As fall turned into winter, there were unmistakable signs of paleoconservative dissatisfaction with President Trump. In various forums, several paleoconservatives expressed displeasure that Trump had surrounded himself with unrepentant Bush Republicans and neoconservatives; that he was listening too much to his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who may be even further to the left than the Bush retreads and neocons; and that many of his key promises remain unfulfilled, including failing to build the border wall and failing to extricate the United States from the many wars in the Middle East. Some of Trump’s achievements were also questioned, as Brett Kavanaugh joined Chief Justice Roberts and the four Democratic justices in voting not to grant certiorari in cases involving state restrictions on Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood that could have led to a Supreme Court decision affirming such restrictions and even helping to set the stage for the eventual demise of Roe v. Wade.
There was much truth to each of these complaints. But it needs to be remembered that Trump’s political instincts were not formed by paleoconservatism, even though his victory gave definitive proof of the potency of ideas that paleoconservatives have been advancing for three decades or more. From the vantage point of those championing reductions in immigration, a repudiation of free-trade dogma, and a noninterventionist foreign policy, Trump’s presidency is perhaps best viewed as an unexpected, even unmerited, gift.
But a funny thing happened as winter deepened. Trump gave every appearance of listening. He began the process of removing all American troops from Syria and withdrawing half of our troops from Afghanistan. That Trump was serious about these extrications was shown by the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis. After a particularly stinging column by Ann Coulter, Trump refused to agree to appropriations measures without funding for a border wall, thereby forcing a government shutdown. It is hard to imagine any politician who could conceivably have won the White House in 2016 caring what Coulter or her readers thought, much less defying the foreign-policy establishment by disengaging, even in a small way, from the Middle East. Justice Kavanaugh offered a reminder of why so many conservatives supported his nomination to the Supreme Court, when he voted with Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch to stay the Ninth Circuit’s injunction against the Trump administration’s decision to limit requests for asylum to those made at designated points of entry into the United States.
Even before this, Trump had done a good deal to advance the causes paleoconservatives have promoted, including granting religious groups regulatory relief from the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate; imposing a variety of tariffs; negotiating changes to NAFTA that favor American workers; enforcing immigration laws largely ignored by previous administrations; nominating a slew of conservative judges; and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accord, and the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Trump’s rise has also helped move conservative commentary in a direction favorable to the ideas long advanced in the pages of this magazine. The demise of The Weekly Standard underscored how unpopular NeverTrumpism is with rank-and-file conservatives. By contrast, commentators favorable to Trump are giving intellectual support for the ideas that helped elect Trump. Ann Coulter’s two-million-plus Twitter followers are now reading about disappearing factory jobs and the folly of endless war, in addition to the many other conservative themes Coulter has long sounded, and Tucker Carlson is now reaching a large television audience with monologues that could have been written by the editors of Chronicles.
But even if Trump had achieved nothing other than preventing a leftist from occupying the White House, the current cultural and political climate offers many reasons to be grateful for that respite from leftist political control. Much of the left is now animated by disdain for white men, as shown by its obsession with “white privilege” even as the life expectancy for middle-aged American whites is falling, and by its fretting over “toxic masculinity” in a culture that regularly mocks fathers and actively promotes homosexuality and transgenderism. The left’s hostility to orthodox Christianity continues to gather steam, with Joe Biden branding opponents of gay marriage “the dregs of society,” Democratic attorneys general filing lawsuits against the Trump administration’s relaxation of Obama’s contraceptive mandate, Democratic senators questioning judicial nominees over their membership in the Knights of Columbus, and fashionable opinion aghast at the very existence of schools that expect students and teachers to adhere to Christian sexual morality, as shown by the hysteria over Karen Pence’s teaching at Immanuel Christian school in Springfield, Virginia. Harvard Law School’s Adrian Vermeule put it well. With all his flaws, Trump “doesn’t affirmatively detest my deepest beliefs and commitments and try to stamp them as deviant by law.” Sadly, that counts for a lot in 2019. It is likely to count for even more in the future.
Leave a Reply