led to the hope that once Trump was defeated, which most thought likely, the “war” would eventually end.
The fate of the relations among conservative intellectuals is certainly not among the top items of concern within the new circles of political power. But its importance for the nation and for conservatism is real, even in the near term. However much a campaign and election can be run, as we now know, without much input from intellectuals, the nation cannot be governed, or governed well, without their help. Facts have changed, and all are obliged to work in the world we live in, not the one they thought we would live in. For the conservative intellectuals who opposed Trump, they know—and knew all along—that there are many items on his agenda that they favor, from his likely picks for the Supreme Court, to his rebuke of political correctness, to his certainty of eliminating many regulations, to, perhaps, his building of a beautiful wall, to mention only a few things. As the campaign continued, in fact, the list of items on the agenda that included matters many conservatives favor grew, even as other things remained anathema.
None of this will or should matter to conservatives, however, unless Trump’s provocations cease and unless he comes to govern as a president, not as a strongman. Donald Trump is the head on paper of a unified government with Republicans in the majority of both houses of Congress and in charge of most of the state governments. This is the dream conservatives have been pursuing for decades. Yet while unified on paper, the party is far from fully unified in fact. Herein, paradoxically, may lie a great opportunity.
On the crucial question of the character of rule, Republicans in Congress must now insist on the importance of constitutionality and adhere to the same principles they planned to adopt had Clinton been elected. This election must not be seen as one Caesar replacing another, but a restoration of a serious balance in our political system. There will be more than enough room in such an arrangement to enact a vigorous program, yet also enough security to assure that America’s liberties remain safe. On this basis, conservatives who have opposed Trump should consider coming in from the wilderness and lending their energies and talents to the new administration, reserving their privilege to pull out if things go too far. And president-elect Trump, whether he realizes it now or not, should seek their help, for his good and for the good of the nation.
source-weekly standard, james ceaser,