Prudence: For Trump
Publius Decius Mus
September 24, 2016
illiam Voegeli has written thoughtfully about the reasons underlying Trump’s appeal, defended Trump’s supporters, and attacked some of his more breathless enemies. Still, Voegeli charges me—for making many of the same points—with exhorting people to “reckless, desperate actions.” When what I have actually exhorted them to do is…vote. Voegeli surely doesn’t believe that voting itself is reckless, so he must believe that voting for Trump is what’s reckless. This strikes me as an odd stance to take for a man who, near the end of his rebuttal, admits that he will be voting for—Trump! This confession appears in the last of Voegeli’s six numbered objections to my argument, but I take it out of order, because in my opinion Voegeli buried his lede. While heartened by it, I confess I don’t know what to make of it. Does Voegeli somehow consider his own vote prudent but mine reckless? Or perhaps he thinks it’s not the action itself—again: voting—that’s reckless but my exhortation that others vote?
The only way I can think of to square this circle is that Voegeli apparently thinks his vote won’t matter; therefore, come what may, he will not be responsible. Whereas to the extent that anyone in a swing state is swung by my rhetoric, I will be partially responsible for a Trump victory and all the subsequent mayhem. That’s tantamount to saying that Voegeli prefers a Hillary victory. So why not vote for her? Because he “expect[s]” her to win and thinks that reducing her vote total might “chasten” her. I have argued to the contrary that Hillary not only will not be chastened but that she is no more chastenable than modern liberalism itself. Were Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats “chastened” by losing Ted Kennedy’s (!) Massachusetts (!!) Senate seat to a Republican (!!!) specifically on the issue of Obamacare? No, they rammed it through anyway, using parliamentary tricks. Was Obama “chastened” by the historic “shellackings” (his word) that his party suffered in 2010 and 2014? Or by his dramatically lower vote total and margin of victory in 2012 compared to 2008? No, he still went ahead with executive amnesty and much else. More of this—much more, in my view—is in store for us after a 2016 defeat. In any event, Voegeli’s “chastening” is a testable proposition that will be tested if enough Republicans reject his example and my advice.
Voegeli’s argument and alarm are undercut, however, by his modest insistence that anything he (or I) writes doesn’t matter anyway. Neither our “votes, words, or donations” will make any difference. Who knew that the Claremont Institute had endorsed what political scientists call the “voter’s paradox” (the argument that since one vote never turns any election, there is no incentive for voters to vote)? One wonders why Voegeli is bothering to vote at all in that case (especially in California!). And why object to my piece? If there’s no danger of writing swaying anyone, who cares? What could possibly be “reckless” or “desperate” about it? And why bother to respond to me, if words don’t matter?
Beyond this, in a rare (for me) acknowledgment of conservative success, I note that Voegeli spent many years as an officer of the John M. Olin Foundation, which was able (with Voegeli’s help) to move the culture and the nation in beneficial (if not in every case lasting) directions. Voegeli then probably doesn’t believe that persuasion and debate are wastes of time. He just objects to their being used on behalf of Trump.
I take the rest of Voegeli’s objections in order: his first is that prospects for conservatism are always dim and today is no worse than usual. I certainly agree on the first half of that formulation, but we’ll have to disagree about the second. They seem much worse to me than usual, and I’ll not repeat myself in explaining why—since he doesn’t address any of my points, either to deny them or to charge me with exaggeration. In fact, further down (in objection three) he “stipulate[s]” to all of them.
Voegeli then pivots from saying things are no worse than usual to saying that they are actually pretty good. The Republicans hold a lot of elective offices—especially at the state and local level. Vogeli grants my assertion that they haven’t done anything with them, and he doesn’t predict that they soon will; only Trump will consign “the GOP to the minority status it endured on Capitol Hill for the six decades before 1994.” This, as he must know, is an exaggeration. It was four decades in the House, and the Senate had been Republican as recently as 1986. But that aside, Voegeli takes for granted the down-ticket Trumpocalypse argument peddled by the #NeverTrumpers without making any effort to establish its truth and despite recent polling that tends to a different conclusion.
And, again, since they never do anything with it, who cares if they have it? Also, in the federally consolidated super-state, what good do state legislatures do anyway? Does Voegeli or doesn’t he agree with me that federal and administrative state control will become more consolidated rather than less in Clinton II? We could have every statehouse in the nation, and everything we try to do (which, once again, is: not much) would just be overridden by judges and bureaucrats.
But then Voegeli’s thinking becomes truly magical. The heart of my argument is that eight years of Hillary will—through legal and illegal immigration, amnesty and refugee inflows—permanently tip the national electoral map Democratic. By design. To this Voegeli calmly replies that “it’s possible” that “over the coming decades” Latinos will become Republicans. Anything’s “possible,” I suppose. Is this likely? Is it worth betting the country on? It’s a well-worn logical mistake to predict the future by assuming that present trends will continue. Isn’t it an even greater logical error to hope for a future on the basis of things that have never yet happened anywhere? The high-water mark for Republicans with Latinos at the Presidential level was 39%, in 2004. That was with A) an incumbent who B) spoke Spanish, however badly, C) was leading a war and thus benefited from some measure of patriotic solidarity and concern for physical safety, and D) recklessly goosed Latino (and other) homeownership through looser credit standards, which led to a housing bubble and crashed the financial system. All that for 39%. Could the nation survive what it would take get 50.1%?
If the Republican Party is to survive as a nationally relevant force, a more likely scenario—which Voegeli does not mention—is that the electorate will polarize along racial lines, with the Republicans becoming openly the "white party" and the Democrats the non-white. This scenario is by no means guaranteed, for while it's reasonable to expect downscale whites to migrate to the Republicans en masse, to expect the same of the blue-metro-educated seems like more magical thinking. In any event, would that be a prospect Voegeli relishes? I would expect not, on two grounds. First, the very idea of a racially polarized electorate is distasteful to most, especially when whites are voting as a block. Second, one conservative objection to Trump is that his populist appeals to the working class—pledges to protect the safety net and such—are making the Republican Party less conservative. That trend would accelerate if and as the Party had to accommodate upscale whites.
So rather than make a racially polarized electorate necessary for Republican survival, why not at least try to act now to prevent that necessity? By electing a man who at least says he will get the border under control. But of course, Voegeli is voting for Trump, so perhaps he sees this more clearly than he otherwise lets on.
Voegeli’s second concern is for “conservatism.” Here is a real disagreement: I no longer care about conservatism. He is welcome to care, but as I have argued elsewhere and also will not repeat in detail, in my judgment, he is tending a corpse. “Conservatism” will have to be rethought and replaced, whoever wins.
Voegeli says, apparently meaning to remind his readers of something I had overlooked in my recklessness, that there will still be “a United States of America for some time after the 2016 elections.” But I said the same thing in almost exactly the same words. I did specify, however, that I do not expect that country to be a constitutional republic, for the demographic reasons outlined above. The “elections” that Voegeli says lie ahead “for conservatives to wage and win” I expect will still take place (for a while) but conservatives either will not win them, or they will in the off-years, with even less practical effect than the blowouts of 2010 and 2014. Voegeli seems to place some hopes in this prospect. I can’t see why.
Voegeli’s third point is that Trump will accomplish nothing good and that I made no case that he could. Not so. I did make a case. I said, and here repeat, that a strongly implemented program of border security, economic nationalism, and interests-based foreign policy could stanch a great deal of two decades or more of bleeding and could even begin the process of unifying (to the extent still possible) a badly fractured nation. I concede that it might not work. But “it’s possible”! I further concede that Trump’s legion of enemies—including the “conservative” ones—may prevent a victorious Trump from giving his program a chance. And I further assert that a Hillary administration will be full-speed-ahead with everything Voegeli and I know is wrong with our current trajectory, plus all the hyrda-headed monsters still being cooked up in the prog-left labs that we haven’t even got wind of yet. Voegeli says nothing about these arguments. I’d be interested to learn his thoughts about them. And, his modesty notwithstanding, maybe those thoughts could do some good!
Voegeli’s fourth point is a sadly-typical slander against the Trump movement that one expects from a National Review kidlet but not from the author of “Anti-Anti Trump.” He tries to connect Trump voters to Black Lives Matter on the ground that both reject “respectability politics.” In fact, BLM is firmly in the tradition of Communist and New Left street violence, while Trumpism—if it has a genealogy—traces a tenuous lineage to various left and right populist-but-peaceful movements stretching to William Jennings Bryan. BLM is rather clearly a tool of the ruling class to gin up, and maintain control over, a core part of its divers-and-conquer ruling coalition. Why else would it have a professional cadre of organizers bankrolled by billionaire enemy alien George Soros? Why else would its leaders be formally a part of Hillary’s campaign? To stand on the stage at the DNC is to reject “respectability politics”? Voegeli’s reference to Malcolm X only further undermines his point and strengthens mine. In 1964, Malcolm was a radical against respectability. In 2016, Malcolm’s ethos defines respectability among the Democratic Left. And among all right-thinking members of the ruling class, including the toniest Republicans.
Which helps explain why Trump and his voters are fed up with it. If “respectability” requires not just accepting rising mortality, ever-lower wages and demographic replacement, but also being demonized for “white privilege” even if they meekly acquiesce, they’re happy at this point not to be respectable. Personally, I can’t blame them. Apparently, Voegeli can.
The rest of Voegeli’s point four plus his fifth seem to agree with my overall analysis, which perhaps helps explain why Voegeli is voting for Trump.