“Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.” — Robert Heinlein
Among many lessons learned over the last excruciating four years is this: Partisanship is a more potent drug than heroin. I consider myself to be in recovery but by no means cured. After decades of Republican loyalty, I now devoutly desire a Republican loss.
Many on my former side cannot understand my anti-Trump vehemence, so perhaps the best way to make a closing argument is to examine some of the rationalizations I see coming from people who seemed, in 2016, to be as adamantly opposed to Donald Trump as any, but have since accommodated themselves to the party’s drift.
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Ben Shapiro has changed his mind. In 2016, he made a cogent case against Trump. He said he was committed to a conservatism that was “not racist, not sexist, not bigoted... not vulgar and vile to women and the disabled.” Accordingly, he would never vote for him.
Until 2020. He explains that he was wrong about where Trump would land on policy, and that he has governed in a more conservative fashion than Shapiro expected. He cites judges, tax cuts, leaving the Paris climate accord and a few other things.
The appointment of conservative judges (leaving aside the norm-shredding manner in which two Supreme Court vacancies were handled) is a hollow victory. It comes at the hands of an administration that has treated the law like birdcage liner.
You cannot proclaim the administration’s commitment to law when the chief executive repeatedly instructed officials to break the law in exchange for pardons, engaged in witness tampering, encouraged vigilantism, stoked domestic terrorism by winking at the attempted kidnappings of governors, paid hush money to a porn actress, unlawfully diverted funds to his illusory border wall, illegally withheld aid to an ally in an attempt to extort a damaging story about his opponent, treated Congressional subpoenas with contempt, and abused his authority as commander in chief to use military force against peaceful demonstrators across from the White House, among innumerable other violations.
I’m old enough to remember when conservatives excoriated Barack Obama for rewriting the Affordable Care Act by fiat and changing immigration policy with a wave of his hand. Without rule of law, this country becomes indistinguishable from unstable and dangerous places around the globe.
Conservatives also used to say that character mattered, and some still struggle with this. Shapiro’s solution is to suggest that, while Trump’s moral example is terrible, all of the damage that can be done on that front is already done and will not be augmented by another four years.
Not so. Millions of children are maturing in a nation whose chief executive models the sort of behavior it has required centuries to anathematize. They watch and learn. Every decent parent, teacher, coach, priest, rabbi and minister must attempt to countermand the message that deceit, enmity, cruelty and recklessness pay off.
Contra Shapiro, it can and will get worse. Being a part of Team Trump, aka a Republican, requires dulling one’s conscience and rationalizing the indefensible.
There’s another theme that surfaces in Trump-friendly precincts: Trump fans are simply resorting to the only available option to express their defiance of the “woke” elites. Rich Lowry writes, “If Trump manages to pull off an upset in 2020, it will be as a gigantic rude gesture directed at the commanding heights of American culture.” And Tim Carney describes a Trump rally in central Pennsylvania this way: “The farmers, coal miners, gun-owners, and bikers have had their share of sand kicked in their faces, but for now, they feel like they’re winners. And it’s because of Trump.”
This is the technique we’ve grown accustomed to in the Trump era — that if you aren’t pro-Trump you are disrespecting working class people or gun-owners or farmers. You represent the snobbish “elites” who kicked sand in their faces, and who can blame them for giving you the finger in the form of the Bad Orange Man?
Who exactly is really disrespecting working-class people? Do you need a college degree to find mocking the handicapped disgusting? Must you be a professional to despise selfishness and cruelty? Do working-class people not have a stake in the rule of law and protection of minority rights?
If someone lies to you flagrantly, is that a sign of respect or contempt?
Any number of Republicans justify their heretofore unimaginable support for Trump by reference to the “radicalism” of the Democrats. The Democrats are going to destroy your suburban idyll, confiscate your guns, upend the economy with the “Green New Deal” and invite either MS-13 or Cory Booker (perhaps both!) to move in next door. Does this obvious claptrap really require refutation?
There will be no gun confiscations, no open borders, and no destruction of the suburbs. Those are the shrill bleats of a dying campaign.
In fact, Joe Biden, institutionalist to his core, is about the best Democrat we could have gotten in 2020.
Despite opportunities to respond in kind to Trump’s savagery, Biden has stuck to his essential decency.
Trump’s closing message is a raised middle finger. Here is Biden’s, spoken at Warm Springs, Georgia, on Oct. 27:
“I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president. I’ll work with Democrats and Republicans. I’ll work as hard for those who don’t support me as for those who do.”
Biden is a fine politician of the old school. After the last four years, that feels like Pericles.
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