The Democratic Party is moving America radically leftward. There is no solace in the hope that people will tolerate only slow, incremental change. There are watershed moments in a culture, when a massive political transformation occurs almost overnight. I think we are living in one of those moments. It would have been inconceivable just a few months ago that a movement to “defund the police” could gain political traction. Or that those who did not kneel during the national anthem would now be compelled to apologize for their “insensitivity.” Or that museum curators would be fired for announcing that white artists would not be excluded from future exhibitions. We are past “incrementalism” and lurching closer to full-blown collectivism.
Which is all the more reason to vote against Donald Trump in the coming election.
The Democrats have a certain political philosophy. In our two-party system, restraining them requires a Republican Party with opposing ideas. Such a party no longer exists. Trump has taken over the Republican Party and stripped it of all vestiges of ideology.
The Republican Party had been deteriorating for many years, but, prior to Trump, still retained some semblance of an ideology. The party was maddeningly, self-destructively inconsistent, but nonetheless stood vaguely for something in the public’s mind. In contrast to the left, it stood for smaller government. It endorsed relatively free trade, it welcomed immigrants as productive individuals, it wanted fewer controls over business, it wanted less government involvement in medicine. Even as the party lacked much intellectual ammunition, it had a pro-American sense of life, one that rested on the premise that this is a country founded on the value of individual liberty, which gave meaning to the idea of American exceptionalism in the world.
What does it stand for now, under Trump? Mindless, xenophobic nationalism. At political rallies, Trump elicits passionate responses from the people he refers to as “my followers,” not when he calls for reducing the federal budget or cutting back the welfare state, but when he declares that he will “build the wall.” He is cheered when he tells crowds that he will “make America great again”–not by promoting capitalism, but by expanding the power of the state and keeping foreigners and foreign goods out of the country. These are the views that now define the party. Trump has co-opted the Republican Party. And Trump’s influence is such that Republican politicians who fail to embrace him are unable to gain the party’s support.
Consequently, the better Republicans have withdrawn from politics or been driven out by Trump. The ones who remain, many of whom once provided intellectual opposition to Trump, are now his lapdogs.
Yes, Trump takes certain positions that may seem to advance the cause of freedom. But there are no ideas he actually believes in, including even the ones he espouses. He may reduce some business regulations, but it is not the principle of deregulation that he upholds. Rather, what he wants is that he be the one to determine who is and who is not to be subject to government controls. He wants the power to decide which products are to have tariffs imposed and which are to be granted exemptions; which companies are to be penalized for building plants overseas and which aren’t; which people are to be allowed to express their views and which are to be censored. His disagreements with the Democrats are over random concretes, on which he can switch positions at whim. He is oblivious to ideas and to principles; he is simply a power-seeking authoritarian.
Trump reveals this most overtly when he discusses his foreign policy. For example, speaking admiringly about China’s dictator Xi Jinping, Trump said:
“He’s now president for life. President for life! No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day. . . .”
He has often gushed over the actions of Vladimir Putin, including his decision to invade Crimea:
“Well, he’s done an amazing job . . . and you look at what he’s doing. And so smart. When you see the riots in [Crimea] because they’re hurting the Russians, OK, [Putin says,] ‘We’ll go and take it over.’ And he really goes step by step by step, and you have to give him a lot of credit. But you have to give him credit that what he’s doing for that country in terms of their world prestige is very strong.”
When asked whether a meeting with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un would be worthwhile, Trump replied:
“I think it’s something that could happen. Hey, he’s the head of a country–and I mean he’s the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
It’s striking that Trump would be so willing to reveal his envy of totalitarian despots. The interesting point is not just that he conveys no moral criticism of their power, but that he does not care that the public might morally disapprove of the despots and of his praise for them. After all, this is a man obsessed with having others approve of him–yet he can’t even conceive of the idea that moral principles might actually be a concern to some people. Principles are simply alien to his mind.
Trump is the most anti-ideological, anti-conceptual president in memory.
The political battle today between Democrats and Republicans may well be described as tribe vs. tribe. But in a conflict between a tribe with an ideology and a tribe without one, which will prevail?
If the left is to face a challenge to its ideas, the current Republican Party will have to implode and a different party be allowed to emerge. Trump needs to be soundly repudiated. If he loses overwhelmingly in the presidential election, and if a Republican House and Senate are elected, the unmistakable message would be that the ideas of the left cannot be fought via the anti-ideology of Trumpism.
In a follow-up Mr. Schwartz adds:
…I’m not simply advocating a Republican Party loss in the presidential election as a means of spurring the party to improve. Such a strategy could have been employed in any presidential race in the past few decades, and one could have made plausible arguments for and against that approach. But it is not what I’m calling for. What I’m urging applies distinctively to 2020—and to Trump.
Republican candidates such as Bush or McCain or Romney were compromising appeasers, who continually betrayed their professed ideology of limiting the scope of government power. Trump, however, poses a unique danger. He is militantly oblivious to ideas, and—as I’ve explained—he is transforming the GOP into a party with no ideology, not even a professed one. (It’s telling that the Republicans decided not to have a party platform this year; instead, they “agreed to reassert the Party’s strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration” and “to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” That was the whole of the ideological content that is taking the place of an actual platform.)
It’s Trump’s influence on the Republicans that needs to be repudiated. Which a decisive loss in the presidential race (and decisive gains by Republicans in the Congressional races) will accomplish.
This post first appeared in the Harry Binswanger Letter (HBL) Forum.