Given the hysteria of so many, it may seem surprising to note that what Donald Trump promised was a return to political sanity. If not a full-scale conservative program, Mr. Trump’s is a crucial program for the preservation and possible renewal of the American way of life…

trumpNow that Donald Trump is President-elect, there is among most decent Americans a strong and rational desire to put aside the unpleasantness of #nevertrump. After all, should we all not try to get along? That said, given the continuing assaults from leftist crybullies, both on the streets and on the Broadway stage, it seems worthwhile to consider what those within both the old and the nascent Republican coalitions can and should expect from a Trump Presidency. All Americans should want the Trump Presidency to succeed. Conservatives positively need it to succeed. Such success requires that at least most of the #nevertrumpers become reconciled with and within a ruling coalition that can govern and return sanity to American public life. And any such return can be made real only on the basis of reasonable expectations.

Reasonable expectations for the Trump Presidency must focus neither on recent fear-mongering, nor on down-the-line conservative orthodoxy. Rather, they must focus on what Mr. Trump actually promised. Given the hysteria of so many, it may seem surprising to note that what he promised was a return to political sanity: Concern for the national self-interest rather than globalist ideology, preservation of national borders, concern for the economic well-being of the American people, and an end to the radical ideological programs destroying our educational system and undermining the character, self-understanding, and knowledge of our young people. This is no full-scale conservative program—it lacks any overt commitment to principles of local self-government and restoration of a virtuous public square. But it is a crucial program for the preservation and possible renewal of the American way of life.

Can enough Americans of conservative inclination be brought into Mr. Trump’s broadly populist coalition to form a relatively stable governing majority? Perhaps. But first #nevertrumpers must reconsider what it is they can reasonably demand from “their” administration. Expectations vary according to the character of the #nevertrumper. There were at least two major factions within #nevertrump. First were committed supporters of establishment centrist politics. Best embodied in the person of neoconservative commentator Bill Kristol, these were political animals devoted to a certain program of action best described as managed internationalism. An intrusive foreign policy was seen as the centerpiece of a campaign to “make the world safe” for democratic capitalism. First brought into the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan, neoconservatives made their name by opposing the worst excesses of the campus left and by supporting a muscular American strategy during the Cold War. But it was well after the Cold War’s successful conclusion, under George W. Bush, that neoconservatives became the center of the Republican Party, pushing aside more traditional conservatives as the “war on terror” combined with massive, detailed, government-sponsored “free-trade” agreements took center stage, fiscal responsibility was sacrificed in the name of politicized compassion, and the surrender of our borders became habitual, if under-reported.

Some internationalist #nevertrumpers have recognized, if not the error of their ways, at least the writing on the political wall. Whether Paul Ryan lives up to his pledge to support the more conservative and nationalist policies demanded by most Republican voters remains to be seen. But it seems clear that the battle for control of the Republican Party will be fought out on the field of power politics. Bill Kristol and the rest of the Republican establishment will attempt to undermine President Trump’s policies in a variety of ways. Should they succeed, the cost to the republic will be great. Should they fail, we can count on many of them making their peace with the new coalition, while others retire from the stage, stake out more clearly dissident positions, or go “home” to the Democratic Party. (The last would be ironic, given that Mr. Trump’s centrism, or old liberalism, on social welfare policies better matches the demands of neoconservatives than traditional conservatives who seek to scale back the morally debilitating welfare state.)

More worrisome, to my mind, are the religious #nevertrumpers. My concern may be somewhat personal in nature—I know and respect a number of such persons. More generally, however, I think it necessary to address the critical mistake made by many religious #nevertrumpers. The mistake? Believing that culture’s fundamental role in any decent life means that cultural conservatives can afford to substitute our own form of virtue-signaling for meaningful engagement in the often unpleasant business that is politics. It certainly is correct to say that in the end culture trumps politics—it is more important than politics and, as the Framers of our Constitution recognized, fundamentally shapes it. But, as any Marxist dictator or leftist college professor will tell you, a ruling cadre with enough drive and power can not only trump, but also shape and even destroy a culture.

Too many people of faith looked at Donald Trump, were horrified at his rhetoric and personal conduct, and decided that they could not in good conscience support him, no matter what the cost. When confronted with the fact that their failure to support Mr. Trump was, in practice, support for Hillary Clinton, they fell back on the conservative-sounding claim that “culture is what matters” or merely repeated the worst fear-mongering of the Left. Religious #nevertrumpers proclaimed that they would continue as always to raise their children in their faith, work to build communities, and otherwise lead Christian (for some Jewish) lives, confident that “we will win in the end.” Many of the acts they promised are highly virtuous, but willful blindness to the consequences of political inaction is neither virtuous nor wise.

In essence, religious #nevertrumpers were claiming that politics matter so little that the difference between a Trump and a Clinton presidency was unimportant for our culture. It is good that this view did not win over more people than it did. It is important that this view be abandoned so that we might have some chance of victory in the struggle ahead.

People of faith dodged an only slightly metaphorical bullet when Mrs. Clinton lost her presidential bid. When someone is coming at you with a gun, it is no good saying that he is deranged by bad culture. You first must get out of the line of fire. Then you must disarm him. Only after both these are accomplished can you afford to worry about the source of his murderous intent.

We have moved out of the way of the anti-religious bullet aimed at us by the Democratic Establishment. New moves like that seeking to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide free contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs are less likely now—or at least less likely to succeed—as are further attempts to deny non-profit status to religious charitable organizations. We may even dare to hope that moves to criminalize opposition to same-sex marriage and to bully into silence any who dissent from the mad ideology of “diversity” through governmental control may be stymied. Victory in this election bought religious conservatives breathing room. But we have not yet begun the struggle to wrest the weapon of government coercion out of the hands of anti-religious bigots bent on using it to remove people of faith from the public square.

How will a President of only nominal religious commitment, who is pro-life but of generally liberal views and demeanor on issues related to the natural family, represent and serve people of faith? By practicing, and insisting the federal government practice, the very tolerance so often proclaimed as it is vigorously violated by the cultural left. Mr. Trump’s very brashness was and is a strong indication of his impatience with the crybullies who run our cultural institutions and seek to eliminate the influence, if not the very presence, of people of faith from the public square. Political correctness is a totalitarian ideology masquerading as empathy and tolerance. It will take a dismissive attitude and a willingness to offend tender sensibilities to set its proponents back on their heels enough to allow serious Christians and Jews to recover something of their ability to defend themselves and their communities.

But what does this mean in practice? It does not mean that American culture will suddenly become more Christian—or even less crass. A set of beliefs and practices going back to the “Social Gospel” movement of the late nineteenth century has undermined the religious foundations of our culture. We Christians allowed this to happen by buying into the idea that “correct” social policies equal virtue, that we could ignore or even embrace policies that usurped the roles of family, church, and local association, and/or that we could allow our educational institutions to mock and attack the religious grounds of law and social order without consequence. That consequence is upon us: a post-Christian culture well on its way to becoming an actual non- or even anti-Christian culture. This is a battle we must fight over decades, which we may well lose, and which, even if we “win,” will be only one among an infinite number we must fight so long as we abide on this Earth.

But we can and should look to, work with, and push for a Trump Administration that will call off the dogs of political correctness on campus, in the IRS, and through the Justice Department. The veritable brainwashing of our young people in public (and many private and parochial) schools through more-or-less official texts and curriculum, the oppressive speech codes and “training” to uphold the dehumanizing hook-up culture on campus, and the pervasive drive to “separate church and state” by banning religious symbols and conduct from public life all can and must be opposed with vigor. This will be no easy thing. Beliefs and practices dating back to the radicalism of the 1960s have been institutionalized and, over the last eight years, essentially weaponized in government agencies and schools. And the recent, breathtaking overreaching by the Obama Administration, for example in the Department of Education’s Title IX bullying, have buttressed an increasingly powerful class of apparatchiks micromanaging the conduct and very thought-processes of students and educators alike.

Renewal of our culture and traditions will not instantly take place under a Trump—or any other—Administration. Forces have been set loose and, more dangerously, allowed to take over our essential institutions, that will not easily be dislodged. But the requirements for a more decent and virtuous society begin with a federal government that does far less to enable and bankroll radical ideologues. An administration willing to begin the process of defending our national interests and borders while refusing to empower those who despise our traditional way of life is well worthy of the vigorous support of religious conservatives.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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13 replies to this post
  1. I understand the argument that Trump was to give us breathing room, or a reprieve from the onslaught of the Left, but I had too many concerns with Trump to vote for him.

    His whole life he has believed in whatever will make him sound smart or likeable to the audience. He has believed in gun control until very recently. He has not yet walked back or reconciled his odd statements about planned parenthood doing good work in communities that were made as recently as the primaries, while touting his recent pro life conversion. In short I never feared an onslaught from an unlikable Hillary Clinton hedged by a hostile GOP Congress. But I do fear in what ways the conservative “hedge” that we’ve constructed will be undermined by a Trump presidency willing to work with the Democrats for “reasonable” gun control, same sex marriage policy, etc. Moderate Republicans will crossover with Trump as he’s a “winner” and represents the future of the party. Conservatives will watch in horror as the Democrats are only to pleased to work with the thin skinned Trump eager to do whatever is perceived as popular.

    Furthermore, I am appalled at the moral destruction of the conservative movement that has occurred before my eyes. Once upon a time it offered America a more moral path should she choose it. The movement has devolved into a white version of victim rhetoric, indistinguishable from the identity politics of the Left. The deluded, hateful conspiracy theorists blaming anyone else for their problems so endemic to the Left, is now your average white, Republican. The movement’s intellectualism of Sowell and Buckley has been replaced with the random musings of Hannity and Tomi Lahren. The moral vision and example of Reagan and his supporters and his supporters has been replaced in favor of the fear mongering and false moral equivalences of the Trump movement.

    The good that Conservatism once offered has been extinguished for a time as the Trump movement is the embodiment of the Conservative muddying itself in the gutter with the Left’s rhetoric, tactics, and goals. If you thought that what the Left offered to America was damaging to the public discourse, and the moral character of the citizenry, then it is my opinion you should be similarly concerned with the present day Right.

    Unlike the Left I have never felt the need for an elected strongman to bludgeon my opponents and ensure the economic outcome desirable to me. And as that is the only pitch one could make to support Trump, I simply did not.

    You may call it virtue signaling, a meaningless term I wouldn’t be surprised to find out has originated with either the Left or alt-right, but it is simply good old fashioned conviction.

    • Excellent comment, Mr. Webster. Especially the paragraph about the “moral destruction of the conservative movement”. I could not bring myself to vote for Mr. Trump for those very reasons. I voted for Darrell Castle instead. I hope for some sort of conservative governance with the new administration but as relieved as I am that Mrs. Clinton will not be at the helm, I fear that despite my hopes, any honeymoon between the GOP leadership in Congress and the thin-skinned new president, is bound to be short.

      • If you are relieved that Clinton is not at the helm, wasn’t it irrational of you not to vote for Trump, so as to minimize this possibility?

  2. During this election year I was never a neverTrumper, but at one point was a nomoreRepublican who intended to vote for a third and conservative party. Considerable more thought led me to conclude that while culture does trump politics, flush the politics into the sewer and what is then left in our post-Christian society? So I could not join the crowd that says, as you put it Mr. Frohnen, “politics matter so little that the difference between a Trump and a Clinton presidency was unimportant for our culture.” On this subject conservatives should stride to depoliticize our federal government through various means but that is a matter for another day. In the end, I could only conclude that given the radicals’ hold upon so much of our culture and its institutions the fight to change the course of this ship from the storm will be long and slow, and like many ships we may end in the abyss. Nonetheless, the fight must be carried on and a Clinton win would only have led to taking on more water than could be borne. Hope and pray that conservatives use this pause in the storm to at least batten down the hatches as the radicals will not relent, but seek to gain strength. Pardon the extended metaphor but a hurricane describes what I feel we have been living under, and that one that refuses to relent.

  3. Unlike many today, I have a tender and touching (dare one say, ‘naïve’) faith in the system we have been so fortunate to inherit. Despite corruption high and low, the depredations of an Andrew Jackson or the smug self-righteousness of a Woodrow Wilson, the change from an agrarian republic of yeoman farmers to an industrial superpower, and even a heart-rending Civil War Between the States, we have survived with the same Constitution, and less than thirty Amendments to it.
    I think it likely we will survive the next score of years, Cassandras (not to mention sore winners and hysterical losers) to the contrary.

    • Mr. Naas, perhaps somewhat like yourself Russell Kirk wrote in Enemies of the Permanent Things (1984),”For nearly two centuries, the outward forms of government in this nation have altered little. Although during the past four decades, and particularly during the past two decades, the actual functioning of our political system has changed rapidly, still the façade of the political edifice looks much as it used to. Within, nevertheless, the house is being transformed-even if few desire a radical transformation. Can the American Republic direct such change into actions which will reconcile with our historical experience and our prescriptive institutions that spirit of the age which now shakes the house?” Kirk’s answer in this book would appear to be that the “the American people remain, in some ways, the most conservative in the world” and holds out hope that they will carry out a “renewed search for the norms of politics, of order and justice and freedom, in our rough age.”

      I am a realist and as such don’t see that currently happening, at least not with slightly more than half of the electorate that wish Justices to find in the penumbras and emanations their every wish and whim and so continue the “dominant doctrine that the end of man is gratification of carnal appetite-a doctrine preached on high in schools of philosophy and theology” and I’ll add to the Kirk quote the media, so that while the Constitution may contain few words more than in 1789, it is not read the same, particularly by radicalized Justices and a media inspired somnambulistic public which cares not for the Constitution except when their whims may be found therein and if not then it need be altered or simply ignored.

      I can only hope with Kirk who wrote in his book Beyond the Dreams of Avarice, “…that beyond our dreams of avarice there may lie not merely an Age of Gluttony, but a time of repentance and reform, devoted to restoring the dignity of man…that a darkness without solace or hope…may not descend upon society in this century, we need to refresh our memories with the recollection of what already has been lost from our culture and our civil social order; and we have the high duty of keeping alight amid the Vandal flood, like Augustine at Hippo, the spark of principle and conscience.”

      Which path this country walks will depend upon whether there is that “time of repentance” and I mean that on an individual basis for only then could we speak of a country showing contrition and repentance.

      • Sir, your most trenchant observation is much to the point. As noted by no less a wight than John Adams, our system of governance was designed for a virtuous people, and will not work for any other.
        A glance at the headlines on any given day is sufficient to curdle one’s belief in human goodness.
        But, I am also a bit of an optimist. My philosophical mentor was a science-fiction writer named Robert Heinlein, and growing up on his books in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s formed my outlook. (Along with Bill Buckley, Russell Kirk, and the estimable Mister Burke, to all of whom I am eternally indebted.)
        Back around 1950 (or so) Heinlein recorded a piece for Ed Murrow’s ‘This I Believe’ broadcast. Even if it is no longer true, I shall continue to hope that it is.
        He said:
        “I am not going to talk about religious beliefs but about matters so obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them. I believe in my neighbors. I know their faults, and I know that their virtues far outweigh their faults.
        Take Father Michael down our road a piece. I’m not of his creed, but I know that goodness and charity and loving kindness shine in his daily actions. I believe in Father Mike. If I’m in trouble, I’ll go to him.
        My next-door neighbor is a veterinary doctor. Doc will get out of bed after a hard day to help a stray cat. No fee — no prospect of a fee — I believe in Doc.
        I believe in my townspeople. You can knock on any door in our town saying, “I’m hungry,” and you will be fed. Our town is no exception. I’ve found the same ready charity everywhere. But for the one who says, “To heck with you — I got mine,” there are a hundred, a thousand who will say, “Sure, pal, sit down.”
        I know that despite all warnings against hitchhikers I can step up to the highway, thumb for a ride and in a few minutes a car or a truck will stop and someone will say, “Climb in Mac — how far you going?”
        I believe in my fellow citizens. Our headlines are splashed with crime yet for every criminal there are 10,000 honest, decent, kindly men. If it were not so, no child would live to grow up. Business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news. It is buried in the obituaries, but is a force stronger than crime. I believe in the patient gallantry of nurses and the tedious sacrifices of teachers. I believe in the unseen and unending fight against desperate odds that goes on quietly in almost every home in the land.
        I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones.
        I believe that almost all politicians are honest … there are hundreds of politicians, low paid or not paid at all, doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true we would never have gotten past the 13 colonies.
        And finally, I believe in my whole race. Yellow, white, black, red, brown. In the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability, and goodness of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth. That we always make it just by the skin of our teeth, but that we will always make it. Survive. Endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes will endure. Will endure longer than his home planet — will spread out to the stars and beyond, carrying with him his honesty and his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage and his noble essential decency.
        This I believe.
        –Robert A. Heinlein”

        Our “noble, essential decency”. Indeed.
        For, if we have lost that, America is no more, and all the King’s horses cannot put it back together again.
        But in my naïveté, I do not believe we have lost –IT.

        • Nicely done, sir. Heinlein also ranks high in my estimation, and I thank you for quoting that passage, which is new to me. This culture, particularly those elements of it outside the urban warrens, is essentially good and deserving of preservation.

          Trump is uniquely positioned to buy us some time to prepare for the inevitable crash attending our tolerance of people in positions of trust acting out Progressive Fantasies or prosecuting Gramsci’s war against Christianity. It will be left to us to repair the damage.

          There is ample reason to be guardedly optimistic, realizing we could consign ourselves to the dustbin of history if we bilge our duty.

    • We have not remotely survived with the same Constitution. Our Constitution — and hence our republic (if it can even be called that) — today is almost unrecognizable from that of a century or more ago.

  4. Mr. Naas, I don’t think we’re that far apart but I confess I was more optimistic in the days of Reagan and have come to have less hope for this country as it appears the radicals become more so and insist upon their way, the spoil child syndrome as Richard Weaver put it long ago. The Heinlein quote, “Our headlines are splashed with crime yet for every criminal there are 10,000 honest, decent, kindly men,” is the very thought I remind myself of at the end of the day as it helps keep a balance in mind that there is both good and evil in the world, and the trick is to not allow that evil to become the dominant bent.

  5. One of the bothersome things on this site are unfounded assumptions. Mr. Webster, for example, says that
    during his whole life Trump has believed in (whatever it is doesn’t matter, because, except for maybe a Siamese twin, no one else can know that). I assume that Mr. Webster and most readers of this site are intelligent men and know better. Why, then, say it? He can make his points without neutralizing his argument by attempts at mind reading.

  6. Mr. Frohnen’s comment about dodging the metaphorical bullet, and not just for people of faith, has been the point of the election since Trump entered the race. His statement that political correctness is totalitarian suggests a subject that might be profitably pursued on this site. I would argue that it is unnecessarily prescriptive, and, therefore, tyrannical. I’m suggesting, of course, the topic of the two restrictions on freedom: the prescriptive and proscriptive. H.L.Mencken once observed, “Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.” Beyond their thankful economy, they are overwhelmingly proscriptive, with the two prescriptive ones allowing a great deal of maneuvering room.

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