Reluctant Conservatives For Hillary

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Conservatives who feel forced to vote for Hillary Clinton are not “With Her”. They are putting country before party, and ahead of their own political preferences

I don’t always agree with David Frum, but his latest piece in The Atlantic, advancing the conservative case for choosing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in this most depressing of presidential elections, is well worth a read.

Frum is under no illusions that a Clinton presidency will do anything to promote or further conservative ideals. He is wide eyed in his acknowledgement of Clinton’s character flaws and ethical shortcomings. But he recognises that by voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, we stand the best chance of ensuring that the Republic does not become immeasurably worse off before conservatives have an opportunity to regain the White House in 2020. In other words, he believes that Clinton will do little good, but Trump could do existential harm.

Frum’s conclusion is worth quoting at length:

I have no illusions about Hillary Clinton. I expect policies that will seem to me at best counter-productive, at worst actively harmful. America needs more private-market competition in healthcare, not less; lighter regulation of enterprise, not heavier; reduced immigration, not expanded; lower taxes, not higher. On almost every domestic issue, I stand on one side; she stands on the other. I do not imagine that she will meet me, or those who think like me, anywhere within a country mile of half-way.

But she is a patriot. She will uphold the sovereignty and independence of the United States. She will defend allies. She will execute the laws with reasonable impartiality. She may bend some rules for her own and her supporters’ advantage. She will not outright defy legality altogether. Above all, she can govern herself; the first indispensable qualification for governing others.

So I will vote for the candidate who rejects my preferences and offends my opinions. (In fact, I already have voted for her.) Previous generations accepted infinitely heavier sacrifices and more dangerous duties to defend democracy. I’ll miss the tax cut I’d get from united Republican government. But there will be other elections, other chances to vote for what I regard as more sensible policies. My party will recover to counter her agenda in Congress, moderate her nominations to the courts, and defeat her bid for re-election in 2020. I look forward to supporting Republican recovery and renewal.

This November, however, I am voting not to advance my wish-list on taxes, entitlements, regulation, and judicial appointments. I am voting to defend Americans’ profoundest shared commitment: a commitment to norms and rules that today protect my rights under a president I don’t favor, and that will tomorrow do the same service for you.

Vote the wrong way in November, and those norms and rules will shudder and shake in a way unequaled since the Union won the Civil War.

I appreciate that Donald Trump is too slovenly and incompetent to qualify as a true dictator. This country is not so broken as to allow a President Trump to arrest opponents or silence the media. Trump is a man without political ideas. Trump’s main interest has been and will continue to be self-enrichment by any means, no matter how crooked. His next interest after that is never to be criticized by anybody for any reason, no matter how justified—maybe most especially when justified. Yet Trump does not need to achieve a dictatorship to subvert democracy. This is the age of “illiberal democracy,” as Fareed Zakaria calls it, and across the world we’ve seen formally elected leaders corrode democratic systems from within. Surely the American system of government is more robust than the Turkish or Hungarian or Polish or Malaysian or Italian systems. But that is not automatically true. It is true because of the active vigilance of freedom-loving citizens who put country first, party second. Not in many decades has that vigilance been required as it is required now.

Your hand may hesitate to put a mark beside the name, Hillary Clinton. You’re not doing it for her. The vote you cast is for the republic and the Constitution.

That is precisely where I find myself (though not quite yet a US citizen, so spared from the pain of having to personally make that call – roll on 2020). I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton stands for any real, fixed political values and I have grave concerns about aspects of her judgement and ethical compass – and so did many Democrats, until the DNC furtively helped to push Clinton over the line in her unnecessarily tough primary battle.

But these concerns pale in comparison to the danger presented by Donald Trump, whose supposed miraculous Damascene conversion to conservatism I do not believe for one moment, whose appalling personal behaviour is the subject of hard evidence rather than partly-conspiratorial conjecture (as it is with Clinton) and whose temperament makes him the absolute worst person to assume the role of Commander in Chief and Chief National Voodoo Doll, a focus for the endless complaints of an entire nation.

Like him or not, Barack Obama has served his terms of office with grace and dignity, even when under withering personal attack. This will not be so under Trump. As comedian Louis CK said in his endorsement of Clinton on the Conan O’Brien show, when Donald Trump is personally attacked everything stops so that Trump can punch back. That is simply not a luxury which the President can afford.

In sizing up Trump’s support, Frum also makes a devastating indictment of modern America:

The lesson Trump has taught is not only that certain Republican dogmas have passed out of date, but that American democracy itself is much more vulnerable than anyone would have believed only 24 months ago. Incredibly, a country that—through wars and depression—so magnificently resisted the authoritarian temptations of the mid-20th century has half-yielded to a more farcical version of that same threat without any of the same excuse. The hungry and houseless Americans of the Great Depression sustained a constitutional republic. How shameful that the Americans of today—so vastly better off in so many ways, despite their undoubted problems—have done so much less well.

How true this is. Now, this blog has every sympathy for many of Donald Trump’s supporters, who feel utterly let down by an American political class which has alternately pandered to them before betraying them, ignored them or held them in open contempt. And while this blog is very much pro free trade and managed immigration, the fact that Americans have not even had a choice when it comes to these issues based on the position of the two main parties is sufficient reason alone for the rise of a populist like Trump, albeit not necessarily a candidate with Donald Trump’s gargantuan personal flaws.

So yes, things are bad, and yes, the political class has not been responsive. But America managed to survive world war and economic depression in the twentieth century without coming this close to electing a dangerous authoritarian. Whatever afflictions the struggling “left behind” class said to make up much of Trump’s support may now be experiencing is nothing compared to the suffering of, say, the Dust Bowl. To react to these present circumstances by reaching for Donald Trump when their ancestors typically bore their tribulations far more stoically is in some way a reflection of American moral decline, which is very worrying indeed.

This blog would have loved to have seen a radical right-wing candidate willing to question failing old mantras about immigration and trade deals and other issues. I may be a #NeverTrump person, but I acknowledge that Trump often raises valid problems which have received scant attention from other politicians. The only miracle is that Trump manages to betray those causes by somehow managing to be an even more imperfect vehicle for his policies than Hillary Clinton is for hers.

There is no sugar-coating that the next four years are going to be depressing and barren of achievements for American conservatives. But as Frum rightly points out, sometimes there are more important things than getting one’s own way in a traditional left-right political dispute. Sometimes the cost of letting the nation drift a little further to the left is less than the cost of handing it over to somebody as unstable as Donald Trump.

After all, Republicans screamed for eight years that President Obama would turn America into a socialist hellhole and usher in the end of the Republic, and it didn’t happen. Hillary Clinton is no more left-wing than Obama, though a cannier and more ruthless political operator, but if America didn’t turn into North Korea on Obama’s watch it is unlikely to do so in four years of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

The people who will vote for Donald Trump on November 8th deserve to have their political views represented by someone better than the thin-skinned egomaniac who gets into Twitter wars with D-list celebrities in the early hours of the morning. Even if one agreed with all of Trump’s policies – many of which are actually profoundly un-conservative and much closer to being nakedly authoritarian – that would be no excuse for electing a man with such huge and concerning personality flaws.

David Frum did the right thing. This most eye-catching of elections has been the most depressing presidential campaign in my lifetime, but at least if Clinton wins we will have a shot at making 2020’s campaign a bit more inspiring, substantive, policy-based and (hopefully) less existentially threatening.

 

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Donald Trump, World’s Best Christian

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If you seriously believe that Donald Trump understands the Christian faith, has read the Bible or would choose the defence of religious values and freedom over some other passing whim while serving as president, then I have a bridge across the River Thames to sell you

Eric Zorn has a great column in the Chicago Tribune in which he systematically takes apart Donald Trump’s pretence that he is a Serious Christian and the default choice for those voting with their Christian faith foremost in their minds.

Zorn writes:

Nothing illustrates what a flim-flam man Donald Trump is better than his frequent and oily allusions to the Bible.

It is his favorite book, he tells the credulous masses at his rallies. Nobody reads it more than he does.

But a review of the record suggests he may not have read it at all.

During a televised interview with John Heilemann and Mark Halperin of Bloomberg Politics in August 2015, Halperin noted Trump’s frequent professions of fondness for Judeo-Christian scripture and said, “I’m wondering what one or two of your most favorite Bible verses are and why.”

“I wouldn’t want to get into it,” Trump said, “because to me that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible it’s very personal so I don’t want to get into verses. The Bible means a lot to me but I don’t want to get into specifics.”

“Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?” Heilemann asked.

“Probably equal,” Trump said. “I think it’s just incredible, the whole Bible is incredible.”

How utterly convincing. Zorn continues:

That unfamiliarity showed up again in April when host Bob Lonsberry of WHAM-AM in Rochester, N.Y., broached the subject in a phone interview: “Is there a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life, sir?”

“Well, I think many,” answered the would-be exegete-in-chief. “I mean, you know, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And I tell people, look, ‘An eye for an eye,’ you can almost say that.”

You can, sure.

But not only is “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” an Old Testament verse that condones barbaric vengeance (“… hand for hand, foot for foot,” it goes on, “burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise”) it was also expressly repudiated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

I get it. Actually making time to sit down and read the Bible every day while trying to internalise parts of it is tough. Particularly, I imagine, when you are rich and famous and your free time is largely given over to grabbing women “by the pussy”. Personally, I have only read the entire Bible cover-to-cover once, when I was eighteen and preparing for my adult confirmation into the Roman Catholic church after converting from Anglicanism. More than a decade later I am now finally trying to do so again, with the help of a great online Bible app which comes with a manageable “Bible in a year” reading plan.

The point of which being that it is fairly easy to spot someone who has actually attempted the feat and possesses a genuine (if still somewhat patchy, like mine) familiarity with the Bible, and somebody who is just putting on an act, attempting to fake religious observance as a kind of cultural marker. And Trump clearly falls into the latter category.

Eric Zorn concludes:

Is Trump the first politician to exaggerate his piety in order to win favor with the American public, 70 percent of which identifies as Christian and 6 percent of which identifies as belonging to another faith tradition?

No, but he’s the worst at it — the most transparent — that we’ve ever seen on the national stage.

It’s not just that he’s a brazen Bible huckster, it’s that he’s really bad at it.

Those who put their faith in him should prepare to have it shattered.

This is depressing for all those Christians who have been taken in by Donald Trump’s false displays of piety, as well as those resigned Christians who recognise that Trump is a charlatan but feel that Trump represents a better bulwark against attacks on their values and way of life than Hillary Clinton.

But it is also darkly amusing. Because for eight years it has been the habit of more than a few Republican Party politicians to insinuate that President Barack Obama is somehow not a Christian, or even that he is a closet Muslim, despite endless evidence of the Obama family attending church and Obama himself being capable of speaking about his faith without getting completely tongue-tied or reporting to bland banalities. Some Republicans stood up to the “Obama is a Muslim” hysteria – notably John McCain at a town hall meeting during the 2008 presidential campaign. But many others remained cynically silent, allowing prejudice and misinformation to take hold, thinking that it would advantage them politically.

And now it is the GOP’s turn to field a presidential candidate who doesn’t merely “exaggerate his piety” but effectively invents it from thin air to get himself out of a tight spot in a TV interview. Of course, the Democrats are in absolutely no position to take advantage of this fact – Hillary Clinton is a Christian, like Obama, but has chosen to downplay her faith in this election because many of her supporters place more faith in the god of Social Justice and Identity Politics than the God of the Old and New Testaments.

As Ben Wolfgang notes in the Washington Times:

Hillary Clinton’s Christianity, which she wielded as a political weapon in her 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign, largely has been missing in this year’s election.

She hasn’t hidden her Methodist upbringing, but scholars say it’s not front and center. And where in the past she used it as a window into her character, this year she’s deployed it as a debate tactic to push criminal justice reform and other policy goals.

Church attendance also has been all but absent from Mrs. Clinton’s schedule, except when she’s turned up behind a pulpit to stump for votes, particularly in predominantly black churches, where her appearances focus largely on how she intends to work with religious leaders to accomplish shared political objectives.

Since 2008 she’s also abandoned traditional Christian positions on issues such as same-sex marriage, coming in favor of the practice in 2013 after years of opposing it.

The reason for the shift, analysts say, is twofold. Mrs. Clinton is taking on an opponent, Republican Donald Trump, who is seen as one of the most nonreligious presidential candidates in modern history. Pew polling from earlier this year found that just 30 percent of American voters say they consider Mr. Trump religious, while 48 percent said the same about Mrs. Clinton.

Perhaps more importantly, she now leads a party that, among its white base, if not its core black and Hispanic members, has become an increasingly secular institution. Recent polling shows the Democratic Party includes in its ranks nearly four times as many atheists and agnostics as the GOP.

Ultimately, the “Donald Trump is a better Christian than Hillary Clinton” argument comes to the two candidates’ respective positions on abortion. And if abortion is a deal-breaker for you then yes, Trump’s currently stated position on abortion (which has certainly changed since his liberal days of a few years back, as well as during this campaign, both without satisfactory explanation) is more in line with Church teaching about the sanctity of life.

But as with all of Donald Trump’s other stated policy positions, there is absolutely nothing to give confidence that his current position either represents his true beliefs on the subject, or that he would not flip-flop on the issue without a second thought if he saw political value in doing so.

Christians – particularly Evangelicals – should really be used by now to cynical Republican politicians who have trained themselves to speak the language, say the right things and push all the right buttons on social issues in pursuit of the evangelical vote, only to sell out the movement once safely ensconced in power. George W. Bush won a tough 2004 re-election campaign against John Kerry in spite of his disastrous mismanagement of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath largely by switching the focus to social issues, namely gay marriage, in order to motivate his base. And in nearly every election before and since, evangelicals have been flattered, threatened and otherwise called upon to support the Republican candidate only to have their causes betrayed or ignored after election day once their usefulness was over.

Donald Trump is doing exactly the same thing all over again. But he is so inept and transparent in his attempt to feign Christian piety that a fool should be able to see through his cynical machinations. And yet many bright and decent people are taken in by Trump’s amateur act.

Don’t get me wrong – Hillary Clinton, largely beholden to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, will be no great defender of religious freedom or interests. But Donald Trump will be little better, as Christians should realise from bitter past experience and Trump’s unique untrustworthiness when it comes to holding true to his stated beliefs on fundamental issues.

Neither candidate, in office, would be a great friend of religion, though Donald Trump would likely continue to pay more lip service to Christian priorities thanks to the composition of the Republican Party. But both options are pretty bleak, and Christians seeking to vote based on their faith would actually be well advised to admit defeat and make their choice based on some other criteria.

Whoever wins this election, it looks quite safe to say that Christianity will lose.

 

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President Obama Actively Mocks Republicans While Campaigning For Hillary Clinton – And They Deserve It

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If Barack Obama seems like he is savouring the discomfort of Republican politicians struggling to save their seats as Donald Trump drags them down in the polls, it is no less than many of them deserve

As President Obama prepares to leave office, America’s guns have still not been confiscated, citizens have not been sent to FEMA re-education camps and the “world’s greatest healthcare system” (ha!), though certainly tampered with, remains broadly intact. And given the alarmism and sheer cynical scaremongering bandied about by Republican politicians happy to trawl for votes by playing to peoples’ base prejudices, one can understand Barack Obama’s decision to spend his presidential swansong reminding us of all the crazy things that intemperate Republicans predicted he would do in his two terms of office.

This blog has been no great fan of the Obama presidency, though I certainly found him preferable to the McCain/Palin ticket in 2008. True, coming from far more socialist Britain I bring a vantage point and sense of perspective which I think is often lacking in American conservative commentators who are quick to cry “communism!” without really thinking through just how much worse things could be (socialised medicine? I’ll show ya socialised medicine!) But overall this blog has been disappointed with the failure of what was billed as a transformational presidency to really do much transforming for the good.

Yet much of that failure and stasis has been the result of Republican obstructionism rather than the personal failings of Barack Obama – and often unreasonable obstructionism at that. Mitch McConnell’s pledge that the Senate’s top priority should be to make Obama a one term president is emblematic of the party-before-country cynicism which often motivated Republicans to take bold and sometimes extreme stances in support of “liberty” which ultimately only had the effect of preserving the status quo – a state of affairs which harmed many of their own supporters (one of the main reasons for Donald Trump’s rise).

On issue after issue, Republicans succeeded in fighting the Obama administration to a draw. Even Obamacare borrowed heavily from the Massachusetts healthcare reforms of GOP grandee and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, its unbearably socialist individual mandate lifted from the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

And yet to listen to Republicans talk, one would sometimes think that Obama had actually succeeded in his Evil Marxist Kenyan plan to turn America into North Korea. Of course, this involves turning a blind eye toward all the fiscal excesses of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush – but Republicans are generally happy to do just that, and pretend that fiscal profligacy began on Obama’s watch.

Given all of this context, one can understand President Obama’s temptation to have a little fun at the expense of those Republicans who fought much of his agenda to a standstill yet still dared to suggest that he was successfully imposing “socialism” on America. And as Tim Murphy outlines at Mother Jones in a piece entitled “Barack Obama’s Sweet Revenge Tour”, the president has frequently succumbed to that temptation in recent days.

Murphy writes:

President Barack Obama’s approval rating is the highest it has been in 45 months, and Republicans have taken note. In Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman is running an ad boasting of his work with the Democratic commander in chief “to break the grip of heroin addiction.” In California, Rep. Darrell Issa—who once called Obama “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times”—is sending out mailers with Obama’s face on them, touting his work with the president “to protect victims of sexual assault.”

There is a problem with that strategy, though, which is that Obama seems determined to spend the last two weeks of the election laying waste to every Republican who ever crossed him. Though Obama was a liability to Democrats in the 2014 midterms, his renewed popularity has made him the most sought-after advocate for Hillary Clinton and down-ballot Democrats this fall. At rallies and in fundraisers in battleground states and swing districts, Obama has ripped into Republican lawmakers with a mix of exasperation and disdain, mocking their belated rejection (or continued support) of Donald Trump and casting the GOP presidential nominee as the logical endpoint of eight years of toxic hostility.

Issa, who is facing his most competitive race in years, was the most recent Republican to feel his wrath. At a fundraiser in La Jolla on Sunday, Obama trashed the California Republican for his mailer. “Issa’s primary contribution to the United States Congress has been to obstruct and to waste taxpayer dollars on trumped-up investigations that have led nowhere,” he said. “This is now a guy who, because poll numbers are bad, has sent out brochures with my picture on them touting his cooperation on issues with me. Now that is the definition of chutzpah.”

First off, I’m not quite sure what the SJW cultural appropriation police would have to say about an African American using the Yiddish word “chutzpah”. Actually, I think we all know what they would say – “people of color” sit higher in the hierarchy of victimhood, while any attack on Jews (always conflated with Israel and Israelis) is perfectly legitimate in SJW world. But I digress…

It is galling indeed to see Republican establishment cronies like Darrell Issa – politicians who literally made a career suggesting that Obama was incompetent at best and anti-American at worst – suddenly try to wrap their arms around the outgoing president simply because the man at the top of their own party’s ticket is immensely divisive, offputting to whole swathes of the electorate and likely sinking to inglorious defeat on November 8.

But this is the part of Obama’s campaign speech which really cuts to the core in its incisive criticism of Republican failings and strategic/moral missteps since 2008:

Here’s the thing. For years, Republican politicians and the far-right media outlets have pumped up all kinds of crazy stuff about me. About Hillary. About Harry. They said I wasn’t born here. They said climate change is a hoax. They said that I was going to take everybody’s guns away! They said that while we were doing military exercises that we’ve been doing forever, suddenly this was a plot to impose martial law. This is what they’ve been saying for years now! So people have been hearing it they start thinking well maybe it’s true! And if the world they’ve been seeing is I’m powerful enough to cause hurricanes on my own and to steal everybody’s guns in the middle of the night and impose martial law—even though I can’t talk without a ‘prompter—then is it any wonder that they end up nominating somebody like Donald Trump?

And the fact is that there are a lot of politicians who knew better. There are a lot of senators who knew better but they went along with these stories because they figured you know what this’ll help rile up the base, it’ll give us an excuse to obstruct what we’re trying to do, we won’t be able to appoint judges, we’ll gum up the works, we’ll create gridlock, it’ll give us a political advantage. So they just stood by and said nothing and their base began to actually believe this stuff. So Donald Trump did not start this. Donald Trump didn’t start it, he just did what he always did which is slap his name on it, take credit for it, and promote it. That’s what he always does. And so now, when suddenly it’s not working and people are saying wow this guy’s kind of out of line, all of a sudden these Republican politicians who were okay with all this crazy stuff up to a point suddenly they’re all walking away. Oh, this is too much. So when you finally get him on tape bragging about actions that qualify as sexual assault and his poll numbers go down, suddenly that’s a deal-breaker. Well what took you so long! What the heck! What took you so long! All these years!

Well, that is probably just about the most incisive piece of commentary on the failings of the Republican Party you’ll read in the media, and it came from none other than the target of the GOP’s efforts, the current president of the United States.

In actual fact, Obama’s complaints about Republican willingness to flirt with the crazy element echo charges that this blog has been making for some time, notably here:

It was the tri-cornered hat brigade whose admirable devotion to fiscal responsibility only materialised once Barack Obama took office, and then failed to force any meaningful change in Washington despite many of their number being elected to Congress in the 2010 midterms which, who have a case to answer. They were the Great White Hope whose inevitable failure formed the third strike against the political class.

It was not the Democratic Party which fanned the flames of birtherism (and then considered a nominee for president who was born in Canada) and refused to stand up to angry constituents demanding to see a birth certificate. That was all on the Republicans. Donald Trump led that effort, and nearly the entire GOP sat back with a tub of popcorn, thinking that the circus would benefit them politically. And so it did, until their attack dog finally broke the leash and turned on its handlers.

Has Barack Obama been a decidedly left-wing and in some (though by no means all) ways unimpressive president? Yes, he has. But is he a closet Communist, a secret Muslim planning to enforce hardline Islamism on America or a hopelessly incompetent buffoon? Absolutely not. He is a centre-left politician with undeniable skills, twice elected on a centre-left platform and governing according to a centre-left approach. But in their greed to quickly win back power without doing the hard work of making their own pitch to the voters more appealing, too many Republicans were willing to tolerate and sometimes actively participate in the anti-Obama hysteria for short term political gain.

And here:

Remember, this is a political party which urged Americans in all seriousness to vote for Sarah Palin as vice president back in 2008. Sarah Palin. The Republicans have been dabbling in crazy and courting the proudly ignorant vote for decades. Donald Trump is nothing but the GOP’s longstanding approach taken to its logical extreme.

And if decent conservatives want to ensure that they never again find themselves in a position of seeing their movement taken over by an ignorant, populist demagogue then they might want to stop blaming Democrats for their own self-inflicted misfortune and instead re-examine their behaviour both in government and opposition.

Was it wise, for example, to pretend to be super tough on immigration, yet ultimately do nothing to stem the flow of illegal immigrants or otherwise reform the system, simply because Republican donors had no interest in changing the status quo, with its plentiful cheap labour for corporations and affordable illegal domestic service for households?

Was it wise to continually shriek not just that Democrats wanted to impose stricter gun control but that they were actively seeking to abolish the Second Amendment? (The big push to completely outlaw guns trumpeted in GOP propaganda has been just weeks away for the past eight years now – is Obama waiting until his very last day in office to take America’s guns?)

Was it smart to prance around as the party of national security while consistently involving America in foreign conflagrations which increased anti-American sentiment, or to pose as the party of civil liberties while loudly cheerleading for the surveillance state?

Was it really such a genius move to talk endlessly about the benefits of tax cuts for ordinary Americans while focusing them overwhelmingly on the wealthy, or to cynically pretend that America’s lost manufacturing jobs could be easily brought back home in the age of globalisation and international supply chains?

At nearly every election going back to the Bill Clinton administration and probably earlier, the Republican Party has been writing rhetorical cheques that its politicians cannot or will not cash when they are either in office or a position of influential opposition, at a national or statewide level.

The Republican Party’s more excitable members need to learn that you can’t go on shrieking that the Bad Democrat is coming to take away your guns and your liberty – and then seamlessly make the transition to accusing their successor of the same sinister motivations when the Day of Tyranny never materialises – without eventually losing a degree of credibility. If I started predicting that the world is going to end at the coming weekend, and then just roll my prediction forward by seven days each weekend that I am proven wrong, pretty soon people will stop listening to me.

When Barack Obama took office the Democratic Party  enjoyed two years controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, and yet the nation’s guns remained un-confiscated then, and are still un-confiscated now. And eventually these panicked claims start to look more and more like the cynical politicking that they are.

Republicans should take note when it comes to their incessant scaremongering about the Second Amendment. At this rate, if and when gun rights are under real imminent danger, we will have been warned so many times before that we will not take the threat seriously.

But this is much bigger than any one issue. Unfortunately, one gets the nasty feeling that the Republicans are not learning anything from the Trumpian calamity which they have brought down upon themselves. This blog can quite easily picture another four years of the same hysterical End Times opposition to a President Hillary Clinton – “She’s coming for your guns! I mean it, I’m serious this time!” – and the wholehearted embrace of any conspiracy theory or fringe movement so long as it delivers short term political gain and/or helps to sell more gold coins to paranoid seniors. And what fresh horror will be conjured next, after VP candidate Sarah Palin and presidential candidate Donald Trump?

Depressing? Certainly – America has never needed principled, true conservative leadership more than at this time. But the tragedy is entirely self-inflicted. The Republican Party summoned some viscerally unpleasant forces in its effort to torment the outgoing president and thwart his agenda. Now that they are being consumed by the very forces that they unleashed, can anyone really begrudge Barack Obama his moment of sweet schadenfreude?

 

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Donald Trump Has Been An Unmitigated Disaster For American Conservatism

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Donald Trump’s floundering presidential campaign is a self-inflicted disaster of the Republican Party’s own making

Of all the major American commentators, I think that Rod Dreher of The American Conservative comes closest to describing my own feelings about the rise of Donald Trump and the current wretched state of American conservatism.

In this great piece, Dreher blasts Trump’s ongoing refusal to state that he will accept the validity of the election outcome:

Donald Trump is going to lose on November 8, and he is going to lose badly. He is going to be soundly beaten by a terrible Democratic nominee, a woman who is unliked, tainted by corruption, and the most divisive figure in public life other than … Donald Trump. I believe it is true that the Democrats are capable of engaging in voter fraud, and I take it as given that somewhere in America on election day, it will happen.

But.

If the current polls hold up (Clinton ahead by seven points), the scale of Trump’s loss will far exceed anything that could be credibly attributed to fraud or any other kind of “rigging.” It is extremely reckless for Trump to be seeding the nation with doubt about the validity and legitimacy of the election. The only reason he’s doing it is to protect his own vanity when he is walloped, and walloped by a woman at that – and not only walloped by a woman, but walloped by Hillary Clinton, who would have been a pushover for any other GOP contender.

The Republican establishment has to realize that Trump didn’t rig or otherwise steal the party’s nomination: he won it fair and square, and he won it mostly because the party establishment itself fell badly out of touch with the mood of the country and its voters. You don’t have a fool like Trump defeating what was once touted as the deepest GOP candidate bench in history if Trump didn’t know something that that allegedly deep bench did not.

And yet, Trump has blown this race entirely on his own. In truth, he never really stood a chance, because the only way he was going to win it was to pivot towards being someone he’s not. No 70-year-old man is going to be able to do that, especially given that he has made his public reputation by saying outrageous things on camera. We all know Trump’s many weaknesses, so I won’t rehearse them again here. The point to be made, though, is that Trump gave Americans who might have been persuaded to vote for him 1,001 reasons not to. Hell, he rubbed the nation’s face in them.

Yes. Just as establishment Republican types must concede that Donald Trump won the GOP nomination fair and square – and then ask themselves some searching questions about how their “deep bench” of talent fell so flat with the primary electorate – so Trump supporters must concede that he is losing this election all by himself, through his own long-known and well documented personality flaws.

There have been occasional tantalising moments from the Trump campaign which hint at what a broad-based, anti-establishment candidacy might have looked like if it was headed up by a decent person of principle and moral standing rather than a vulgar and selfish man-child. Some of the stuff at Gettysburg was quite good. But Trump’s much-promised second, more presidential gear never materialised (as some of us warned it would not). And now Trump is thrashing around, lagging behind Hillary Clinton in nearly all polls and in most swing states, saying irresponsible things and weakening the collective trust in American democracy as a balm to his raw ego.

The great pity is that these anti-establishment moments do not always come around often. Britain was lucky inasmuch as that voting to secede from the European Union was a moral, democratic and small-L liberal thing to do; and because we were endorsing a political action, not electing any of the various goons who claimed to “lead” the Brexit movement. In America, no matter how much some conservatives may have agreed with Trump’s current positions (or the policies he now claims to support), the inescapable fact is that you don’t just get the policies. You also get the pugnacious, unstable man himself. For at least four long years.

And so whatever relief we might all feel when Donald Trump is defeated and the stench of his candidacy (hopefully) begins to recede, the fact remains that this electoral cycle has been a disaster for conservatives.

At a time of rising and often legitimate anti-establishment feeling in America and across the world (see Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Brexit) they put forward a man who embodies the very worst aspects of populism, and who actually manages to make morally compromised establishment cronies with 30-year Washington careers look like vaguely sympathetic characters.

With the economic recovery unfelt by millions of middle class Americans and Hillary Clinton representing nothing so much as Barack Obama’s third term with an additional steer to the left, this election should have been eminently winnable for the Republican Party. Even Mitt Romney would have been a lock for this one, gaffes or no gaffes. But through a toxic combination of abusing, mocking, ignoring and working against its own lower middle class support base, the Republican Party caused a mutiny which saw Donald Trump become the face of American conservatism. And Donald Trump, utterly predictably, has steered SS American Conservatism into the path of a giant iceberg.

I recently wrote:

This blog has been intermittently banging on about the need for small government conservatism to come to terms with our modern, globalised world – a world in which supply chains and labour markets are international, and the kind of mass, semi-skilled manufacturing work which once paid well enough to support a comfortable middle class life has either permanently disappeared, or else barely pays a subsistence wage.

This is a particular challenge for conservatives, who believe in empowering the individual and restricting the overbearing hand of government. Left-wingers can simply wave their arms and promise a new government programme to retrain vast swathes of the population, or buy their silence with benefits. Conservatives do not have this luxury.

But the eventual answer will, I am sure, have to come from conservatives. Cranking up the size of the state until it is all things to all people is unsustainable, squelching innovation at best and provoking economic crisis at worst, as proven every single time it has been attempted. Globalisation continues apace and the burning question continues to go unanswered.

This is what the Republican Party should be working on. The political party which cracks this issue, or which is the first to present a viable-looking policy solution to the American people (assuming either of the two parties step up to the challenge) could enjoy an entire generation in power, and the opportunity to permanently stamp their mark on both the economic and political life of America.

If the GOP could only find it within themselves to stop flirting with dangerous populists or reverting to type and promising their voters an unattainable land of milk and honey, then instead they could impose a new Thatcherite / Reaganite consensus on American politics, one which the more statist Democrats would struggle to defeat.

But now the Republicans are the party which nominated Donald Trump in 2016. Their moral and intellectual standing has never been lower. And the uphill climb back to respectability and influence is a punishing long one.

 

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Donald Berlusconi: What If Trump News Network, Not The White House, Is The Real Goal?

silvio-berlusconi-donald-trump-trump-news-network-media-ownership

Donald Trump either knows he has already lost the election, or is planning a corrupt presidency to rival the rule of media empire-owning former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi

With just 21 days to go until the US presidential election, there are new signs that Donald Trump (or at least those around him) are increasingly coming to believe that the game is up, and looking ahead to life after the election under the presidency of Hillary Clinton.

The Financial Times reports that Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, has been making confidential overtures to investors about funding a new startup Trump News Network:

Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has informally approached one of the media industry’s top dealmakers about the prospect of setting up a Trump television network after the presidential election in November.

Mr Kushner — an increasingly influential figure in the billionaire’s presidential campaign — contacted Aryeh Bourkoff, the founder and chief executive of LionTree, a boutique investment bank, within the past couple of months, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

Their conversation was brief and has not progressed since, the people said. Mr Bourkoff and Mr Kushner both declined to comment.

However, the approach suggests Mr Kushner and the Republican candidate himself are thinking about how to capitalise on the populist movement that has sprung up around their campaign in the event of an election defeat to Democrat Hillary Clinton next month. Mr Trump has in recent days ramped up his criticism of the “dishonest and distorted” mainstream media, which he accuses of being biased against him in collusion with the Clinton campaign.

This would certainly explain an awful lot about how Trump has been behaving since seizing the Republican Party presidential nomination in the summer. Since that time, Trump has overwhelmingly defaulted on his promises to switch gears and become “so presidential” and to reach out to centrist voters left unmoved by shrill denunciations of Hillary Clinton as a traitorous criminal.

In fact, rather than any tack back to traditional Republican values, Trump has doubled down on his conspiracy theorising and weaponised victimhood, preferring to drive the segment of America already well disposed to him wild with glee rather than expand his support base or help the prospects of down-ticket Republicans.

In this context, the idea that Trump either never intended to seriously challenge for the presidency (still a stretch, I think) or gradually gave up on that original ambition as he lurched from disaster to disaster (more plausible) starts to gain credence.

As a serious attempt to build an election-winning coalition of voters or persuade a majority to abandon their doubts and embrace his “ideology”, Trump’s continued behaviour has been entirely counterproductive. But as a strategy to enthuse his most ardent supporters and drive a further wedge between them and all mainstream sources of news (even including Fox News) it has been a masterpiece. Journalists are now routinely booed at Trump rallies, while the candidate himself accuses the media of being part of an organised establishment plot to swing the election for Hillary Clinton.

Currently these voters are served only by the more fringe conservative media – sites such as World Net Daily, Breitbart, InfoWars and alt-right personalities like Paul Joseph Watson and Mike Cernovich. And while many of these outlets are professionalising their operations, there probably still exists a gap in the market for a well-funded, professional-looking television news network that looks like CNN but talks like Alex Jones.

And now there is compelling evidence that Donald Trump, rather than seeking to help unite America in either victory or defeat, instead intends to capitalise on the partisan rancour and mutual distrust which will be left in the wake of this toxic presidential election campaign.

All of which raises a couple of rather pressing questions.

If Donald Trump is planning to set up a television news network regardless of the outcome of the election – raising the prospect of the most powerful man in the world also having a media empire to sing his praises from dawn to dusk, like Silvio Berlusconi (in so many ways) on steroids – is that not yet more evidence of his authoritarian, almost dictatorial intentions?

But if the Republican presidential nominee really has given up any prospect of winning the election and is instead abusing his platform to whip up a narrower subset of supporters with the hope of turning them into a loyal viewer base for his new television news network, then should he not be summarily removed from the GOP presidential ticket and replaced with somebody who is actually running to win for party and country?

 

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Top Image: Wikimedia Commons

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