This week, an extraordinarily lengthy piece at the Claremont Review of Books launched into those conservatives who will not vote for Donald Trump. The piece has gotten heavy media play from Trump voters, who apparently distribute it on the tenth-grade sensibility that essay length substitutes for quality. The piece is a shoddy straw man, filled with outright misrepresentations and silly analogies. It’s pure, unadulterated Trumpsterism masquerading as high-minded conservatism, all wrapped up in the pseudo-philosophical language of misinterpreted virtù.
The first clue that something’s wrong with the piece is the byline: Publius Decius Mus. Yes, the self-aggrandizing pseudonym harkens back to the Roman consul of the same name, who sacrificed himself in battle in order to save his comrades in 340 BC. We are meant to learn three things from this byline: first, that the author is a classics genius familiar with the writings of Livy; second, that he is a hero willing to die for his cause (but not give his name for it); and finally, that he’s just like the founding fathers, who wrote The Federalist Papers pseudonymously, in his love of ideas.
What follows is, to paraphrase Cicero, incoherent, mind-numbing horseshit.
Mr. Mus begins by suggesting that election 2016 is “the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.”
This has been the constant refrain from Republican “vote for the lesser of two evils” establishment figures for my entire lifetime. If you believe it, you should certainly vote Trump. That’s not facetious. If that’s your risk calculation, you have a moral duty to vote Trump.
But if you believe that the world won’t end if Hillary’s president – if you believe that she’ll be a historically awful president, but that there will be another election in four years in a heavily divided country – then the Flight 93 analogy fails, and fails dramatically. If that’s the case, then 2016 isn’t Flight 93, it’s Dunkirk, and conservatives had best save their army for a later date when the reinvasion of the continent becomes possible.
The author knows that, and so he seeks to mock the very notion that 2016 isn’t the end of the world: “To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic. The stakes can’t be that high because they are never that high—except perhaps in the pages of Gibbon….Cruz in 2024!” This offhanded dismissal of the future of the country beyond 2016 reeks of self-congratulatory smarminess (“See? I know Gibbon!”). But it does prompt a question: if Trump loses, will all the conservatives who insist the republic is done simply move to New Zealand? Will they stop fighting? If so, who’s the coward, then?
Perhaps the most irritating element of the Claremont piece is the fact that the author pretends that it’s a piece about the stakes of the election and the myopia of those who refuse to see them, when it’s really just an apologia for Pat Buchananism. Take, for example, this whopper: “The truth is that Trump articulated, if incompletely and inconsistently, the right stances on the right issues—immigration, trade, and war—right from the beginning.”
False. Trump thought Romney was too tough on immigration, he’s been wrong on trade for decades, and he’s taken every conceivable position on every conceivable war. This line alone should discredit the piece on grounds of total intellectual dishonesty.
Unfortunately, the piece continues for another 9 pages of closely-written chicken entrails.
Our pseudonymous hero writes, “One of the paradoxes—there are so many—of conservative thought over the last decade at least is the unwillingness even to entertain the possibility that America and the West are on a trajectory toward something very bad….they feel no such sense of urgency, of an immediate necessity to change course and avoid the cliff.” Oh, really? Name a conservative who thinks that we’re on a trajectory toward something wonderful. One. Anyone. Bueller? Bueller?
I have spoken about America’s trajectory toward the cliff for literally months, using that precise language, and I’ve done so especially regarding the Trump/Clinton election. I’ve argued that the cliff we’re headed for cannot be averted by anything less than conservatism, and it certainly can’t be averted by Republicans turning over the future of conservatism to a Big Government corporatist ad hoc blue dog Democrat who will rip out the reverse gear on the car headed toward the oncoming ravine.
But according to Publius, I just don’t understand that fundamental change is required. Publius writes condescendingly that while conservatives complain things are bad, they really just want to defend the status quo: “Oh, sure, they want some things to change. They want their pet ideas adopted—tax deductions for having more babies and the like. Many of them are even good ideas. But are any of them truly fundamental? Do they get to the heart of our problems?”
What sort of “fundamental” change is Publius looking for, you ask? ("Interesting choice of phrase, that." -- Barack Obama) Not conservatism – that’s failed: “Decentralization and federalism are all well and good, and as a conservative, I endorse them both without reservation. But how are they going to save, or even meaningfully improve, the America that Continetti describes? What can they do against a tidal wave of dysfunction, immorality, and corruption?”
No conservative would actually write this. Decentralization and federalism, combined with a renewed societal focus on virtue implemented at a familial and communal level, are the solution to an encroaching federal government. They are the only solution.
But what is Publius’ solution? Why, Trump, of course! “[Matthew] Continetti trips over a more promising approach when he writes of “stress[ing] the ‘national interest abroad and national solidarity at home’ through foreign-policy retrenchment, ‘support to workers buffeted by globalization,’ and setting ‘tax rates and immigration levels’ to foster social cohesion.' That sounds a lot like Trumpism,” writes our Roman hero.
So in other words, screw conservatism, let’s get the Big Government corporatist ad hoc blue dog Democrat in here. The guy who donated to Hillary Clinton will surely fix things better than founding ideals ever have.
From there, Publius moves on to blame. Why won’t conservatives just agree with him? Because they must be paid off! “Pecuniary reasons also suggest themselves, but let us foreswear recourse to this explanation until we have disproved all the others…. So what do we have to lose by fighting back? Only our Washington Generals jerseys—and paychecks.” This is the last refuge of the desperate Trump advocate – everyone with whom they disagree has been bribed. The system is rigged. Someone ought to ask Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham or Breitbart.com just how much money they’ve lost backing Trump with the ardently hot passion of a thousand smoldering suns. The answer: not a dime. And they’ve gained ratings and presumably, the massive money that comes along with such ratings. Some of us have actively foregone significant money not to worship at the Trumpian altar. It’s truly incredible how Trump supporters darkly suggest that Jonah Goldberg is somehow getting rich off of opposing Trump but simultaneously say National Review is going bankrupt. Which is it, dolts?
Like a dog licking its own vomit, Publius then returns to his original argument: conservatives just don’t get that things are bad, and that victory for Trump is the only answer. “Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong….you’ve implicitly accepted that your supposed political philosophy doesn’t matter and that civilization will carry on just fine under leftist tenets. Indeed, that leftism is truer than conservatism and superior to it.”
No, actually, it’s ardent Trump supporters who have done that. They’ve done it by nominating an amply unfit leftist for high office and calling him the solution to leftism. And now they insist that everyone join them, or undermine conservatism – the cause they say they don’t care about because it’s been losing for decades.
Publius’ oddest argument is that conservatives have been losing, and only losing, for decades. This is historically ignorant. He dismisses conservative solutions on crime with a wave of his perfumed fingers: “And what has this temporary crime (or welfare, for that matter) decline done to stem the greater tide? The tsunami of leftism that still engulfs our every—literal and figurative—shore has receded not a bit but indeed has grown. All your (our) victories are short-lived.”
Well, it has helped millions of Americans escape death, injury, and privation. And it has raised literally hundreds of millions of people from abject poverty. But no big deal.
No, says Publius, conservatism hasn’t done anything for “20 years.” What of the argument that conservatism has been shunted aside in favor of Bushism and Trumpism? Publius blames conservatives for it: “The whole enterprise of Conservatism, Inc., reeks of failure.” This is magical thinking of the highest order: conservatives opposed huge swaths of the Bush agenda, and stopped some elements (amnesty, for example) dead. But every bad thing can be placed at the feet of conservatives, while every non-existent good thing that has never happened and will never happen can be attributed to Donald Trump. How convenient. (But good news: if you doubt Publius’ argument, he does have an irrelevant classics reference for you: Hannibal and Cannae!)
Then, Publius descends into raving Trumpmania:
To the extent that you are ever on the winning side of anything, it’s as sophists who help the Davoisie oligarchy rationalize open borders, lower wages, outsourcing, de-industrialization, trade giveaways, and endless, pointless, winless war…. Their “opposition” may be in all cases ineffectual and often indistinguishable from support. But they don’t dream up inanities like 32 “genders,” elective bathrooms, single-payer, Iran sycophancy, “Islamophobia,” and Black Lives Matter. They merely help ratify them.
I’m not for open borders. I’m not for pointless, winless war (please, name the person who is). I’ve never been to Davos, and I don’t care about the interests of big businesses, who spend millions of dollars lobbying for trade restrictions to protect themselves from competition (actually, all the open borders Davos types are backing Trump -- just talk to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan). I’m the guy who has to be accompanied onto college campuses by armed police officers thanks to threat of riots, the fellow who called a transgender "woman" a man to his face on national television, not to be cruel, but because biological men are men. But we’ve now come to Publius’ real argument: 4chan slurs. His opponents lack “thymos” (Greek! for “spiritedness” – they’re low energy!). They’re open borders absolutists! (Never mind that we were for a wall long before Trump was, and we’ll be for a wall long after he isn’t anymore.) They want to “Invade the World, Invite the World!” (Sure, we opposed the Libyan adventure, and sure, we’re for immigration restrictions on cultural grounds, but forget it, Bluto’s rolling!) They’re selling out to “Third World foreigners” because they fear being called racists! (Publius must have been thumbing furiously through his Latin/English dictionary for a translation of “cuck.”)
Publius says he wants Republican victory. Publius channels Susan Hayward: “Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live. I want to end the insanity.” And yet he admits that if a Democrat had run on closed borders, trade restrictions, and isolationism, he would have voted Democrat. So this isn’t an argument for preserving the country at all. It’s just an argument for the restoration of the Reform Party circa 1999.
Finally, Publius ends with the most cherished chestnut of Trumpism: a refusal to vote for Trump is a preference for Hillary Clinton. “We’ve established that most ‘conservative’ anti-Trumpites are in the Orwellian sense objectively pro-Hillary,” he writes, assuming his conclusion without providing a shred of argument or evidence. “What about the rest of you? If you recognize the threat she poses, but somehow can’t stomach him, have you thought about the longer term?”
Yes, we are thinking about the longer term. Publius isn’t, as he readily admitted earlier: for him, there is no longer term. There’s merely this election or bust. Which he then says, just sentences later: “The election of 2016 is a test—in my view, the final test—of whether there is any virtù left in what used to be the core of the American nation.”
Virtù, for the non-Machiavelli readers, is a term meaning not virtue in the Aristotelian sense, but bravery, strength, and ruthlessness in service to virtue. Publius could have just written “balls,” but that wouldn’t have earned him a C+ in his Philosophy 101 course.
But in the end, the only fellow lacking virtù is the one who hides behind Donald Trump’s skirts and a pseudonym to tar those with whom he disagrees, and to do so while falsely representing his paleoconservative nastiness as a defense of conservatism. Some of us have spent decades fighting the left. Publius has wasted ten pages of valuable paper excusing his own cowardice in failing to fight the left (where’s he been all this time?) on behalf of another coward who has failed to fight the left (where’s Trump been all this time, other than giving money to Democrats?).
There are good arguments for voting Trump. But this diarrheic mess of jabbering drivel by a faux-intellectual substituting classical references for wisdom ain’t it.