During the Republican presidential primaries in 2015 and 2016, the case for opposition to Donald Trump was clear to all but Trump’s core supporters comprised of largely uneducated working class nationalists and Baby Boomers, who now vastly outnumber the declining Greatest Generation and Silent Generation voters that elected Ronald Reagan, George H. W Bush, and George W. Bush. To Trump’s voting block, it didn’t matter that Trump’s entire life had been a horror show of marital infidelity, financial incompetence, small-minded bigotry, pathological dishonesty, and unchecked narcissism.
This would have more than disqualified him for any office, just a generation before, which is probably why his prior attempt for presidential office was such an abysmal nonstarter (and his narcissism made him forget completely about it), but that was a time when a majority of Americans understood a man of such manifest immorality had no business anywhere near public office, let along the presidency of the United States. That, however, is ancient history, as far as Trump and his supporters are concerned. What matters to them is the here and now, at least the here and now being reported by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.
Ultimately, we’re stuck arguing with Trump’s temporally challenged supporters, who exhibit the memory and moral complexity of goldfish. Surprisingly, however, Trump’s supporters do accidentally have a point. It was one thing to oppose the man before the election, but it is another thing altogether to oppose the President of the United States. Although I am certain that the concerns of the #NeverTrump movement have been born out, the question must be asked: Has the time come for principled conservatives to stop opposing Donald Trump’s presidency?
“‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
What would it take for Trump to win the support of conservatives who continue to oppose him, politically and ideologically? There is no doubt that a significant component of the opposition to Donald Trump is inherently emotional, the leftover angst from witnessing Trump’s unscrupulous behavior toward dissenters and other candidates. Unlike Donald Trump or his supporters, the vast majority of #NeverTrump conservatives understand that emotions alone do not justify an argument, so for the moment, let’s pretend Trump isn’t a pretentious, entitled, preadolescent thug and dispassionately look at his “accomplishments“.
Let’s start by defining terms. Before we can ask what about Trump’s policies a principled conservative would find valuable, we must understand what principled conservatives value. American conservatism rests on three fundamental social traditions, each every bit as important as the other two within the philosophy, because each of the three traditions is inseparable from the other two. Conservatives believe that without any one of the three social traditions, our culture and our nation collapses into anarchy, tyranny, or moral decay.
The first thing that conservatives value is our national tradition.
Not to be confused with nationalism, but with our national creed, “E Pluribus Unum“, this is the principle of moral and philosophical pluralism that allows many different people to form one nation. Without this tradition our nation fractures into anarchy.
The second thing that conservatives value is our liberty tradition.
This is the principle of freedom of conscience and freedom of action that grants men and women the right to act nonviolently and noncoercively without society or its pet, the government, interfering in their lives. Without this tradition, our society calcifies into tyranny.
The third and final thing that conservatives value is our Judeo-Christian tradition.
This is the principle that God has endowed all of mankind with unalienable rights and an objective moral law of rights and duties, that no king, no man, and no government can rightfully sunder. Without this tradition, our society dies the slow death of moral decay.
Now, with these three fundamental values of principled conservatism in mind, let’s look at the “accomplishments” of President Donald Trump.
“If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
Trump has made it one of the central pillars of his presidency to prosecute and abuse individuals who are either in the country illegally, often painting them with one broad brush as drug dealers and rapists, or Muslim, casting thinly veiled accusations of terrorist inclinations. While I am personally very much in support of establishing law and order on our northern and southern borders, our ports, and our airports in accord with our national tradition, I’d like to believe principled conservatives would refuse to violate our liberty and Judeo-Christian traditions while doing so.
Is prosecuting a man or woman so desperate for work to feed their family that they’d travel hundreds of miles to nonviolently and noncoercively search for an honest day’s pay? If a man wishes to sell his labor for less than the market rate in free competition with other men, is it not tyranny for the state to impose an arbitrary regulation barring him from doing so? Since when do conservatives stand on the side of regulation of free commerce? And, more crucially, does not our Judeo-Christian tradition demand that we treat strangers in our land as we would a neighbor? (“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:34) The stink of Diaspora is too strong on the language of Trump for a principled conservative to condone it.
As far as Trump’s flurry of executive orders? Practically all were merely rescissions of Obama era executive orders and should have been handled in a single executive order rescinding all of them in one fell swoop. He didn’t, because he’s purposefully inefficient. Spreading these process out over days, weeks, and months gave his supporters the illusion that he was doing a great deal of work, when, in fact, only a minority of the executive orders actually dealt with active Obama era executive regulation. If dismantling something that should never have existed in the first place is an accomplishment, then kudos to Trump. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop with dismantling.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Trump signed numerous executive orders that create executive offices, created corporate lobby friendly “advisory committees”, and unilaterally bypassed the constitutional authority of Congress by usurping laws duly and lawfully passed by Congress and, for better or worse, signed by President Obama. Not only did these executive orders transgress on the processes of our constitutional republic, but they transgressed on the liberty tradition of our nation by abolishing the authority of the states and the necessary representation of the people. It was wrong when Obama abused his executive power to unfaithfully execute the laws of the land. It is no better when Trump does it, too.
Finally, we get to the crowning achievement of Trump and congressional Republicans, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Two great things are achieved in the law, and, other than being late and little, they bear acknowledging. First, the Republicans cut taxes (at least for the wealthy and for corporations), and this is a long step in the right direction (lest some forget, even Jesus threw well deserved shade at tax collectors). Second, the Republicans finally managed to repeal the loathsome individual mandate, dealing, at long last, a truly mortal blow to the ObamaCare leviathan. Sadly, these accomplishments come with a caveat.
While destroying barriers to prosperity domestically, by tearing down tyrannical taxes on incomes and behaviors, the Republican bill erects new barriers to prosperity internationally, by installing tariffs that will hurt American consumers, impose market disadvantage on foreign competitors based solely on the fact that they are foreign, likely lighting the fuse on a trade war with less than friendly trading partners, and all of this in violation of the liberty tradition of free trade.
And, even while Trump’s supporters claim victory on the significance of the tax cut, they seem to be oblivious that they will no longer be able to deduct their state and local taxes from their federal taxes. That is a boomerang that no one is going to want to catch.
So should principled conservatives in the #NeverTrump movement abandon their posts and jump onto the Trump Train “because of all the things he’s accomplished“? Persecuting people for wanting to work or their religion isn’t an accomplishment. Abusing and expanding the authority of government for the benefit of construction industry cronies isn’t an accomplishment. Damaging the American reputation in the world and walking back the principle of free trade so central to America’s economic diplomacy around the world is not an accomplishment.
So, no, fellow #NeverTrump conservatives, it is not now the time stop our opposition to Donald Trump and Trumpism. Not now. Not ever. Never.
Liberty is For The Win!