[JB -- A wild (?) speculation: "True" conservatives (à la Ryan) can't wait for Trump to be impeached so that Pence (i.e., they) can take over.
Don't dismiss out of hand an unholy alliance between the hard (alt?) right and the flaky kumbaya lefties so that they (both of 'em) can get rid of "populist" Trump, arguably an American (let's be benign?) version of national socialism/Mussolini fascism.
I do hope I am misreading Trump, who some say will turn out to be a basically harmless Reagan who "charmed" his not-so-ignorant way into foreign affairs (e.g., his bromance with Gorbachev).
But then all-quiet-flows-the-Don is not exactly (publicly) an all-American "nice guy" like the Gipper pretended to be.
Some would say Trump is just a sleazy real-estate con/SOB (to use his adjective re Hillary, a "nasty" dude).
Hey, rich-as-hell (or so he proclaims) "don't-ask-me-about-my-taxes" Donald may have image "issues" ("problem" is no longer a part of the American vocabulary), which may "impact" (what a wonderful American noun-turned-verb) upon his so-called "base" white-lower-class constituency, which is not so stupid as he (and DC media/think thanks) [no typo] pretend to know.
But, hey, I can't help thunkin' -- maybe the Don is the right guy to "DEAL" with overseas sleazeballs just like himself (pardon my insolence, Mr. President-elect).
But am actually being serious. Sleazeballs do make deals.
Hear that, soon-to-be former Secretary of State/preppy Kerry?
Keep our American/world fingers crossed -- and hope that the Don doesn't use his (small) hands to push the nuclear button -- hoping (hopelessly)? that he's better at tweeting than blowing up the world. ]
A rogue group of conservative thinkers try to build a governing ideology around a President-elect who disdains ideology.(hopeless
Image from article, with caption: "A small group of thinkers argue that Trumpism could be more than a political slur."
Kelefa Sanneh, newyorker.com
The most cogent argument for electing Donald Trump was made not by Trump, or by his campaign, but by a writer who, unlike Trump, betrayed no eagerness to attach his name to his creations. He called himself Publius Decius Mus, after the Roman consul known for sacrificing himself in battle, although the author used a pseudonym precisely because he hoped not to suffer any repercussions. In September, on the Web site of the Claremont Review of Books, Decius published “The Flight 93 Election,” which likened the country to a hijacked airplane, and argued that voting for Trump was like charging the cockpit: the consequences were possibly dire, but the consequences of inaction were surely so. Decius sought to be clear-eyed about the candidate he was endorsing. “Only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise,” he wrote. But he argued that this corruption was also evidence of a national crisis, one that could be addressed only by a politician untethered to political piety. The author hailed Trump for his willingness to defend American workers and America’s borders. “Trump,” he wrote, “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.” By holding the line on unauthorized immigration and rethinking free trade, Decius argued, Trump could help foster “solidarity among the working, lower-middle, and middle classes of all races and ethnicities.” Decius identified himself as a conservative, but he saved much of his criticism for “house-broken conservatives,” who warned of the perils of progressivism while doing nothing in particular to stop it. Electing Trump was a way to take a stand against both ambitious liberalism and insufficiently ambitious conservatism.
The essay was meant to provoke conservatives, and it succeeded. Ross Douthat, of the Times, responded that Decius had underestimated the likelihood that a Trump Presidency would damage both the country and the movement. On Twitter, Douthat wrote, “I’d rather risk defeat at my enemies’ hands than turn my own cause over to a incompetent tyrant.” The Web site of National Review, the eminent conservative magazine, published a series of critiques, including one by Jonah Goldberg, who called Decius’s central metaphor “grotesquely irresponsible.” No doubt Goldberg expected that, before long, he would be able to reminisce about that strange week, near the end of an endless campaign, when a blogger using a pen name was the most talked-about conservative columnist in America.
But for conservative intellectuals, as for so many others, November 8th did not mark a return to normalcy. A day and a half after Donald Trump was elected President, he flew from New York to Washington to meet with President Obama at the White House. Afterward, Obama expressed his hope, however faint, that Trump’s Presidency would be “successful.” In response, Trump expressed his belief, previously undisclosed, that Obama was “a very good man.” At the same time, about two miles east, in an auditorium at the headquarters of the Heritage Foundation, the well-connected conservative think tank, a handful of prominent conservatives gathered onstage to try to figure out their place in this new political order. Just about every seat in the auditorium was taken, one of them by Edwin Meese, Attorney General under President Reagan, who was in the front row, and whose phone was almost certainly the source of a pleasant symphonic ringtone that briefly intruded upon the proceedings.
Jim DeMint, the former senator from South Carolina, is the president of the foundation, and he was jubilant. DeMint’s current job, like his old one, requires a degree of ideological flexibility, and he had forged a close relationship with Trump. In March, Heritage published a list of eight worthy nominees for the Supreme Court; when Trump released his own list, in May, it included five judges from the Heritage slate. Addressing the audience, DeMint looked like a man who had won a long-shot bet. “What just happened, in this election, may have preserved our constitutional republic,” he said.
Some of the people onstage weren’t so sure. One of them was Goldberg, who had had an eventful year: his response to Decius was only one in a series of acerbic essays that had established him as a leading light of the #NeverTrump movement, a group of normally reliable partisans who said they could imagine voting for just about any Republican candidate—except one. This was in some sense a protest movement, albeit one led by a political élite. Its ranks included both National Review and its chief rival, The Weekly Standard, as well as most of the leading conservative newspaper columnists, countless scholars and policy wonks, and, quite possibly, the two Presidents Bush, both of whom declined to endorse Trump. Goldberg once called Trumpism “a radiation leak threatening to destroy the G.O.P.” and compared the candidate to “a cat trained to piss in a human toilet.” (“It’s amazing! It’s remarkable!” he wrote, mocking those impressed by Trump’s occasional displays of political poise. “Yes, yes, it is: for a cat.”) At the Heritage event, though, Goldberg tried to be magnanimous in defeat. “I am entirely open to giving Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “The #NeverTrump thing is over—by definition.”
Sitting next to him was John Yoo, who was a prominent Department of Justice official under President George W. Bush, and who had recently likened Trump to Mussolini. Glancing mischievously at Goldberg, Yoo said, “I don’t know if it’s over for him, though.”
“That’s true,” Goldberg replied, chuckling. “Tell my wife I love her, if I suddenly disappear.”
The speakers at Heritage that day differed in the degree of optimism they allowed themselves. All of them believed that Trump would likely nominate a suitably conservative judge to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. But when the host asked whether Trump might be “more sensitive and self-restrained” than Obama in the use of executive power, the room erupted in laughter. Yoo didn’t dismiss the idea. He imagined Trump, on the first day of his term, repealing all of Obama’s executive orders and agency regulations—an imperious way to make the Presidency less imperial. Goldberg, by contrast, insisted that, despite Trump’s declarations of partisan fealty, he was at heart “a lifelong Democrat from New York who likes to cut deals.” He argued that conservatives should make it their mission to keep President Trump in line—to insure that “he has to deal with us and get our approval on the important things.”
But why should Trump now heed a political movement that was unable to stop him? In May, he told George Stephanopoulos, “Don’t forget, this is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.” During the campaign, Trump declared himself a convert to some conservative causes, like the pro-life movement, while unapologetically spurning others: he excoriated the “Republican Establishment,” took a skeptical view of free trade and free markets, and shrugged at gay marriage and transgender bathroom guidelines. Trump’s popularity was undimmed by these transgressions, which led Rush Limbaugh to suggest, in one memorable broadcast, that “the Republican conservative base is not monolithically conservative.” If liberals were shocked, on Election Night, to realize that they were outnumbered (in the swing states, at least), then many leading conservatives must have been even more shocked to discover, throughout the year, that their movement was no longer theirs—if it ever had been. We have grown accustomed to hearing stories about the liberal bubble, but the real story of this year’s election was about the conservative bubble: the results showed how sharply the priorities of the movement’s leaders differed from those of their putative followers.
Now that Trump is the President-elect, plenty of prominent conservatives are hoping that he will govern as a reliably conservative Republican. Decius, the faceless blogger, is hoping instead that Trump’s Presidency will mark the dawn of a new kind of conservative movement. He is one of a handful of pro-Trump intellectuals who have been laboring to establish an ideological foundation for the political tendency sometimes known as Trumpism. Politicians, as a rule, do not trouble themselves overmuch with the opinions of intellectuals, and Trump is unusually untroubled by debates about political philosophy. But these intellectuals—a group that includes anonymous bloggers and prominent academics—maintain that he does have a distinctive world view. In their argument, his unpredictable remarks and seemingly disparate proposals conceal a relatively coherent theory of governance, rooted in conservative political thought, which could provide an antidote to a Republican Party grown rigid and ineffective. [JB emphasis]
Charles Kesler, a political-science professor at Claremont McKenna and the editor of the Claremont Review of Books, calls Trump’s election “a liberating moment for conservatism,” an overdue repudiation of conservative élites and orthodoxy. The irony is that the modern conservative movement cohered, in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, as a rebellion against a Republican establishment that it considered out of touch. Now, according to a small but possibly prescient band of pro-Trump intellectuals, it is happening again. They suspect that Trump, despite his self-evident indiscipline, may prove to be a popular and consequential President, defying his critics—many of them conservative. They think that Trumpism exists, and that it could endure as something more substantive than a political slur.
It was not impossible, during the campaign, to find prominent Trump supporters, even setting aside members of his immediate family. Populist-minded commentators like Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and Laura Ingraham were among the early adopters, mainly because Trump gave voice to their belief that unauthorized immigration was one of the country’s biggest problems. But, among conservative pundits more broadly, skepticism of Trump was so widespread that it began to threaten the business model of cable-news networks. CNN dealt with this problem by hiring Jeffrey Lord, an obscure columnist and former Reagan aide who had met Trump in 2013 and been a supporter ever since. Lord was genial but unyielding in his defense of Trump, and he became one of the season’s most unlikely new television stars: he is sixty-five and lives in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, where he takes care of his mother, who is ninety-seven; every weekday, CNN sends a car to drive him nearly two hundred miles to Manhattan, and back again. Lord still calls himself a Reagan conservative, but he says his belief in Trump’s political instincts has been bolstered by a series of private conversations. He has come to regard Trump as “a serious guy,” and he suspects that some of the #NeverTrump crowd will come around. “In the day, some of the people who were conservatives didn’t think much of Reagan, either,” he says.
The differences, of course, are plentiful. Not only was Reagan a two-term governor of California; he also ran for President with considerable support from the conservative movement, which was emerging as the dominant intellectual force in American politics. His conservative coalition brought together free marketeers, military hawks, and Christian activists; it is partly thanks to him that those three groups came to be regarded as natural allies. Trump was not tied to any preëxisting political movement, or to any firm ideological commitments. Before launching his campaign, in June, 2015, he had been a Democrat (for most of his life), a potential Reform Party candidate (during a brief flirtation with Presidential politics, in 2000), and, starting in 2011, a kind of conservative gadfly, obsessed with the fallacious idea that Obama was not born in America. Throughout the campaign, he seemed to get all of his information from the cable-news channels that spent so much of their time covering him, which created an eerie and sometimes unsettling feedback loop.
So it was something of a surprise when, this past February, an academically inclined online publication appeared, full of erudite arguments in favor of Trump. It was called the Journal of American Greatness, in tribute to Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again,” although its sensibility was more tweed jacket than red baseball cap. A charmingly bare-bones site, hosted at a lowly blogspot.com Web address, it evoked an earlier, nerdier version of the Internet, and its wry tone seemed calculated to contrast with the bombastic style of its chosen candidate. This was where Publius Decius Mus began his career, alongside a handful of other writers, most of whom adopted Latin pseudonyms. The hidden identities of Decius and the other Journal contributors may have made the essays more seductive, by making their authors seem like fugitives, desperate to stay one step ahead of the ideological authorities. Their facelessness also conveyed a faint sense of menace, as if these were the distant, Plato-quoting cousins of the balaclava-wearing hooligans who are a regular presence at nationalist marches throughout Europe.
The Journal eventually published a hundred and twenty-nine articles, the first of which acknowledged the perversity of the project:
It may seem absurd to speak of Trumpism when Trump himself does not speak of Trumpism. Indeed, Trump’s surprising popularity is perhaps most surprising insofar as it appears to have been attained in the absence of anything approximating a Trumpian intellectual persuasion or conventionally partisan organization. Yet, Trump’s unique charisma notwithstanding, it is simply impossible for a candidate to have motivated such a passionate following for so long by dint of sheer personality or media antics alone.
At times, the authors even sought to separate Trump from Trumpism, suggesting that the candidate was a powerful but inconstant champion of his namesake philosophy, which Decius summarized as “secure borders, economic nationalism, interests-based foreign policy.” After Andrew Sullivan, the pioneering blogger, published a widely read New York story suggesting that Trump might be just the kind of tyrant against whom Plato once warned, Decius responded with an essay that was nearly as long and much more abstruse. He argued that Sullivan had misread Plato, and proposed, not very reassuringly, that in our current political climate an overdue recognition of “the people’s sovereignty” might entail, for a time, “more control and less freedom in certain areas.” Like virtually everything written in the Journal, this essay expressed seemingly sincere convictions in a faintly ironic tone, which was disorienting: we didn’t really know who these people were, or how serious they were, even though the political movement they sought to explicate was anything but marginal. Then, in June, the Journal signed off and deleted its archives, declaring that it had been “an inside joke,” which, in the course of a few months, attracted a large following, and “ceased to be a joke.” In this last respect, the Journal had more than a little in common with the man who inspired it.
Evidently, Decius was not quite prepared to quit the debate. That may explain why, in September, he published “The Flight 93 Election.” It may explain, too, why he agreed to meet, a few weeks after Trump’s election, on the condition that his pseudonymity be maintained. He chose a private club in midtown, where he had been attending a lecture. (He hastened to point out that he was not a member himself.) Then he strolled over to a suitably anonymous location: the tatty food court in the basement of Grand Central Terminal, where he endeavored to fold his long legs beneath a small table. The man known as Decius was tall and fit, a youthful middle-aged professional dressed in a well-tailored gray suit and a pink shirt. He has worked in the finance world, but he talked about political philosophy with the enthusiasm of someone who would do it for fun, which is essentially what he does. Before he began to speak, he held out an iPhone showing a picture of his family: if he was unmasked, he said, his family would suffer, because he works for a company that might not want to be connected to an apostle of Trumpism.
It is not necessarily absurd for Decius to suggest that he might suffer a fate like that which befell Brendan Eich, who resigned under pressure from Mozilla Corporation, the tech company he co-founded, after he was discovered to have donated to an anti-same-sex-marriage initiative. By obscuring his real name, Decius is also claiming a new kind of civil right, one often claimed by political activists in the era of social media: the right not to be doxed—that is, not to have one’s online activity linked to one’s offline identity.
Decius is a longtime conservative, though a heterodox one. He had grown frustrated with the Republican Party’s devotion to laissez-faire economics (or, in his description, “the free market über alles”), which left Republican politicians ill-prepared to address rising inequality. “The conservative talking point on income inequality has always been, It’s the aggregate that matters—don’t worry, as long as everyone can afford food, clothing, and shelter,” he says. “I think that rising income inequality actually has a negative effect on social cohesion.” He rejects what he calls “punitive taxation”—like many conservatives, he suspects that Democrats’ complaints about inequality are calculated to mask the Party’s true identity as the political home of the cosmopolitan élite. But he suggests that a government might justifiably hamper international trade, or subsidize an ailing industry, in order to sustain particular communities and particular jobs. A farm subsidy, a tariff, a targeted tax incentive, a restrictive approach to immigration: these may be defensible, he thought, not on narrowly economic grounds but as expressions of a country’s determination to preserve its own ways of life, and as evidence of the fundamental principle that the citizenry has the right to ignore economic experts, especially when their track records are dubious. (In this respect, Trumpism resembles the ideologically heterogeneous populist-nationalist movements that have lately been ascendant in Europe.) Most important, he thinks that conservatives should pay more attention to the shifting needs of the citizens whom government ought to serve, instead of assuming that Reagan’s solutions will always and everywhere be applicable. “In 1980, after a decade of stagnation, we needed an infusion of individualism,” he wrote. “In 2016, we are too fragmented and atomized—united for the most part only by being equally under the thumb of the administrative state—and desperately need more unity.”
Decius takes perverse pride in having been late to come around to Trump; as a populist, he likes the fact that everyday American voters recognized Trump’s potential before he did. When Decius started paying serious attention, around January, he discerned the outlines of a simple and, in his view, eminently sensible political program: “less foreign intervention, less trade, and more immigration restrictions.” Decius cited, as one unlikely precursor, the 2004 Presidential campaign of Dick Gephardt, the Democratic congressman, who ran as a fierce opponent of nafta and other free-trade agreements. (During one debate, Gephardt argued, “We have jobs leaving South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri—my home state—that originally went to Mexico; they’re now going from Mexico to China, because they can get the cheapest labor in the world in China.”) In his “Flight 93” essay, Decius called Trump “the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey,” and he didn’t mean it as an insult. Trump argues that the government should do more to insure that workers have good jobs, speaks very little about religious imperatives, and excoriates the war in Iraq and wars of occupation in general. Decius says that he isn’t concerned about Trump’s seeming fondness for Russia; in his view, thoughtless provocations would be much more dangerous. In his telling, Trump is a political centrist who is misconstrued as an extremist.
There is a reason for that, of course. Trump has routinely said things that would, in previous elections, have been considered scandalous and disqualifying. His outlandish and often incompatible claims, along with his refusal to admit mistakes, make it impossible to determine which of his notions are likely to become policies, and can foster the sinister impression that, as President, Trump will be accountable to no one, not even himself. Decius says that he learned to accept what he calls Trump’s “unconventionality as a candidate,” and maintains that his support never wavered, even when Trump said things that he found indefensible. (The worst, Decius says, was Trump’s suggestion that Gonzalo Curiel, a federal judge presiding over a fraud case against him, had “an absolute conflict of interest,” because he was of Mexican descent. “I thought that was exactly the wrong thing to do,” Decius said.) But he also thinks that Trump’s occasional crudeness and more than occasional intemperance are inseparable from his “larger-than-life personality,” which was what allowed him to challenge conservative orthodoxy in the first place.
Trump’s disdain for what he calls political correctness, and often for common courtesy, made him seem uncompromising, even though a passion for dealmaking—that is, for finding advantageous ways to compromise—lies at the heart of his origin story. “Personality” and “media antics” might not have been sufficient to explain Trump’s success, but neither were they incidental to it. “Let’s say we get to define what Trumpism is, and hypothesize a perfect candidate who goes out with scripted speeches and policy papers and campaign staff,” Decius said. “Would he get the same traction as this guy? The answer, in my opinion, is no.”
Of course, for the tens of millions of Americans who loathe and fear Trump, “this guy” does not appear to be merely an economic populist with a loose tongue. Throughout the campaign, he was accused of being the leader of a white backlash movement, waging war on minorities: he says that he wants to expel millions of unauthorized immigrants, and calls for a moratorium on Muslims entering the country. Since his election, many analyses of his political program have focussed on his ties to the alt-right, a nebulous and evolving constellation of dissidents who sharply disagree with many of the conservative movement’s widely accepted tenets—including, often, its avowed commitment to racial equality. This connection runs through Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, an “economic nationalist” who was previously the executive chairman of Breitbart, a news site that aimed to be, Bannon once said, “the platform for the alt-right.” Earlier this year, Breitbart published a taxonomy of the alt-right that included Richard Spencer, a self-described “identitarian” whose political dream is “a homeland for all white people.” At a recent conference in Washington, Spencer acted out the worst fears of many Trump critics when he cried, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Later, Spencer told Haaretz that the election of Trump was “the first step for identity politics for white people in the United States.”
It is important to note that the link between Trump and someone like Spencer is tenuous and seemingly unidirectional. (When reporters from the Times asked Trump about the alt-right, in November, he said, “I disavow the group.”) But it is also true that partisan politics in America are stubbornly segregated: exit polls suggest that about eighty-seven per cent of Trump’s voters were white, which is roughly the same as the corresponding figure for his Republican predecessor, Mitt Romney. It is no surprise that many of Trump’s critics, and some of his supporters, heard his tributes to a bygone American greatness as a form of “identity politics,” designed to remind white people of all the power and prestige they had lost.
It is true, too, that Trumpism draws on a political tradition that has often been linked to white identity politics. One Journal author suggested that the true progenitor of Trumpism was Samuel Francis, a so-called paleoconservative who thought that America needed a President who would stand up to the “globalization of the American economy.” In Francis’s view, that candidate was Pat Buchanan, a former longtime White House aide who ran for President in 1992 and 1996 as a fiery populist Republican—and in 2000 as the Reform Party candidate, having staved off a brief challenge, in the primary, from Trump. Francis and Buchanan were united in their disdain for the Republican élite, which seemed to them too cozy with international business interests and too removed from the concerns of everyday Americans. Both also saw themselves as defenders of an American culture that was implicitly white, or even explicitly so. Francis once wrote that he wanted to fight for “the survival of whites as a people and a civilization.” (The Journal article that cited Francis also made passing reference to his “undeniable lapses in judgment and decency.”) Buchanan, more circumspect, nevertheless linked his economic argument to an argument about the erosion of America’s cultural and racial identity. In a 1997 newspaper column, inspired by one of Bill Clinton’s paeans to multiculturalism, Buchanan asked, “When did we Americans vote for a revolution to overturn our ethnic and racial balances? When did we vote to rid America of her ‘dominant European culture’?” He supplied his own stern answer: “Never.”
Compared with forebears such as these, what is striking about Trump is how little he engages, at least explicitly, with questions of culture and identity. The “great” America that he talks about is an unsentimental place: not a tight-knit community defined by old-fashioned values but a big and shiny and rather nonjudgmental country where everyone has a good job, stays safe, and adores the President. Whether he was in a rural white town or an urban black church, Trump avoided moral exhortation, preferring to focus on the economic renewal that his Presidency would bring. Accepting the Republican nomination, in July, he bemoaned the number of shootings in Obama’s adopted home town of Chicago. But then, rather than adducing the usual list of social pathologies, he implied, preposterously, that the major source of crime in America was “illegal immigrants with criminal records,” who are “roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
To Decius and his comrades, the language of citizenship is central to Trumpism, which encourages Americans to think of themselves as members of a wonderful club, besieged by gate-crashers. In Trump’s view, loyal American citizens can never fail, only be failed—either by their own leaders, who are (sadly) stupid, or by leaders of competitor countries like Mexico and China, who are (even more sadly) smart. Decius contrasts the Trumpist belief in a “common citizenship,” entrusted with sovereignty, with the bipartisan tendency to leave consequential government decisions in the hands of agencies staffed by technocrats. When he speaks of “the administrative state,” he is drawing on a concept that has been elucidated at length by John Marini, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno, whom a number of the Trumpists regard as an intellectual mentor. Marini is a member of an exotic tribe known as West Coast Straussians: a student of Harry Jaffa, who was a student of the opaque but influential political philosopher Leo Strauss, and who sought to draw out connections between the American republic and its classical antecedents. (The Latin pseudonyms used by Journal authors paid winking homage to this scholarship.) Another member of this tribe is Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, a stronghold of conservative thought, who sees in Trump a leader who, because of his willingness to violate political taboos, might be independent enough to check the progress of runaway regulations. “The government itself has become dangerous,” he says, “and I think Trump is likely to make that better.” What many of these Trumpists share is a disdain for what Charles Kesler calls “moralistic conservatives,” who are too concerned with propriety to see that our decaying political system needs a leader like Trump, and has therefore produced one.
Is Trump a Trumpist? So far, his announced appointments have given orthodox conservatives little cause for alarm, raising the possibility that Trump might be ideologically reliable after all. And, because he will be working in concert with a Republican House and Senate, his legislative record will necessarily be shaped by the Party’s congressional agenda, on topics ranging from abortion to Obamacare. Some Trumpists say that the biggest risk of a Trump Presidency is that he won’t be Trumpist enough.
But his Presidency, especially if it is successful, will inevitably change the shape of conservatism in the United States. The Journal of American Greatness was replaced, this past summer, by a more conventional spinoff, American Greatness, published by a little-known polemicist named Chris Buskirk, who wants it to become “the leading voice of the next generation of American conservatism.” And the Washington Post recently reported that newspaper editorial pages are scrambling to find pro-Trump columnists; no doubt both demand and supply will increase in the next few years. In the meantime, Trump’s political triumph has caused a number of previously steadfast conservatives to rethink some of their lifelong positions, none more spectacularly than Stephen Moore, the free-market evangelist who serves as an economist at Heritage. Soon after Trump’s election, Moore told a group of Republican congressmen that the Reagan era was over, and that Trump had “converted the G.O.P. into a populist working-class party.” In a column for Investor’s Business Daily, he explained that the new Republican Party would be more willing to spend money on infrastructure and less willing to support trade deals. “I don’t approve of all these shifts,” he wrote, betraying his residual anti-Trumpism, “but they are what the voters voted for.”
It is also possible that Trump’s Presidency will be catastrophic, in ways that have a lot to do with the tendencies that Trumpists overlook: he could be ruined by corruption, or enmeshed in international scandal; he might spend his Presidency persecuting his enemies, or letting his deputies run amok. It is difficult to predict the outcome of any Presidency, but with Trump the worst-case scenarios seem particularly plausible, because he is so uninterested in the safeguards that might prevent them. His reliance on his own intuition is part of what Trumpists love about him, because it frees him from the tyranny of technocracy, but it also makes their job much more difficult. There is a profoundly asymmetrical relationship between Trump and the Trumpist intellectuals, who must formulate their doctrine without much assistance from its namesake; Trump’s political brand is based on his being the kind of guy who would never feel the need to explain himself to a bunch of scholars, no matter how supportive they were.
On a rainy afternoon last fall, as news of Trump’s Cabinet appointments began to trickle in, an English professor named Mark Bauerlein sat in a small apartment in Manhattan, sounding perplexed. “It could be twenty or thirty years before we really have the distance to see what is happening,” he said. Bauerlein was on leave from Emory University, in Atlanta, to attend to his other job, as senior editor of First Things, the ecumenical journal of religion and culture. Bauerlein is an admirer of Decius, and also a supporter of Trump, whose promise to control the border appealed to his sense of patriotism. “What it’s really about is planting an idea into Americans that this is our country,” he said. “This is our home! It’s going to have a boundary.” He also views the rise of Trump as a reaction to political correctness, which has, he maintains, made people feel that they can’t express themselves.
He said he understood that many people, including many students at Emory, had experienced Trump’s victory as a violation—an “extraordinary desecration” of the progressive temple. But he was also suspicious of his own urge to glory in that desecration. His hope, however far-fetched, was that Trump, by demolishing traditional Party ideologies, might somehow help people move beyond hardened partisan positions. Like a fair number of Trumpists, Bauerlein holds some beliefs that might have been expected to incline him toward #NeverTrump-ism, including an abhorrence of vulgarity. He once wrote a memorable essay about the indignity of overhearing curse words on an airplane; Trump has promised to “bomb the shit out of isis.” When Bauerlein was reminded of this, he merely sighed. All intellectuals who support politicians must make compromises, but Trump’s style makes those compromises harder to ignore. At times, Bauerlein sounded as if he were still figuring out what it meant to support President Trump—as if he were trying to stay optimistic while steeling himself for all sorts of disappointment. “There are some things in politics that you say, ‘This runs against what I believe.’ ” He lowered his voice. “You have to suck it up.” ♦
Kelefa Sanneh has contributed to the magazine since 2001. More
This article appears in other versions of the January 9, 2017, issue, with the headline “Secret Admirers.”