Saturday, March 19, 2016

Trump endorsements

The Trump candidacy has had a revealing and winnowing effect on conservatism. It's like removing plasterboard. The wall make look solid on the outside, but behind the plasterboard is termite damage. Trump has received some predicable endorsements, but he's also been endorsed by some erstwhile conservatives. 

I'd like to make a distinction in principle between Christian conservatism and secular conservatism. In principle, a Christian conservative ideologue regards certain issues as nonnegotiable. That's grounded in moral absolutes or proper function. Not every action is inherently right or wrong, but some actions are. 

Now, I say "in principle" because, in practice, that's only as secure as an individual's commitment to Christianity. 

By contrast, secular conservativism is more pragmatic. It can't be grounded in moral absolutes. And there's nothing normative about the natural order. In principle, secular conservatism is unstable in a way that Christian conservatism is not. Secular conservativism is just a philosophical and sociological construct. 

In practice, some secular conservatives are more stalwart than some religious conservatives. Put another way, the Trump candidacy exposes the ultimate priorities of some ostensibly religious conservatives. 

The Trump candidacy puts pressure on conservatism. What does it mean to be conservative? Why be conservative? 

It's like an intellectual movement in which everyone basically agrees with each other until some members start to question the party line, at point it begins to disintegrate because, as it turns out, some (or many) members only had a nominal commitment to the guiding ideas of the movement. Once some members began to defect, that gave others permission to defect. There never was much holding it together. So long as certain positions were verboten, members were dutifully conservative. The only glue was mutual agreement. Reminds me of how Quebec became secularized in a generation. 

My point is not that this is happening on that scale in conservatism. I'm just describing the mindset. 

The Trump candidacy has produced something of an identity crisis in conservatism. So what do we believe? Do these shibboleths really matter? The Trump candidacy is testing the depth and clarity of one's commitment to conservative values. Some erstwhile conservatives are flunking the test because their adherence to conservative principles was shallow. But there was no occasion to suspect that until their fidelity was stress-tested. 

That isn't necessarily a bad development. Suppose we need to remove the plasterboard to inspect structural integrity. Sometimes we need to revisit what it means to be conservative, and the supporting arguments for that position. In fact, when people take it for granted, that's when they may forget the reasons. 


  1. Steve, that sounds like a modern day Lord's teaching about building one's house on a rock or on sand. The houses all look alike except for the foundation which normally when we drive by looking at houses we don't stop to see what kind of foundation they are built upon.

    A lesson for this is what was uncovered in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, I believe it was named, the one that devastated parts of Florida a number of years ago. Though a lot of houses were damaged, it became very apparent what went on before the finish work was done during and completing the construction of those row houses.

    The houses that stood up to the hurricane were generally built correctly and upon a good foundation and the parts of the structures that one doesn't normally see when finished being covered over by finishes were the ones built according to the correct building standards and codes qualified by government building inspectors.

    I believe Insurance companies with homeowners sued construction companies and government inspectors at city and county levels who built or who signed off on inspections once it was uncovered the corrupt practices of general contractors who never thought their work would be uncovered and their integrity exposed for what it was were uncovered by the hurricane. All it took was the hurricane and the storm to blow against houses to uncover what was done right and what was not done right.