Those who live in a bubble had best admit it, and apparently I do.
Quite a few conservatives, beginning maybe with George Will, are saying that the victory of Trump would be the end of conservatism. Others, maybe beginning with Damon Linker, are saying that the nomination of Trump signaled the end of conservatism. There are many ways of evaluating such claims. Here’s one.
You may have noticed that not much is said in this space about what goes on in other countries. It’s not that I don’t have opinions; it’s just I don’t imagine mine are worth much. I conspicuously didn’t take a stand on Brexit. It seemed to me there was a good case to be made for Britain’s leaving the European Union and a good case to be made for its staying in. I thought I’d leave it up to them. If I were British, I would have been more psyched up about the whole thing.
The outcome surprised me, because the past history of secessionist movements—such as Quebec and Scotland—has been of a petering out at the end. Just enough people get all prudent and make a safe choice. Not only that, all the factions of the respectably British cognitive elite—top politicians, public intellectuals, the business leaders, celebrities, the unions, and so forth—advocated making the Progressive choice. “Progressive” here means stay the course when it comes to evolving beyond the nation-state in the direction of larger and more cosmopolitan unions. We aspire to be citizens of the world, politics being that pathology that we shed as we move, as Tyler Cowen puts it, from being brutish to being nice.
The outcome of the Republican nomination process is a disaster for the party. The person chosen clearly is unqualified to be President, and many of his views are not those that have dominated the party over the last generation. He is not a man who respects the Constitution and the limits it imposes on political power. He is against, not big government, but stupid government. And Donald Trump really thinks he is the remedy for stupidity we need.
The Republicans are already backing off a bit or more from their hastily conceived policy of obstruction. There are loads of precedents for the obstruction, engaged in by both parties. Democratic whining about its deployment against President Obama’s nominee is as cheeky as it is hypocritical. Still, the higher road—the electorally more effective road, too—is perfect respect for constitutional forms.
Well, I agree with Donald Trump that the President’s big speech was boring and lethargic. That’s partly because there’s nothing more pathetic than a lame-duck President whose party doesn’t control Congress. He may talk big about executive orders and such, but he can’t help but project weakness and irrelevance. It’s true that the President is reduced to acting unconstitutionally, because the Constitution is no longer any President’s friend as his second term nears its end. Let me put forward the heretical thought that it would be better if he could run for reelection, and that constitutionally mandated term limits are counterproductive especially for Presidents. Now that I’ve made you angry, we can talk some about anger.
Roger Scruton is the greatest living conservative thinker. Well, that’s controversial, you might say. The other great thinkers around these days are more ambivalent about being conservative. Some libertarians, after all, think of themselves as liberals opposing themselves to conservatives. And the French philosopher Pierre Manent, like most American followers of Leo Strauss, thinks of himself as a conservative liberal. But the Buckinghamshire-born Scruton defines himself as a conservative, as opposed to a liberal, although he admits that it might be impossible to be conservative all the time.
It looks as if the Republicans are stuck with the strange truth that, now more than ever, their leading candidates are Ben Carson and Donald Trump.
The perception of the members of a key focus group was that Carson is “wise” and a “gentleman.” He might be more immune than Jeb to the Trump allegation that he’s “low energy.” While he did seem nervously lacking in assertiveness during the first two debates, his tone is inspirational on the stump and at times on the talk shows. He excels at quietly but firmly articulating American exceptionalism as a mixture of economic liberty and Biblical faith. For better and worse, Ben Carson isn’t much like Jeb Bush.