Sunday, February 26, 2017

When the Right no longer expects people to behave like grownups

I generally don't have a lot of use for Pete Wehner. His brand of punditry has tended to support that political mindset I call Reasonable Gentleman Syndrome - which gave us such tepid recent presidential candidates as John McCain (who thought it was important to stress that Democrats "are not our enemies") and Mitt Romney (who was fine with the minimum wage, swallowed the hooey about the global climate being in some kind of trouble, and of course, injected socialism into the Massachusetts health-care system).

So I'm in a position of being surprised at myself for resonating as I do with what he has to say in a column today about Trump's impact on conservatism.

And, granted, there's a valid case to be made along the lines of, "Well, Pete, it's a little rich that you are just now so concerned about the health of the movement."

But he is correct about this:

I understand that the pull of partisanship is strong. But such justifications ultimately underscore the moral and intellectual decay that has spread as a result of Trump and Trumpism. Many people on the right, in choosing to support Trump over Hillary Clinton, began to accommodate themselves to their decision. They began the process of normalizing Trump, and normalization is now giving way to loyalty. They are now following his lead. What they once found unacceptable is increasingly tolerable. Donald Trump is now steering this ship, so why not relax and come along for the wild ride?
A redefinition of the Republican Party and conservatism, then, is well underway. That was clear from CPAC, where Trump and Bannon were dominant and even celebrated figures. (Arguing that Trump’s effort to refashion conservatism is a worrisome thing doesn’t mean that he won’t make good selections and do good things from time to time. Both can happen at once; and he knows the latter will help him achieve the former.)
Events, including the new administration's own ratio of competence to incompetence, will ultimately determine how successful Trump and his aides, including Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, are in realizing their ambitions. In the meantime, some of us will continue to resist their efforts to transform conservatism into an ethno-nationalist, blood-and-soil movement, one animated by grievances and a Nietzschean ethic. And those on the right who are making their accommodation with Trump might reflect for a moment on the words of Edmund Burke, who wrote that certain means, once tolerated, are soon preferred.
This is something I've given a great deal of thought to lately. In addition to the three pillars that constitute conservatism's principles, it is - or has been, anyway - the ideology that venerates decorum.  It has assumed that serious people are going to comport themselves with dignity, and that they are going to respect themselves enough to strive for clarity and consistency in their words and actions.

And the glossing-over of Trump's extremely problematic traits - and those of his core supporters (the all-caps crowd) - has been the most disturbing aspect of the Trump phenomenon for me.

And per Burke, I don't see how we put the genie back in the bottle. That is why this is still post-America and it is still late in the day.


  1. Methinks you judgeth far to much, but, hey, I'll just live and let live. It's what we are agonizing over, living and letting live. So take your new gun down to the shooting range and let the bullets fly, if you will. Hit it and shout your pessimism from the rooftops, if you will. Be the judge of your world and pass it on. Perhaps someone is listening and will decorously celebrate your definition of decorum. You don't have to look if you don't want to see.

  2. Whatever you think is all right by you.