Joe Bast | July 25, 2022
The great William Voegeli, senior editor of Claremont Review of Books, continues to explain to the Never Trump crowd why Donald Trump won in 2016, how he forever changed the conservative movement, and why that is not a bad thing. This time he references books by George F. Will (The Conservative Sensibility (2019) and Statecraft as Soulcraft (1984)), Francis Fukuyama (Liberalism and Its Discontents (2022)), and Jeremy W. Peters (Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted (2022)). His article is titled “The Right Now.”
This is a long and clever essay that makes many interesting observations. He starts by discussing what it is that conservatives try to “conserve.” In America, it is the principles of the founding expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution: that all men are created equal, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that democratic processes prevent unaccountable governments from violating the rights of citizens, and so on. For some decades, the conservatives’ main opponents were “progressives” who put their faith in endless progress ahead of their faith in the views of the Founding Fathers.
Voegeli identifies a different and more fundamental threat to the founding principles as being democracy’s “animating commitment to equality recognizes no limiting principle.” The result is a “metastasizing egalitarianism” that is “menacing to the emergence and perpetuation of virtue.” Voegeli identifies this as the force behind the Democrat Party’s advocacy of “identity politics; cancel culture; critical race theory; transgender rights; calls to defund the Border Patrol and police and to end ‘mass incarceration’ even if these measures cause more violent crime.” This makes sense to me, since it seems to be oxymoronic to call today’s Democrats “progressives” or even “liberals.” Their guiding light or insight is very different from the Progressives of yesteryear or even from a decade ago.
The election of Donald Trump and the collection of policies that constitute “Trumpism” today are a reaction to the Democrats’ embrace of “metastasizing egalitarianism.” Never Trumpers, still wanting to fight the New Deal and the Cold War, think Trump’s election was an over-reaction by populist country folk and his policies (Trumpism) are a mishmash of conservative and liberal policies that depart from conservative dogma. Trumpers, on the other hand, think Trump was the country’s last chance to resist the onslaught of egalitarianism and so was entirely necessary and even over-due. Trump produced a record in office that is readily identified as an ambitious program of reform on environmental regulation, health care, taxes, trade, foreign policy, and more. The Never Trumpers, according to Voegeli, have failed to come up with anything remotely similar and, lacking a compass, seem to be sliding into the Democrat camp on any number of topics.
William F. Buckley famously said in 1955 that the duty of conservatives is to “stand athwart history yelling Stop.” “The emergence of Trumpism,” writes Voegeli, “is best understood as a judgment that despite six decades of yelling, conservatives could boast of very little stopping.” I think that’s largely right, though it is still too backwards-looking. Most conservatives would have been content with the Grand Old Party’s pattern of slowing rather than stopping the efforts of the Progressives. As Angelo Codevilla often explained, when the left completed its march through the institutions, around the time Barack Obama was elected, the populist country folk awoke and found their nation was changing in horrible ways. When establishment Republicans failed to oppose those changes, those voters turned to Donald Trump. And thank God they did.
Near the end of his article, Voegeli blames Trump for the Republicans’ loss of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats in 2021, and then for every bad policy passed by the Senate since then. It’s a silly thing to say, since but for Trump several Republican candidates for U.S. Senate would have lost in 2020, and but for Trump the nation would have been a shell of itself after four years of Hillary Clinton. But, whatever…. Like all pundits, Voegeli fears the “pro-Trump” label perhaps most of all.
At the end of his article, Voegeli suggests that many Trump supporters “dismiss all encouraging or ambiguous evidence to conclude that the nation is already ruined,” an attitude he calls “late-stage Trumpism.” I believe that’s another mistake. The Trump supporters I know are deeply worried about the future of the country, that is true, but they are also almost unrealistically optimistic about what a “red wave” would accomplish in the mid-terms and what Trump, Ron DeSantis, or some other “Trump conservative” could achieve if elected in 2024. When Trump was in office, they saw how quickly the economy improved, how regulations were cut back, and how the messages coming from Washington changed. They hope and expect it can happen again.