I’ve been trying to figure out why, as a lifelong conservative, none of the arguments for voting Trump work for me.
At first, I admit, I liked his immunity to the partisan strong-arm tactics of the press. One thing about Trump: where other Republican candidates fold and cower and try pathetically to make friends with a media culture that will always hate them, Trump doesn’t back down. He doesn’t get intimidated. He even enjoys the necessary strong-arm push-back. A little too much, if anything.
It’s just a disappointment that the media-immunity conservatives have so long needed has come in such a Trump-shaped package.
So what makes him so undigestible to a remaining intractable core of us conservatives? Why do the increasingly urgent exhortations by my Republican friends (and even my own parents) continue to fall on deaf ears?
Here’s a list of the arguments in favor of Trump and why I think they’re flawed…
“We’ll never be able to elect a true conservative.”
This is meant to defuse the fact that, even according to good old Rush Limbaugh, Trump is not a conservative. He’s barely a Republican, which is no surprise, since he spent most of his life, apparently, as a liberal Democrat. Where he has voiced Republican ideology, it’s been the most divisive kinds—the kinds most easily branded racist (border walls), intolerant (banning Muslims), and fat-cat elitist (tax cuts for the rich). It isn’t that these labels are fair, it’s just that Trump makes them so easy.
But to the point: we can’t elect a true conservative anymore, they say. Sadly, at least for now, this is probably true.
So my question is: for true conservatives, why vote at all?
If it’s come down to two kinds of not-conservative, why cheapen ourselves by giving our electoral stamp of approval to either? The moment we agree to choke down a vote for the least awful not-conservative, that’s the moment we guarantee that not-conservatives are the only options we will ever have.
It’s like dating. You know how we always tell our kids to never settle? That’s good advice, because the moment your daughter settles for the jobless mouth-breather whose best quality is that he doesn’t actually beat her most nights, that’s the moment she begins to believe that that’s all she can get.
“But Trump’s the candidate now, and he’s our only option!”
He’s actually not. There are third parties. You can write-in a candidate of your choice.
“But a third party vote is a vote for Hillary Clinton!”
According to President Obama, a third party vote is actually a vote for Trump.
Personally, I don’t think either of these premises are right. A third party vote is a vote for another option, if not for this election, then for the long-term future. A third party vote is a conscientious choice not because it can lead to a win, but because it sends a message of no confidence in the current crop of candidates, and a threat of even less confidence (and fewer votes, and lost power) if the parties continue to offer similarly bad options.
A third party vote fosters a movement. The more bold people raise their hands and say “enough! We demand better candidates! People to vote FOR rather than merely AGAINST!”, the more other people will be persuaded that they don’t have to hold their noses for a candidate that doesn’t represent them. They don’t have to submit to having their vote extorted by threats of the worse candidate.
“But Trump is what the people clearly want.”
After all, they voted for him in the primaries. They put him there. He’s the will of the people.
But what if the will of the people is tainted in this instance?
As has been pointed out, Trump isn’t a conservative. So what do so many Republicans see in him?
A certain demographic of Americans– particularly older Republicans (or, in my father-in-law’s case, old-school Democrats) are deeply– and I might add understandably— angry. Enraged, even. For decades they’ve been mocked and belittled by the media. They’ve been deliberately ignored by politicians. They’ve been forced to choke down laws that they strongly disagree with– and had those laws flaunted in their faces by a snarky, nasty culture of ninnies.
The result is that what they want most right now is payback. They do not want a wise and measured leader to gently sway the country back to its roots. They want a Bully-in-Chief to kick sand in the faces of those that have ignored, mocked, bullied, and belittled them for the last few decades.
Trump may not be a conservative. He may have spent most of his life as a liberal Democrat. He may have waffled repeatedly on core conservative issues. He may shatter Republicans’ tenuous grip on the moral-majority high-ground with his debaucheries and sexist talk and casinos and affairs.
But he’s the big, looming, type-A, alpha-male bully that those unhappy, abused Americans want to sic on the people who’ve mocked and taunted them. Because:
“We have to take the country back!”
OK, let’s be blunt about something I think we all know deep down: there is no way to “take the country back”. There is no returning to the way things used to be.
Why? Because when we try to do it by force—which is really what so many are hoping for by rallying behind Trump—we are engaging in a battle that is already completely lost.
Conservatism isn’t dead, but it’s stuck in a terminal feedback loop of cultural irrelevance, and it’s partly our own fault. We’ve been trying to do it the same way, with the same actors, using the same words and tactics, for way too long. It simply no longer resonates with a majority of people today.
Trump is the best representation of this. He is, I believe, the last, flailing, desperate gasp of a once-great but now obsolete form of conservatism.
The mistake his supporters make is in not trusting any new iteration of their core values. But that’s exactly what we need: a rebirthed conservative method. A modern take. A more nuanced, necessarily revised approach that can win over people eager for an alternative to the stalemate of liberal values vs. liberal results.
Republicans have been trying to create a blockbuster sequel to Reagan. When what they really need is a reboot—a brand new, refreshed, inventive message showing the core truths of conservatism without the obsolete accoutrement that modern culture instinctively rejects.
There is no “taking the country back”. That battle is indeed totally over. But the future is unwritten. If we believe in the truest, deepest values of conservatism, then as much as we may resent the uphill climb, we must embrace the task of presenting those truths in a new and persuasive way to a culture that is, frankly, desperately in need of them.
“But the Supreme Court is what matters!”
This, it seems, is the most persuasive argument for many of my most conservative friends. As odious as Trump may be, all that matters is that the next president will be responsible for filling vacancies on the Supreme Court.
I admit, this is the only thing that gives me pause.
And yet it does not convince me.
Why? Partly because it feels like bribery.
Partly because I can’t help looking back on all the much, much better candidates that we steamrolled on the mob-like angry rush to Trump as Bully-in-chief.
Partly because I think that the precedent set by electing Trump—the precedent of cementing a future of only better-of-two-evils candidates—may actually be worse than the truly scary powers of a strongly partisan Supreme Court.
But mostly because I just don’t think that even a thoughtfully conservative justice (assuming Trump chooses one and succeeds in their placement) will make any real difference in the ongoing and much vaunted “culture war”.
To me, and many others, the threat of a Clinton-appointed justice is simply insignificant compared to the decades of eroded conservative influence and ineffectiveness we’ve already endured– an erosion that is sure to continue if we keep doing things the same way. Fighting over a Supreme Court justice is really just one more attempt to wage a battle that’s already lost: even if we succeed, it’s only to delay the inevitable.
It’s only inevitable if we continue to try to “take back the country” instead of embracing a new, persuasive, positive conservatism that might make the future even better than those halcyon “good old days”.
How can we do this? From the bottom up. By changing minds instead of changing regimes.
That, I think, is the biggest reason why I simply cannot vote Trump. He’s a bloated, irrelevant, top-down sequel, when what conservatism desperately needs is a reboot: the same message, but from the grass-roots up, with a new cast, a new feel, and a refreshed, persuasive, culturally relevant face.
Our face, every day, with our friends and neighbors and families and coworkers.
It starts with each of us being the best and truest examples of conservatism: reasonable, thoughtful, calm, not given to extremes, happy, in control. If we do that, I am absolutely convinced that, eventually, over time, those traits will trickle up to our leaders.
For my friends who are die-hard Trump supporters, I don’t intend for this to change your minds. Frankly, I sort of envy your certainty, your faith in your candidate, the camaraderie of being part of a sweeping movement.
I hope you won’t hate me for not backing your guy. My parents are backing Trump, and they still have to love me. Come on over and commiserate with them if you must.
This is simply my explanation of why I am not on the bandwagon. And what I hope for in a future bandwagon that we can all, even many of our currently liberal friends, happily join in and support.