Something stirred in my conscience in the fall of 1979. I was 9 years old, I had gotten into the habit of setting my clock radio alarm to go off at the very moment the local radio station was beginning its broadcast day with the Star Spangled Banner. I would leap out of bed, grab by younger brothers out of bed and stand stick-straight with my hand over my heart – and on more than one occasion, a tear in my eye.
Yes, I was that much of a nerd.
But that period of time was an ideological awaking. I began to read National Review, and my mother was teaching us about the Founding Fathers and the threat of the Soviets. And my parents had real hope in some guy named Ronald Reagan (I had never heard of him before I was nine) who was going to run for President again.
By the time the U.S. Hockey team beat the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics, I was a full-throated American patriot. I believed (probably because my mom believed) that Ronald Reagan was going to win the presidency and save the nation from communism, because God helped a bunch of young scrappy amateurs beat the most fierce hockey machine in the world. Just like God helped the young scrappy amateurs of the colonies beat the fiercest army on the planet when we won the Revolutionary War.
That was my idealistic mindset: that God truly loved this nation and would help it succeed so that millions upon millions of His children could enjoy the blessings of liberty.
That’s what made me a conservative. It’s what motivates what I do to try to advance conservatism every day. It’s because I want my children to continue to be free. I cherish my conservatism – because I spent years reading the great conservative thinkers and plunging into a career in politics and public policy to defend and advance those ideals.
So you’ll forgive me if I fear what Donald Trump is doing to conservatism.
That theme was masterfully addressed by Jonah Goldberg in this piece last week. Here are a couple excerpts:
The late Bill Rusher, longtime publisher of National Review, often counseled young writers to remember, “Politicians will always disappoint you.” As I’ve often said around here, this isn’t because politicians are evil. It’s because politicians are politicians. Their interests too often lie in votes, not in principles. That’s why the conservative movement has always recognized that victory lies not simply in electing conservative politicians, but in shaping a conservative electorate that lines up the incentives so that politicians define their self-interest in a conservative way. But if it’s true that politicians can disappoint, I think one has to say that the people can, too.
And when I say “the people” I don’t mean “those people.” I mean my people. I mean many of you, Dear Readers. Normally, when conservatives talk about how the public can be wrong, we mean that public. You know the one. The “low-information voters” Rush Limbaugh is always talking about. The folks we laughed at when Jay Leno interviewed them on the street. But we don’t just mean the unwashed and the ill-informed. We sometimes mean Jews, blacks, college kids, Lena Dunham fans, and countless other partisan slices of the electorate who reflexively vote on strict party lines for emotional or irrational reasons. We laugh at liberals who let know-nothing celebrities do their thinking for them.
Well, many of the same people we laughed at are now laughing at us because we are going ga-ga over our own celebrity.
If I sound dismayed, it’s only because I am. Conservatives have spent more than 60 years arguing that ideas and character matter. That is the conservative movement I joined and dedicated my professional life to. And now, in a moment of passion, many of my comrades-in-arms are throwing it all away in a fit of pique. Because “Trump fights!” How many Republicans have been deemed unfit for the Oval Office because of comparatively minor character flaws or ideological shortcomings? Rick Perry in 2012 saw his candidacy implode when he couldn’t remember the third item on his checklist of agencies he’d close down. Well, even in that “oops” moment, Rick Perry comes off as Lincolnesque compared with Donald Trump.
Unsurprisingly, Jonah received a lot of hate mail and pretty harsh comments. As he wrote in his follow-up piece:
There’s no way I could — or should — respond to all of the criticisms or attacks. So I’ll just focus on a couple themes. The biggest criticism — in terms of quantity, not quality — is that I am a RINO squish faker fraud no-goodnik lib sucking at the teat of the establishment blah blah and blah. These usually take the form of angry tweets and e-mails. So I’ll fold my response to this silliness into my responses to the longer-form stuff.
He then does a pretty good job explaining why he feel strongly about this issue:
I don’t think Trump is a conservative. I don’t think he’s a very serious person. I don’t think he’s a man of particularly good character. I don’t think he can be trusted to do the things he promises. Etc. If all that hurts your feelings, I’m sorry. But there’s no need to make up imaginary motives. The reason I’m writing such things is that I believe them — and that’s my job.
Even though it may not necessarily be “my job” to point out that Trump is no conservative and is doing real harm to the conservative movement, I feel very, very strongly about it – because I became a conservative as a result of years of thinking, reading, arguing, debating, defending, and advocating.
Trump just decided the next step in his ego-fueled, reality-TV existence was to run for President as a Republican, so he magically became a “conservative” overnight. Terrific!
I believe if William F. Buckley were alive today, he would once again stand athwart history yelling, Stop!