The O.J. Simpson Effect And Donald Trump’s Die-Hard Supporters

O.J. Simpson (C) and members of his defense team s

Examining the phenomenon of voters who will never reconsider their support for President Trump no matter what he does in office, Andrew Sullivan raises a valid comparison but misses the broader point

I broadly agree with Andrew Sullivan’s assessment of Donald Trump’s presidency thus far (i.e. that it has been a disaster characterised by one self-inflicted crisis after another), while Sullivan’s account of the last week also paints an accurate portrait of a man completely out of his depth:

The White House is barely functioning; legislation is completely stalled; next week’s trip abroad will have everyone watching from behind a couch; the FBI and CIA are reeling; there’s almost no one in the State Department; no presidential due diligence is applied to military actions; the president only reads memos when his name is mentioned in them; a not-too-smart and apparently mute 35-year-old son-in-law is supposed to solve every problem in the country and world; and the press secretary is hiding in the bushes. No one has any confidence that the president couldn’t throw us into a war or a constitutional crisis at a moment’s notice. Nothing this scary has happened in my lifetime.

Sullivan then goes on to ponder why it is that Trump’s devoted base shows no real sign of re-evaluating or revoking their support for the president, and comes up with an interesting analogy:

In some ways, I think the best analogy for Trump is O.J. Simpson. Even if we all know he’s guilty as sin, even if his own supporters see the flimflam behind the claptrap, even if the evidence is staring us in the face, he’ll never lose his core support. For 35 percent of the country, he’ll never be guiltier than the system he’s challenging. The best we can hope for is a Democratic House in 2018 and a grinding, grueling attempt to minimize the already enormous harm Trump has done in the meantime. We can pursue that outcome while hoping our cold civil war doesn’t get hot — because this is beginning to feel like the 1850s.

I was too young (and living in the wrong country) to really understand what was happening or the critical context during the trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995, but I have just finished re-watching the excellent FX television dramatisation “The People vs O.J. Simpson” and the longform ESPN documentary “O.J.: Made in America” – and it seems clear to me that Andrew Sullivan is missing the key lesson from the OJ trial as it pertains to public policy.

Sullivan picks up on the obvious point – that O.J. Simpson was clearly guilty, and that even many of those who proclaimed his innocence actually knew, in their heart of hearts, that the man committed the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. So yes, if one wants to keep things superficial then we can join Sullivan in marvelling at the ability of foolish Trump supporters to similarly cast facts and reason aside, motivated by base emotion.

But the real lesson to be learned from the O.J. Simpson case is that no justice system (and by extension, no democracy) cannot function as it should when there is so much unresolved injustice – real or perceived – within the same system. The OJ murder case took place in the wake of the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots, which themselves took place after years of institutionalised racism within the Los Angeles Police Department. The decision to acquit O.J. Simpson was far more payback for countless previous cases of denied justice than a fair verdict based on the evidence presented at trial. Now, one can rail endlessly against the jury and their decision-making process, but it will do nothing to prevent similar unjust verdicts potentially being reached again in future.

This should be particularly worrying for all of us at the present time, with the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics in such ascendancy. With many on the political Left actively seeking to fracture society into competing special interest groups arranged into an intersectional hierarchy of victimhood – a phenomenon which has now escaped the university campus and is beginning to infect the corporate world and other institutions – there has perhaps never been a time when so many have had things so good yet felt so persecuted and oppressed despite their good fortune (just look at any college campus protest).

How will the justice system continue to function in the world of Social Justice, when advancing the interest of one’s own narrowly-defined identity group may increasingly trump the universal need for justice? When even science is forced to bend the knee to progressive gender theory (see Bill Nye the Science Guy’s promotion of Otherkin and forced orgies) what hope can there be for rationality in anything?

Andrew Sullivan is a conservative – or at least he still nominally “identifies” as a conservative. And one characteristic of conservatives is that we generally seek to engage with human beings and the world as they are, rather than as we would like them to be. Unlike the Utopian Left (who have repeatedly flirted with communism, furiously ignoring the fact that such a system inevitably results in tyrannical dictatorship), the Right tend to understand that government and economic policy must work with human nature, not against it. That’s why the Right embraces capitalism – because capitalism harnesses our natural desire for success and monetary reward (the profit motive), and feeds that desire into a system which – to the extent that it is allowed to do its job unimpeded – creates far more prosperity and material abundance for far more people than any other economic system known to man.

With a conservative’s acceptance of human nature, Sullivan should therefore understand that when any given group of people find themselves on the receiving end of perceived injustice for long enough, reason tends to go out the window to a certain degree and people become susceptible to more emotional rather than rational arguments. That’s largely why the O.J. Simpson jury voted to acquit, despite the overwhelming evidence indicating that he was guilty. That’s partly (but not exclusively) why African Americans vote Democrat in such overwhelming numbers, despite the fact that successive Democratic administrations and Congresses have delivered mixed results for them at best. And just to acknowledge that “my own side” are equally vulnerable to this aspect of human nature, it is also partly why a majority of Britons – those with less formal education and those lacking the skills required to prosper in today’s globalised economy – voted against the political elite in favour of Brexit.

You can rail against this human nature all you want – and Andrew Sullivan, having identified that the “O.J. Simpson Factor” is in play appears willing simply to do that – but if you actually want to achieve a different outcome then it is necessary to acknowledge this aspect of human nature and work with it, rather than against it. And in the case of Donald Trump, this will necessarily involve America’s elites actually having to to atone for their manifold failures, which are responsible for giving us President Trump in the first place.

Editor of The American Conservative, Robert Merry, sums it up perfectly:

When a man as uncouth and reckless as Trump becomes president by running against the nation’s elites, it’s a strong signal that the elites are the problem. We’re talking here about the elites of both parties. Think of those who gave the country Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee—a woman who sought to avoid accountability as secretary of state by employing a private email server, contrary to propriety and good sense; who attached herself to a vast nonprofit “good works” institution that actually was a corrupt political machine designed to get the Clintons back into the White House while making them rich; who ran for president, and almost won, without addressing the fundamental problems of the nation and while denigrating large numbers of frustrated and beleaguered Americans as “deplorables.” The unseemliness in all this was out in plain sight for everyone to see, and yet Democratic elites blithely went about the task of awarding her the nomination, even to the point of employing underhanded techniques to thwart an upstart challenger who was connecting more effectively with Democratic voters.

At least Republican elites resisted the emergence of Trump for as long as they could. Some even attacked him vociferously. But, unlike in the Democratic Party, the Republican candidate who most effectively captured the underlying sentiment of GOP voters ended up with the nomination. The Republican elites had to give way. Why? Because Republican voters fundamentally favor vulgar, ill-mannered, tawdry politicians? No, because the elite-generated society of America had become so bad in their view that they turned to the man who most clamorously rebelled against it.

These two paragraphs alone do not really do Merry’s piece justice, and I encourage people to read the whole thing, together with Rod Dreher’s follow-up piece.

There seems to exist within the American political and media elite a belief that it will be possible to force Donald Trump from office, either through impeachment, 25th Amendment remedies or coerced resignation, and then simply resume governing in the style to which they are accustomed. This is ludicrous. Donald Trump’s supporters will not take the thwarting of their democratic choice lying down. Trump may be all but guaranteed to fail these people, even if he serves a full two terms as president, but for the Washington elite to effectively engineer a coup against Trump for mere incompetence (smoking gun evidence of direct Russian collusion is another matter, of course) would be to set the social fabric of America, already smouldering, on fire.

In order to put an end to civil unrest and prevent more miscarriages of justice like the O.J. Simpson verdict, the LAPD had to admit to some of their past failings and go through a fairly tortured process to ensure that bad practices and individuals were weeded out of the force. The Christopher Commission (formed in 1991 after the Rodney King beating, but whose effects had not fully taken hold by the time of the OJ murders) was a significant part of this process.

But right now, much of the American elite and political establishment believe that no similar process of atonement and change is necessary. They believe that because Trump is so bad, so unprecedented, that they can agitate for his removal and pick up running the country right where they left off without undergoing any kind of positive reform. And frankly, that notion is absurd.

If one wishes to ensure that the American people never again elect as president somebody with the character, temperament and personal history as Donald Trump, then one must tackle some of the root causes of Trump’s victory. And no, I don’t mean Russian hacking, though Russian influence may have played some as-yet unspecified part.

Rather, the political elite must finally show a degree of empathy for those people whose boats have been submerged rather than lifted by the rising tide of globalisation, and those who hold political, social and religious views which differ from progressive orthodoxy and suddenly find themselves ostracised and labelled “deplorable” as a result. But more than merely paying lip service to these issues, the Washington elite must devise tangible and realistic policies to help these struggling voter constituencies, and demonstrate a plausible commitment to following through with those policies. Only then – if the political elite are willing to take this harsh medicine – can some of the poison finally be drained from American politics.

But Andrew Sullivan doesn’t quite seem to have gotten to this point, still stuck in the phase of scratching his head wondering how Trump’s voter base can possibly be so stupid. This phase is unhelpful, and becomes actively damaging the longer it persists. Nobody behaves entirely rationally all the time, and the phenomenon is by no means restricted to Trump supporters – after all, there is no rationality to be found in that stubborn clique who persist in believing that Hillary Clinton was a wonderful presidential candidate, or those who feel that the European Union is an unquestionably beneficient organisation. We all have our blind spots.

But expecting the country to spurn Trump and accept a return to leadership by the same elites who have presided over such American carnage (yes) in forgotten and unloved parts of the country is to demand that those who have the least make all the accommodations and do all the sacrificing while those who tend to have more are asked to do nothing, give nothing and change nothing.

Donald Trump’s presidency is lurching toward failure, but thus far the dethroned American political elite have done nothing to rehabilitate their standing in the public’s eye; nor have most of them even acknowledged the need to do so.

OJ Simpson had a rock-solid core of support inside the jury room and outside the courtroom for a very clear, identifiable reason which had to be acknowledged and grudgingly tackled by the police and criminal justice system before the racial divide in Los Angeles could even begin to heal. The American political elite are deluding themselves if they believe that they can return to power, normality and stability without going through a similar reckoning of their own.

 

OJ Simpson verdict acquittal - Daily News headline

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When American Liberals Lose The Faith

Doesn’t this testimonial from a disaffected California liberal really speak volumes about just how far the American Left is going to lose friends and alienate people?

Rod Dreher shares an email from a reader:

So I was raised a secular liberal. My college professors were secular liberals. During my journalism phase, my newspaper colleagues were secular liberals. My law school professors and peers were – in the vast majority – secular liberals. Almost everyone at my corporate law firm was a secular liberal. My California neighbors and friends are secular liberals, as are my colleagues. My mother, siblings, and their spouses are all secular liberals.

By all rights, I should be a member in good standing of their tribe, “liking” their Facebook posts and joining their candlelight vigils against the evil Trump Administration. But November 8 and its aftermath revealed to me that I am just so tired of these people. I can’t be like them, and I don’t want my kids turning into them.

I am tired of their undisguised contempt for tens of millions of Americans, with no effort to temper their response to the election with humility or empathy.

I am tired of their unexamined snobbery and condescension.

I am tired of their name-calling and virtue-signaling as signs of supposedly high intelligence.

I am tired of their trendiness, jumping on every left-liberal bandwagon that comes along (transgender activism, anyone?) and then acting like anyone not on board is an idiot/hater.

I am tired of their shallowness. It’s hard to have a deep conversation with people who are obsessed with moving their kids’ pawns across the board (grades, sports, college, grad school, career) and, in their spare time, entertaining themselves and taking great vacations.

I am tired of their acceptance of vulgarity and sarcastic irreverence as the cultural ocean in which their kids swim. I like pop culture as much as the next person, but people who would never raise their kids on junk food seem to think nothing of letting then wallow in cultural junk, exposed to nothing ennobling, aspirational, or even earnest.

I am tired of watching them raise clueless kids (see above) who go off to college and within months are convinced they live in a rapey, racist patriarchy; “Make America Great Again” is hate speech; and Black Lives Matter agitators are their brothers-in-arms against White Privilege. If my kids are like that at nineteen, I’ll feel I’ve seriously failed them as a parent. Yet the general sentiment seems to be these are good, liberal kids who may have gotten a bit carried away.

I am tired of their lack of interest in any form of serious morality or self-betterment. These are decent, responsible people, many compassionate by temperament. Yet they seem two-dimensional, as if they believe that being a nice, well-socialized person who holds the correct political views is all there is, and there is nothing else to talk about. Isn’t there, though?

I am tired of being bored and exasperated by everybody. I feel like I have read this book a thousand times, and there are no surprises in it. Down with Trump! Trans Lives Matter! Climate deniers are destroying the planet! No cake, we’re gluten-free!

These are good people in a lot of ways. But there has got to be a better tribe.

It must be disturbing to “wake up” like this and realise that you are no longer fully in communion with your tribe, so kudos to Rod Dreher’s reader for putting into words something that cannot be easy to admit. With the wounds of the 2016 presidential election still raw, many on the American Left have little time for doubters, and admitting a heresy such as this would likely be met not with understanding (let alone introspection) but rather with intolerance and fury.

The scene that comes to my mind is from the film American History X, where protagonist Derek Vinyard, serving a jail sentence for the racist-motivated murder of a black car thief, realises the flaws of his white supremacist worldview while in prison and is then utterly unable to engage with that community – his only source of friendship and support – after his release. Eventually, Vinyard confronts the group’s leader and explicitly rejects their racist ideology, at which point they chase him out of their camp.

Increasingly, one has to either buy the whole regressive leftist agenda or none of it at all. Because it is couched in such explicitly moral terms, with any departure from orthodoxy seen as a moral failure, to question just one aspect of the worldview – the identity politics, the environmentalism, the statist paternalism – is to make oneself persona non grata within that community. Imagine the pain of realising that you no longer believe every article in the leftist gospel, and then being faced either with the prospect of admitting your heresy and being actively shunned by family, friends and colleagues, or else keeping your opposition quiet and living a lie.

The American Left has, with too few exceptions, given up on trying to win by persuasion, seeking instead to achieve victory by shaming and bullying dissenters into a sullen, resentful silence. That approach is no longer working and delivering benefits, to the extent that it ever did. When people like Rod Dreher’s reader are leaving the tribe in disgust at the sanctimonious echo chamber of questionable values then clearly something has gone wrong.

None of this is to say that American conservatism is in fine fettle – clearly not, as this blog has repeatedly warned. The fact that Republicans have closed ranks behind a profoundly authoritarian and un-conservative President-elect Donald Trump is evidence of the challenge faced by small-C conservatives in trying to maintain their influence and steer the Trump presidency away from endless pitfalls.

But it is the slow-burning revolution on the Left (particularly the growing elitism and the lethal embrace of identity politics) which fed the populist Right to the extent that Donald Trump won the White House. And until the American Left learns to moderate its many excesses and accept ideological diversity together with all the other kinds of diversity they champion, they will continue to alienate crucial allies and accelerate their march into irrelevance.

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 46 – Purging Catholicism From A Catholic University In The Name Of Social Justice

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When academic or religious freedom is at stake, principled pro-free speech professors can expect no cover or support from their spineless university administrations

We have already seen how the leaders and administrators at one American Catholic university – DePaul University in Chicago – have demonstrated that they would sooner purge their own faith from campus than do anything which might risk upsetting the SJW cultists and their new secular gods of social justice and identity politics.

And now Rod Dreher brings us news of another persecution taking place, this time at Providence College in Rhode Island, where literature professor Tony Esolen finds himself besieged by vengeful students and hung out to dry by his superiors for having written a thoughtful essay for Crisis Magazine, questioning the current cult of Diversity At All Costs.

Was the essay rather provocative? Well yes – it was titled “My college succumbed to the totalitarian diversity cult”. But at one time university professors were expected to do and say provocative things. It was part of creating a climate of no-holds-barred intellectual debate, the kind which seems to have become so unfashionable of late.

But Esolen made a compelling argument in his essay – writing, remember, from the perspective of an orthodox Catholic teaching at a supposedly Catholic educational institution:

I understand what it is to have a Greek festival or an Italian festival, or a parish festival where fellow Catholics come out to enjoy good high-calorie food, play some innocent games of chance, and try to get the priest to sit in the dunking machine. For man is always united from above, not from below, and that includes even the make-believe transcendence of the local baseball team, which is harmless enough if not taken too seriously. When Catholics come to Mass to pray, they do so as members of one Church, not ten, not fifty, praying the same prayers all over the world, because they give thanks to the one Lord and Savior who died for them on one cross, on the one hill of the Skull, on that one Friday long ago. This was the same Lord who prayed that we would be not ten, not fifty, but one, even as he and the Father are one.

But the watchword at Providence College right now is not unity, but “diversity,” as is made evident by the four-page Diversity Program featured prominently on our website. When I see the word “diversity” in its current use as a political slogan, I ask myself the following questions:

What is diversity, as opposed to divergence?
What is diversity, as opposed to mere variety?
What goods, precisely, is diversity supposed to deliver?
Why is intellectual diversity not served by the study of a dozen cultures of the past, with their vast array of customs, poetry, art, and worship of the gods?

Immediately one can see how this would offend the SJW ideological enforcers, who preach that we are not one, but many, and that we must continually emphasise and acknowledge our differences – often to the extent of resegregation – rather than highlight our common bonds.

Esolen concludes his essay:

But there is no evidence on our Diversity page that we wish to be what God has called us to be, a committedly and forthrightly Catholic school with life-changing truths to bring to the world. It is as if, deep down, we did not really believe it. So let us suppose that a professor should affirm some aspect of the Church’s teaching as regards the neuralgia of our time, sex. Will his right to do so be confirmed by those who say they are committed to diversity? Put it this way. Suppose someone were to ask, “Is it permitted for a secular liberal, at a secular and liberal college, to affirm in the classroom a secular view of sex and the family?” The question would strike everyone as absurd. It would be like asking whether we were permitted to walk on two feet or to look up at the sky. Then why should it not also be absurd to ask, “Is it permitted for a Catholic, at a college that advertises itself as Catholic, to affirm a Catholic view of sex and the family?” And I am not talking merely about professors whose specific job it is to teach moral philosophy or moral theology. I am talking about all professors.

In my now extensive experience, Catholic professors in Catholic colleges have been notably tolerant of the limitations of their secular colleagues. We make allowances all the time. We understand, though, that some of them—not all, but then it only takes a few—would silence us for good, if they had the power. They have made life hell for more than one of my friends. All, now, in the name of an undefined and perhaps undefinable diversity, to which you had damned well better give honor and glory. If you don’t—and you may not even be aware of the lese majeste as you commit it—you’d better have eyes in the back of your head.

So naturally, outraged SJW students at Providence College went running to the college president in tears, claiming that they had been “harmed” by these thoughtful and completely non-malicious essays.

Equally predictably, the university authorities rolled over in the face of this tyrannical power play by the band of wobbly-lipped permanent victim students, and effectively censured Esolen. As Esolen recounted to Rod Dreher:

My friends of course were outraged, and I was stunned — basically, I had been singled out and exposed before the whole faculty, very few of whom were probably even aware that there was such a thing as Crisis Magazine; and of course they and the students are not my audience when I write for Crisis or whatever. Then, as if that were not bad enough, the President met with faculty on Wednesday afternoon, and all they did for a solid hour was to revile the evil Professor Esolen, with a few old-fashioned liberals defending my right to express my opinions, and several of my stalwart friends from philosophy and theology defending me personally and criticizing the president for his decision and for his handling of related matters. When the president said that he believed that he had to act “for pastoral reasons,” they replied that it was a strange form of pastoral care that pits every member of a community against one.

And it is still not over. The faculty have circulated a “petition,” or a resolution, or something neither flesh nor fowl, to the effect that though we all have academic freedom, it has to be exercised responsibly, and reviling “some part of the PC faculty” that is “unabashed” in publishing articles that are racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic. The petition has been signed by various faculty members and students. And STILL I hear that they are not satisfied, but are trying to figure out if they can use my articles to nail me for “bias” and hate, basically asserting that I am not capable of teaching certain categories of students — gay, female, and so forth.

Though he remains able to appreciate the bitter humour in the situation:

As I’ve said to people, authors don’t choose the titles for articles for Crisis Magazine; the editor does that, for the sake of “traffic” on the page. His title was a bit provocative. But everything that has happened since then has shown me, alas, that the editor saw more than I did, or more than I have been willing to admit. The irony would seem to be obvious: “How DARE you suggest that there is a totalitarian impulse in our behavior? You should be FIRED!” And then of course there is the brazen cheering of the faculty when it is proposed that we should not be Catholic after all.

The strange irony of it all is that I’m the one who believes that a wide diversity of cultures and of institutions is a good thing, and they really do not. I do not WANT all colleges and universities to be basically the same; they do.

The list of demands presented to Providence College by the student protesters is full of all the demands for compulsory re-education (of students and faculty), gutting the core undergraduate curriculum to de-emphasise the Western Canon and make it more SJW-friendly, pumping more money into ethnic and gender studies, aggressive hire of minorities on an affirmative action basis, trained counsellors to minister to the delicate emotions of the student snowflakes, the building of a “multicultural center” and – naturally – the hire of new dedicated Diversity Professionals to oversee the new regime.

We are becoming accustomed to reading these laughably impertinent demands, but this document really does take one’s breath away with its sheer scope. And given the fact that the president (Fr. Brian Shanley) folded faster than Superman on laundry day when students first protested professor Esolen – sending them a grovellingly conciliatory letter which basically threw Esolen under the bus – I would not bet against the list of demands being implemented in full, unquestioningly, within the space of a decade.

When spineless university administrators are forced to choose between academic freedom or facing down the minority of SJW agitators who are determined to turn academic life into a pointless, totalitarian dystopia of identity politics totalitarianism, academic freedom loses every time. And when Catholic university administrators are forced to choose between defending the right of orthodox Catholics to express their faith or bowing to endless demands from the most privileged generation of college students in history, again there is no question. The demands are implemented and Catholicism goes out the window before you can say “that’s oppressive”.

Hopefully the new attention focused on this case – plus the fact that Professor Esolen has tenure – will mean that his job remains safe. But the long term outlook is bleak. Academia having nearly completely fallen to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, Catholic universities across America may soon become safe spaces for everyone and everything, save Catholicism itself.

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

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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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Conservatism, Behind Enemy Lines

Rod Dreher reports on a fascinating (and depressing) exchange posted on the wall of Princeton professor Robert P. George, between Professor George and a closeted conservative colleague.

The recounted exchange is worth posting in full:

Closeted conservative colleague: “I don’t feel I can say what I think, at least not at this stage. I have a family to care for and other responsibilities, you know.”

Me: “Sure. I’m not criticizing you.”

CCC: “I’ve seen people’s careers ruined for saying what they think.”

Me: “I have, too. I’m really not criticizing you. I assume you’re following your conscience.”

CCC: “You say what you think and you’ve survived. But your the exception.”

Me: “I’ve been very fortunate. That’s true. But there are plenty of others. I’m not unique. There’s Harvey Mansfield, Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Jim Ceaser, and others. Even some people they’ve tried hard to destroy have survived. Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas, Austin,” for example. They threw everything they could find at him, every calumny imaginable. They tried to get him formally investigated and fired. But he has beaten them. I predict he’ll be promoted to full professor this year.”

CCC: “Yes, but there have been lots of victims, too.”

Me: “Yes. Alas. Lots of victims.”

CCC: “You think I should say what I think.”

Me: “I think you should follow your conscience.”

CCC: “That’s just your way of saying I should say what I think.”

Me:; “Look, as I said, I’m not criticizing you. Only you can discern the demands of your own conscience. I didn’t even bring this whole subject up, you did.”

CCC: “I know what you tell your graduate students to do. You tell them not to hide their politically incorrect views.”

Me: “Well, yes, I hardly hide my advice to them. They initially find it counterintuitive. Their natural instinct is to hide their dissenting beliefs or downplay them. I think that’s risky from a character point of view and also not the best strategy for success.”

CCC: “You ARE judging those of us who keep our opinions to ourselves, then.”

Me: “For heaven’s sake, I’m just saying that there is a certain moral hazard in not speaking your mind. As scholars, we’ve got a special obligation to truth and a vocation to truth-telling. Of course, everybody has a basic obligation to honor the truth, as best they grasp it, but our obligation is even more central to who we are. So, speaking for myself, I don’t see what the point of being a scholar is if we’re not willing to speak the truth as best we understand it. I mean, there are lots of other fields we could go into. We could be lawyers, or doctors, operate hedge funds. There’s the insurance business. Wendy’s franchises. Anyway, again speaking for myself, if I felt I couldn’t speak the truth out loud, I would abandon academic life and go do something else.”

CCC: “You’re not afraid to say what you think because you’ve been able to get away with it without your academic career being ruined.”

Me: “That’s exactly backwards. I’ve been able to get away with it because I’m not afraid to say what I think. Fear empowers the bullies. They’re far less bold and aggressive when they know you’re not afraid of them.”

CCC: “Well, I am afraid of them.”

What emotion do you suppose is primarily motivating CCC? I think that the answer is quite clear: terror. Sheer, unbridled terror at the thought of being purged not only from one’s current job but from one’s profession field altogether if one so much as questions the progressive, social justice/identity politics dogma which has descended on academia like a suffocating blanket.

Where else in history have we seen such terror, such fear of having one’s heretical personal beliefs exposed and punished by the state or the mob? It’s hard not to give way to hyperbole, but this is literally the stuff of Orwell’s 1984, or (back in the real world) Soviet Russia during the purges.

And for what? To bring about forced adherence to the new orthodoxy on gender identity, racial politics, climate change, immigration and any other left wing cause du jour. Left-wing academics and students have abandoned any glancing interest in persuasion as a tool, and have jumped straight to brutal enforcement. Some academic fields will take longer than others to fall under the jackboots of this new authoritarianism – the STEM subjects are still relatively free, the humanities dangle over the precipice while the social sciences have long since fallen – but all are heading in the same direction.

And this is why Robert P. George’s own stance matters, and is correct. Just as there can be no equitable accommodation with people who want to establish a fundamentalist Islamist caliphate across the West, neither can conservative academics and other defenders of free speech split the difference with the authoritarian, petty tyrants who are busy consolidating their control over the university campus. One either has academic freedom and the right to free speech, or one does not. There is either censorship and an ideological test for working in certain professions, or there is not.

The time for keeping one’s head down and trying to avoid trouble is over. Those of us who believe in free speech and unrestricted academic enquiry have an obligation to speak out in defence of those being persecuted or intimidated for their beliefs, today and in the future, whether we agree with the particular speech in question or not.

They can’t arrest us all and they can’t fire everyone simultaneously. Conservatism needs to make a stand, to boldly assert that it will not be intimidated and purged from academia without a fight, or without exposing the progressive, social justice cultists as the modern day tyrants that they are.

 

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