Donald Trump and conservative values

What would they know about the meaning of conservative? First we have Paul Kelly writing his column with the heading Conservative principles and values are being trashed. And then there’s Brian Loughnane with this as the highlighted quote from his article, also in The Oz, “Trump is the most serious challenge to conservatism since World War II”. Really, what would they know? Michael Anton, on the other hand, does know.

And the question asked in this column, naturally not at The Australian, is this: Why did so many conservative intellectuals become Trumpists. And here is the conservative answer: there was and is no other way to save our civilisation from collapse. Even with the election, there is hardly any certainty we have turned the corner, but at least there is now the possibility. This, apparently, is the part of the conservative world in which I belong. The Anton referred to in the passage below is Michael Anton who wrote, under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus, the much-discussed article, “The Flight 93 Election” which I blogged on at length on three separate occasions during the election. Since he and I see things almost identically, this is how we are described:

The crux of Anton’s case for supporting Trump was that if he didn’t win, it would mean the effective end of self-government in the United States. For eight years Obama expanded the administrative state more radically than any president since Lyndon Johnson, injecting intrusive regulations much further than ever before into the health-care sector, the energy sector, marriage, religion, even bathroom use in public schools. If Hillary Clinton prevailed, it would mean that those innovations would become the new baseline for even more acts of administrative overreach. After four to eight more years of that, the century-long progressive transformation of the American regime would be complete, rendering constitutional government and the conservative movement lost causes once and for all.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Anton (as Decius) came out in favor of Trump, in part, because he hoped the real-estate mogul would serve as a blunt instrument to bring down key elements of the administrative state, including those outposts of the conservative movement (which he memorably dubbed “Conservative, Inc.”) that live like parasites off of the federal government even while criticizing it and waiting for the next election that gives them an opportunity to trim it at the margins and change nothing fundamental about it at all. But Anton also hoped that Trump’s full-throated defense of the nation, borders, and citizenship would catch fire among the American people, who would at long last rise up to demand that the administrative state be put back in its place — to make room once again for constitutionalism, statesmanship, and republican government of free and equal citizens.

I remain mystified by anyone who does not see things this way. And if you do not, you cannot call yourself a conservative. And if you don’t understand his point, you have no idea what being a conservative is or what conservative principles are.

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38 Responses to Donald Trump and conservative values

  1. Some History

    Some excerpts from Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg.

    Liberal intellectuals and activists insisted during the 1920s that [Woodrow] Wilson’s war socialism had been a smashing success and its failures a result of insufficient zeal. “We planned in war” became their slogan. Alas, they couldn’t convince the yokels in the voting booths. As a result, they came more and more to admire the Bismarckian approach of top-down socialism. They also looked to Russia and Italy, where “men of action” were creating utopias with the bulldozer and the slide rule. The Marxist emphasis on scientific socialism and social engineering infected American Progressivism. And since science isn’t open to democratic debate, an arrogant literal-mindedness took over Progressivism.
    It was also around this time that through a dexterous sleight of hand, Progressivism came to be renamed “liberalism.” In the past, liberalism had referred to political and economic liberty as understood by Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith. For them the ultimate desideratum was maximum individual freedom under the benign protection of a minimalist state. The progressives, led by Dewey, subtly changed the meaning of this term, importing the Prussian vision of liberalism as the alleviation of material and educational poverty, and liberation from old dogmas and old faiths. For progressives liberty no longer meant freedom from tyranny, but freedom from want, freedom to be a ‘constructive’ citizen, the Rousseauian and Hegelian “freedom” of living in accord with the state and the general will. Classical liberals were now routinely called conservatives, while devotees of social control were dubbed liberals. Thus in 1938 John Dewey would write in ‘Liberalism and Social Action’ that activist government in the name of the economically disadvantaged and social reconstruction had “virtually come to define the meaning of liberal faith.”
    Given this worldview, it shouldn’t be surprising that so many liberals believed the Soviet Union was the freest place on earth… (p. 221)

    … The desire to destroy is a natural outgrowth of the cult of action. After all, if you are totally committed to revolutionary change, any boundaries you run into – the courts, the police, the rule of law – must be either converted, co-opted, or destroyed. All fascists are members of the cult of action. Fascism’s appeal was that it would get things done. Make the trains run on time, put people to work, get the nation on the move: these are sentiments sewn into the fiber of every fascist movement. The fascist state of mind can best be described as “Enough talk, more action!” Close the books, get out of the library, get moving. Take action! What kind of action? Direct action! Social action! Revolutionary action! Action, action, action.
    Communists loved action too. That’s not surprising considering the family bonds between communism and fascism. But fascists valued action more. Communism had a playbook. Fascism had a hurry-up offense, calling its plays on the field… (p. 177)

  2. Mark

    The right:
    – Conservatism can refer to preferring some version of traditional values – like marriage being confined to male and female. The state is to have a say in these things.
    – Another part of the non-left side of politics are those who prefer the state small, and keeping itself to very limited scope of activity. In relation to homosexual marriage, it would say ‘What business is this of the state?’ Nowadays known as libertarianism. This is probably the most radical of the viable political theories we have. JS Mill was an important proponent.
    – Both, however, tend towards negative liberty – freedom from state interference.
    .
    The left:
    – The better part of the left seeks positive liberty – where inequalities are overcome to the extent that individuals can flourish. This can involve redistribution of wealth, subject to a cost benefit analysis.
    .
    Perverse left:
    – Anything further left than that gets more impractical the further you go. For example,the idea that equality of wealth must be enforced even if it results in everyone being poor, and with no incentive to create wealth.
    – True perversity is found in much left theory. Its expression is found in Stalin, Mao, Maduro, Castro, and so on. China, Russia, India, South America, Africa, have all been badly affected.
    A litmus test for whether a modern day office holder subscribes to perverse left ideals is if they expressed admiration for Castro, or, like Obama, wanted to but could not.
    .
    The world without Trump:
    Another eight years of the leading country of the free world pursuing perverse left ideas might have seen democracy almost completely replaced by unelected super-national bodies. These would have continued the erosion of the West, using tools such as climate change, a destructive use of ‘compassion’, a false demonisation of Russia as an international player. They’d have crushed Britain if they could for bowing out of the European project by force of democracy. The perverse left hates the West.
    .
    The power of democracy:
    Democracy has become the left’s nightmare, and the left is currently showing how little it respects it. The left is doomed to watch as democracy undoes decades of its work, especially the European project. That is why it is so vocal at present.
    .
    The future of the left:
    The left has found class politics unsuccessful. It has now found identity politics unsuccessful. It has nowhere to go right now. Its use of ‘science’ has not convinced voters either. It has no tools left in the bag. Its economic theories have failed it mightily. Its only hope is a naked power grab, without reference to democracy.

  3. B Shaw

    The above at 1.28am is well worth reading.

    Values.

    Arthur Sinodinos once wrote about ‘values’. The hypocrisy of this awful man.

  4. mareeS

    Excellent contributions by everyone on this thread.

  5. Jannie

    Yes, the article The Flight 93 Election resonated with me at the time. I had serious doubts about Trump, still have a few, but what the hell. If they they are determined to take us down, we might as well die fighting.

  6. Robber Baron

    Arthur Sinodinos once wrote about ‘values’. The hypocrisy of this awful man.

    Yeah, what’s your price?

  7. RobK

    So far, so good. It’s a big job and he will have to be a hard Bastard in the eyes of many just to make an impact. Fingers crossed that any mistakes will be minor ones (in the overall scheme of things). It is a risky business that has to be done, way overdue.

  8. Caveman

    The future of the left

    Is anarchy.

  9. Crossie

    Deep down most people know this but are not able to articulate it intellectually so they keep quiet. It spills out in situations like the Adam Goodes fiasco. Another indicator is the failure of so many Hollywood projects, most people don’t even know of Hollywood’s politics but they do know their product stinks.

  10. Baary

    Bang on.

    I get it. It amazes me that so many people, including prominent people, don’t

  11. Tailgunner

    If they they are determined to take us down, we might as well die fighting.

    Oh yes,They want to take us down,Jannie.
    Welcome to Fight Club. If this is your first night – You Have to Fight!

  12. Dr Faustus

    Thus in 1938 John Dewey would write in ‘Liberalism and Social Action’ that activist government in the name of the economically disadvantaged and social reconstruction had “virtually come to define the meaning of liberal faith.”

    And in doing so, created the false narrative of liberals as ‘holders of the moral high ground’ – and conservatives as ‘soulless grinders of the poor and oppressed’.

    Simply by saying that liberalism is about alleviating poverty and creating social improvement – no matter how impractical the measure, or unwanted the improvement – liberals create the argument that conservative opponents are motivated by the apparent corollary of the bountiful State; greed, self-interest and contempt for the disadvantaged.

    After 75 years, this has become baked into Western politics as a fundamental truth – hence the outpouring of reflexive grief and rage at Trump the Iconoclast.

  13. .

    Simply by saying that liberalism is about alleviating poverty and creating social improvement – no matter how impractical the measure, or unwanted the improvement – liberals create the argument that conservative opponents are motivated by the apparent corollary of the bountiful State; greed, self-interest and contempt for the disadvantaged.

    I bloody hate American political nomenclature arising from constitutional interpretation.

    I am a liberal. That means leave me alone!

    Obama is a progressive. That means he wants cradle to grave etc.

    Liberalism and conservatism are concomitant IMO.

  14. Iampeter

    “You have no idea what being a conservative is or what conservative principles are.”

    But Steve, what IS a Conservative? Neither your post, nor Kelly, nor Bolt actually defines anything. There’s mention of particular issues like SSM and Immigration and climate change but given Conservatives positions on these issues that just adds to the confusion.

    What I think you all mean is that being a “Conservative” is an alternative to that of the left, but is that true?

    To be an alternative to the left means advocating for individual rights, limited government and capitalism. How do Conservatives stack up on these fundamentals?

    Well in Australia Conservatives believe the state can and should regulate something like marriage. So not very individualist.
    Conservatives have no real opposition to gov run schools, hospitals, infrastructure. They probably wouldn’t go as far as Labor but now that we have government involvement in these areas its here to stay as far as Conservatives are concerned. In the areas of environmental legislation, Conservatives have gone far further than any Labor government had ever dreamed and are responsible, from Howard onwards for all the key advances green policies have made in Australia. So, not really about limited government or very pro capitalism either.

    So, in terms of fundamentals it just doesn’t seem Conservatives are all that different from any other leftists and in a scramble for relevance Conservative “intellectuals” have found themselves Chavez-like strong men in Trump and Bannon who are just going to “get things done.” This is more likely to end in disaster than success.

    What’s really needed though is some honest self assessment by Conservative thinkers, an acknowledgement of how far left the movement strayed and then either steer it right or abandon it altogether for the classic liberal values of individualism and capitalism that actually represents an alternative to the left.

  15. Sean

    Tribalism explains it too.

    Intellectuals on both sides love making post hoc rationalisations to support their ‘tribe’

  16. Tim Neilson

    Iampeter
    #2290499, posted on February 9, 2017 at 10:22 am

    I have long believed that the old binary labels of left/right or conservative/progressive stem from a category error.

    There are really three broad ideological groupings. (Perhaps no individual can be categorised as 100% in any one camp – the three groupings are meant to be descriptive rather than definitive, and besides, even if all decisions should be made on the basis of ideology rather than pragmatism, human beings aren’t necessarily totally consistent in their worldviews.)

    Libertarians are driven primarily by the value they place on liberty.

    “Progressives” are driven primarily by the value they place on equality (in theory – in practice they seem concerned only to sabotage those of their enemies who are doing better than they are).

    Conservatives, I believe, place a higher value on justice. Liberty doesn’t always equal justice. There’s a huge overlap because conservatives do believe that it’s unjust for people to be subjected to infringement of their liberty to lead their own lives, unless that infringement can be justified on the basis of genuine fairness to others. “Equality” (at least as preached by “progressives”) certainly doesn’t equal justice. Again, though, conservatives do accept that “equality” in some senses is a component of real justice.
    But justice is more elusive than “liberty” or “equality”, and depends very much on specifics. That’s in part why conservatives favour subsidiarity – the smaller the unit of government the more likely it is to be capable of addressing specifics properly. (Inner city local councils excepted of course.)

    Take immigration for example.

    One major reason why conservatives are implacably opposed to rewarding illegal immigrants is that it is simply not fair. It isn’t fair to the many applicants for lawful immigration who don’t make the cut.

    Likewise one major reason why conservatives are opposed to open borders loons is that open borders aren’t fair – it isn’t fair to the decent law abiding citizens of a country who have contributed to its (comparative) prosperity that any criminal or parasite can just turn up and expect to shake down the existing inhabitants through crime or welfare rent-seeking (and in practice shutting off welfare rent-seeking but letting in anyone would just mean crime as the default).

    Conservatives by and large see the demanded “liberty” of would be immigrants to come here as very much second order. They see the demands for “equality” for would be immigrants as being delusional since it’s clear that not all would be immigrants have equal capacity or intention to fulfil their side of the civic compact.

    So defining conservatism is hard, because justice is harder than the more simplistic “liberty” or “equality” alternatives. But we won’t get near a real understanding of conservatism till we contrast it properly with the two real alternatives, not just one imaginary one.

  17. Defender of the faith

    Conservatives don’t support liars. Or con artists. Or people who abuse the separation of powers. They don’t support sectarian abusers. They don’t support fakery or the attack on individual liberty. There is a long list of other reasons relating to everything from free trade to defence alliances that I could add.

  18. Dan Phillips

    Leading up to the election, I was wondering what the Objectivists (Ayn Rand types) thought of Trump. It turned out that they were pretty much unanimously against him. That is perplexing. Trump is like an Ayn Rand hero, and businessmen are the most noble people in her philosophy. Hillary is like an Ayn Rand villain. I still don’t get it.

  19. .

    Dan Phillips
    #2290715, posted on February 9, 2017 at 1:20 pm
    Leading up to the election, I was wondering what the Objectivists (Ayn Rand types) thought of Trump. It turned out that they were pretty much unanimously against him.

    Because he wrote a book in 1999 where he would have been left of Hillary.

    He changed. Great!

    But how often do people in their 50s and 60s shift from progressive socialism to libertarian leaning conservatism? Not often.

  20. Dan Phillips

    I haven’t read his 1999 book. I did read Art of the Deal (1987). It wasn’t political, but one of main themes was how the government was a thorn in his side. One of the stories was how he built the Wollman ice skating rink in record time after taking over the project from the city who had taken many years and millions of dollars with no progress. I’m having a hard time picturing him as ever being left of Hillary.

  21. Jannie

    I still consider myself a bit of a liberal, the US definition of the word is debauched and lends undeserved kudos to the illiberal Left that hijacked he word. Its almost Orwellian Newspeak.

    Ozzies still tend to use the term in its classical economic sense, its speaks of freedom. In the Land of Liberty, allowing the Authoritarians to call themselves liberals is to lose the language war.

  22. King Koala

    And here is the conservative answer: there was and is no other way to save our civilisation from collapse. Even with the election, there is hardly any certainty we have turned the corner, but at least there is now the possibility. This, apparently, is the part of the conservative world in which I belong

    Immigrants in America overwhelmingly vote democrat. Unless Trump reigns immigration in and deports a lot of illegals he will be the last conservative president.

    Australia faces the same problem. Immigrants overwhelmingly vote left. It is only a matter of time before the demographics of high breeding, left voting immigrants mean the final end of conservative government in Australia unless something changes soon.

  23. Defender of the faith

    KK: all Americans are immigrants. And they do not all bite democrat, obviously. So you mean democrats should be deported?

  24. Boambee John

    Defejder at 1240,

    Hillary is a pathological liar. Obama abused the separation of powers. Obama abused people with religious consciences.

    I could go on, but you should get examples message from these examples.

  25. Defender of the faith

    Boambee John: yes indeed. And Trump is on track to match them both.

  26. iampeter

    Hi Tim, thanks for the thoughtful response. What you said in the last paragraph brings my point home I think: “So defining conservatism is hard, because…”

    But shouldn’t been able to define your very political ideology be pretty easy? I mean it’s the basis for everything you support/oppose politically and if you are struggling to explain it, what hope do you have politically?

    So in my mind there are two issues facing Conservatives that no one seems to be talking about:

    1. No one can define what it is. It’s not just you Tim, here is none other than Andrew Bolt himself when been asked “Why is Conservatism the place to be?” on an episode of The Weekly on the ABC:
    Andrew Bolt – Conservatism
    Remember this is probably the most read Conservative in this country trying to explain what his ideology is. If I didn’t know better, I’d just say the guy doesn’t have the first clue about politics. Yet he has made a career out of talking about it somehow.

    2. To the extent anyone can define it, what we get as definition is never individualism, capitalism and limited government. So whatever it is, it’s NOT an alternative to the left. It might not be as far left as Labor on everything, but it’s just not an alternative.

    So before Australian Conservatives worry about who runs the LNP, what Cori Bernardi is going to do or whether everyone should jump ship to One Nation, or even supports someone like Trump – I think the more pressing questions are: what is Conservatism and is it actually an alternative to the left?

    If not, that’s OK, but the Western world political scene is already a jumbled mess of left-of-center ideologies. What’s the point of another one?

  27. Dan Phillips

    Defender, the majority of immigrants since Ted Kennedy’s Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 have been left-voters. The act changed the mix of the cultures they bring in. In particular they bring in a lot of Latin Americans, who vote left. That was a deliberate strategy to increase the size of the Democrat voting base.

  28. .

    Dan Phillips
    #2290740, posted on February 9, 2017 at 1:43 pm
    I haven’t read his 1999 book. I did read Art of the Deal (1987). It wasn’t political, but one of main themes was how the government was a thorn in his side. One of the stories was how he built the Wollman ice skating rink in record time after taking over the project from the city who had taken many years and millions of dollars with no progress. I’m having a hard time picturing him as ever being left of Hillary.

    Late term abortions, gun control, estate taxes.

  29. iampeter

    Leading up to the election, I was wondering what the Objectivists (Ayn Rand types) thought of Trump. It turned out that they were pretty much unanimously against him. That is perplexing. Trump is like an Ayn Rand hero, and businessmen are the most noble people in her philosophy. Hillary is like an Ayn Rand villain. I still don’t get it.

    They are both Ayn Rand villians. Trump is the walking, talking definition of a second hander, interested only in what others think, basically an older version of Peter Keating. And Hillary is any faceless, corrupt, career bureaucrat character from her novels, it doesn’t really matter which.

    No, due to the low level of political discourse today, we have just had the treat of watching a Chavez-like populist with no political ideology of any kind vs an unindicted felon, undergoing multiple criminal investigations at the same time as running for the office of President, go head to head.

    You couldn’t make this stuff up.

  30. Dan Phillips

    Late term abortions, gun control, estate taxes.

    I just bought the book (The America We Deserve) and looked this stuff up:

    Abortion: He said in the book that initially he supported “a woman’s right to choose”, but after talking to doctors and learning what partial-birth abortion meant, he was against it.

    Gun control: He said, “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons.”

    Estate tax: He said that the inheritance tax is a “lousy tax” and he supported repealing it.

    So, he sounds pretty conservative to me in 1999. Maybe center right. He wasn’t the perfect libertarian, but he was hardly left of Hillary.

  31. Dan Phillips

    interested only in what others think, basically an older version of Peter Keating

    The entire establishment has been against him, yet he has steered his own course. That is not a Peter Keating.

    (Also he builds skyscrapers like Howard Roark 🙂

  32. carol

    To those here pondering whether or not the current POTUS is really a conservative, if you had watched as many of his rallies during the election campaign as I did, you would know he never labelled himself as a conservative. Instead he declared himself to be a Nationalist first and last. Every one of his campaign pledges was based on that. Everything was always about what was going to be best for the US and the US people. He made it clear that by American people he did not mean the elite classes and that was why he would be ‘Draining the Swamp.’ He also frequently said were he to become President the forgotten men and women of the United States would be forgotten no more.

  33. Dan Phillips

    So he has gone from reluctantly pro-choice in 1999 to pro-life some time later. He was against partial-birth abortion in 1999 after being for it, but it seems he didn’t really know what it meant at that time.

    He supported a ban on assault rifles. I don’t know much about guns, but I gather that many people are confused about what assault rifles are, and they think of them as machine guns. I don’t know what he was thinking himself. I don’t think that conservatives in general support legalization of all weapons.

    He donated to to Hillary Clinton and said nice things about her, yes. That was just good business. I’m sure he would have preferred not to have paid bribes. He says nice things about all kinds of people. That is politics.

    You have to balance the all that stuff against his other views in any case. I will bet that the conservative/libertarian stuff in the rest of the book would swamp the lefty stuff. If that is indeed the case, we would not expect the WaPo to point it out because they are well known liars.

  34. Rob Carruthers

    iampeter

    There are different types of conservatives, with different values/principles. I think of instinctive conservatives, intellectual conservatives and reactive conservatives. I suspect your question is focussed on the intellectual conservative category. In the Australian context, an intellectual “conservative” is conceived in liberty. Intellectual conservatives are free to differ, without being subject to some sort of Marxist “counter-revolutionary” charge. Just as self-proclaimed libertarians range from anarcho-capitalists through small government types and even include a smattering of left-libertarians that reject private property, citing Spanish libertarian revolutionaries during their civil war. You may never get your one set of conservative principles/beliefs.

    That said, I can describe my thoughts, focussing on where I think they will overlap with most mainstream intellectual conservatives. The world is a mass of interconnected and nested complex dynamic systems. Second order effects, unforeseen consequences and disequilibria abound. In the face of these, our society has developed certain structures, institutions and culture. These enable us to live our way of life. There is a continuity between our current way of life and that of our forebears.

    There have always been innovations in our structures, institutions and culture. The ones that work are likely to get incorporated and passed onto the next generations. The longer they have stood the test of time, the more likely they are to be “valuable”. They have helped create our way of life. Given our complex dynamic system, fundamental aspects of our society ought to be changed cautiously. Radical change can have radical unforeseen and unwanted consequences. Better to be conservative. At least if you like our way of life and want to pass it on intact to future generations.

    Please note this is an individual and no doubt idiosyncratic explanation knocked up quickly. I make no claim to speak for conservatives more generally. I hope it is of some help.

    As an aside, I am as much a libertarian as a conservative. It’s just that I suspect the “libertarian” ideal society is as utopian a vision as the communist one. I am yet to see an example of a wonderful functioning libertarian society. One sustaining itself through time and providing a “decent” standard of living for its people. If I do, I’ll become less conservative and advocate for more radical change in that direction. This is academic, as from where we now are I can generally comfortably advocate moving in a more libertarian direction i.e lower taxes, less regulation etc.

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