In the 1950’s, during the days when American conservatism was all but a political footnote, William F. Buckley uttered his famous rallying cry, “A conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling Stop!”
Today Donald Trump and his band of alt-right populists, nativists, know-nothings, and angry people who rely on their emotions rather than contemplation are not yelling ‘stop,’ but are gleefully kicking conservatism to the curb.
In 2009 the Tea Party arose at anger at not only the early Obama administration’s excesses of spending, but George Bush’s past spending as well. The Tea Party represented a return to conservative principles. We read our Constitutions. We applied constitutional principles to our stances upon government policies. We believed that with grassroots efforts and adherence to the principles of our founders the Titanic that had become our government just might miss that iceberg.
We have been disappointed. Many of our representatives we sent to the halls of Congress did not deliver on their promises to vote according to constitutional principles. A few did, like Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Benjamin Sasse. The House can claim stalwarts on the right like Representatives Dave Brat, Louis Gohmert, and Jim Bridenstine. But far too many Congressional Republicans have drunk the tainted Beltway water, succumbing to the lure of committee assignments and easy re-election that tempt them if they just knuckle under to the whims of the establishment.
Then along came Donald J. Trump, a master of promotion, hype, and media, luring in the uninformed who merely want a Strong Man who would serve as their Savior-in-Chief. His sycophants believe the Strong Man will turn around all their troubles, fix their respective worlds and “Make America Great Again.” Rather than taking the long and difficult road traveled by principled grassroots conservatives, his followers think that by following Trump they’ve found their shortcut to American Nirvana. Who cares that he doesn’t understand federalism, or that the Supreme Court doesn’t make law, or that the military cannot violate Geneva codes just because he orders it? He’s strong, he’s loud, he’s bombastic — and the more he violates conservative principle and convention, the more he demonstrates his ability to rise above the ‘establishment’ and get away with it.
Remember history: The twentieth century is littered with millions of dead bodies who fell under the boots of too many Strong Men.
Trump has snookered the masses of uninformed populists who don’t mind that he’s bragged of his conservative bona fides, and yet now is willing to embrace decidedly leftist causes such as economic protectionism, support for Planned Parenthood, and national healthcare, among others. The Strong Man has a lure that drowns out the thoughtful conservative, the Republican who finds inspiration in Russell Kirk’s conservative principles of moral order, prudent restraint, and resistance to collectivism.
As conservative writer Ben Shapiro wrote, “. . . should anti-Trump forces sit down, shut up, and vote Trump? Only if they want to contribute to the continued dilution of conservatism into a meaningless word that can act as a mask for leftist policy.”