So here we are.
Just under a year ago, in the lead-up to the first-in-the nation Iowa Caucuses, I wrote an “open letter” to fellow Republican primary voters supporting neither Ted Cruz (my preferred candidate) nor Donald Trump. In glancing at the polls at the time and the fact that Trump held a polling lead in virtually every state not named “Iowa,” I laid out the stakes, as I saw them:
We movement conservatives presently stand at a crossroads. For those of us deeply committed to the ideological and philosophical moorings of our movement—a Burkean skepticism of “sophisters” and “calculators,” a Hayekian eschewing of would-be grand ambitions in favor of the free market’s “spontaneous order,” a Kirkean emphasis in transcendent natural order and private property sanctity, and a Buckleyite synthesis of traditionalism, constitutionalism, laissez-faire, and anti-totalitarianism (be it communism or jihad) alike—there is simply no getting around the obvious fact that Donald Trump is not only anathema, but indeed represents an existential threat.
As the primary progressed, I—like so many others at this website—ultimately adopted the #NeverTrump mantle. I lambasted a GOP establishment that I saw as friendlier to strongman Trumpism than it was to principled constitutional conservatism. I routinely honed in on Trump’s foibles and disquieting authoritarian overtures alike, and I encouraged his ouster at the convention in Cleveland. After having previously defined our conservative opposition movement as a Resistance in exile analogically akin to the Jews in Babylon, I then wrote an Election Day morning post attempting to redirect our feisty Resistance toward a more subtle and widespread civic Restoration:
Conservatism is going to lose this evening in the race for leader of the free world, regardless of which Democratic Party-donating Big Government New Yorker prevails in the Electoral College vote tally. Tomorrow morning, the restorative project commences. I am in this fight with you. So are the rest of us here at The Resurgent. Good luck, and Godspeed.
By the early morning of November 9, of course, Donald Trump was President-Elect of the United States. The American people revolted against intellectually sclerotic, economically stagnant, and culturally militant Leftism in a way that neither pollsters nor pundits had ever foreseen. A non-ideological, non-conservative man had indeed won the presidency; but the Republican Party—the longtime partisan home for the conservative movement—had attained a national mandate to countermand the
“transformational” shameful presidency of Barack Obama, a progressive matched in zeal for top-down smug elitism and disdain for Founding era constitutionalism only by his predecessors Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.
The Left, of course, has done more since November 8 to make me feel better about the incoming Trump presidency than anything Trump has ever said or done himself. When I wrote on November 11 that “[t]he [Left’s] sundry temper tantrums, riots, cry-ins, and hand-holding kumbaya sessions are just out of control,” that was not even accounting yet for the #NotMyPresident nonsense or the petty awfulness that is civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis questioning Trump’s presidential legitimacy. All in all, the identity politics- and enviro-Statism-obsessed Left has collectively lost its mind since November 8.
I was as #NeverTrump as they come—but, truly, everything since Nov. 8 has reminded us why we’re in this fight: to expose and defeat the Left
— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) January 18, 2017
To be sure, saving the American experiment from the deeply destructive excesses of unshackled progressivism is what drives many of us—including me—into conservative activism in the first place. That is how it should be. The Left is unyielding in its assaults on truth, natural law, individual liberty, freedom of conscience, national sovereignty, and many other core tenets of Western republicanism.
But in order to fight back against the Left, it is imperative that we ourselves stand for something positive. Opposing Leftism does not itself suffice, and the GOP itself must now stand for something concrete. My friend Daniel Horowitz put it well yesterday:
[A conservative restoration] will take a catharsis for elected Republicans to finally end their identity crisis and move beyond simply being “better than Obama” or “the lesser of two evils.” It will take an affirmative agenda—a positive, consistent, intellectually honest, and forward looking agenda on sovereignty, security, free markets, liberty, property rights, and a strong civil society. An agenda that can stand on its own veracity, not just as an opposing view to whatever the media or the Left is promulgating.
In concrete terms, what that means is straightforward. The goal of the conservative, during the Trump presidency, must be to neither reflexively oppose Trump nor reflexively shill for Trump. The goal for us must be, like a well-trained home plate umpire, to call balls and strikes as we see it. And we will call those balls and strikes not out of fealty to ad hoc cults of personality, but out of fealty to our timeless principles.
Stand for moral clarity and oppose moral relativism. Support rule by neutral law and oppose rule by capricious men. Support national sovereignty and oppose outsourcing that sovereignty to transnationalism. Support the separation of powers and oppose the modern despotic presidency. Support federalism and oppose the centralization of power in Washington, D.C. Stand with the liberalized West and existentially oppose the global jihad. Stand for free enterprise and unshackled markets and oppose proto-fascistic “economic nationalism.” Support the private inculcation of civic virtue and oppose heavy-handed government indoctrination. Love life and oppose the destruction of innocent life. Love liberty and oppose the whims of those who would deprive us of liberty’s eternal blessings.
#NeverTrump is dead. #AlwaysTrump never was. But #AlwaysPrinciple is alive. And so it must be. “Pragmatism” will never defeat the Left and save the republic; only unapologetically principled conservatism can do so.
My colleague Steve Berman is right that we are all Deplorables now, insofar as being a Deplorable is coterminous with accepting the legitimacy of the Trump presidency. But we must never mistake schadenfreude at the Left’s follies or sympathy for Trump’s delectable assaults on the woebegone mainstream media with apologia for Trump himself. As Ben Shapiro put it yesterday, “It’s not our job to prop up Trump—it’s our job to tell the truth.”
Tell the truth we can—tell the truth we must.
Praise Trump when he abides by conservative principle. Praise him if he signs off on Obamacare’s demise, rescinds the Iranian nuclear deal, or appoints a sound originalist to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Criticize Trump when he fails to live up to conservative principles. Criticize him if he follows through on his vows not to touch bankrupting entitlement programs, to pass a massive infrastructure package, or to pass protectionist tariffs that only end up harming American consumers.
Remember who we are, as conservatives. Our principles are timeless. Do not be afraid to stand up for them, when they inevitably clash with volatile Trumpism.
Be neither #NeverTrump nor #AlwaysTrump. But please do be #AlwaysPrinciple.
Enjoy Inauguration Day.