Conservatives Should Bemoan Trump’s Election

Some of my conservative friends who did not support Donald Trump are nevertheless inclined to gloat over the misery his election has caused among liberals. This tweet from James Matthew Wilson typifies the reaction I’ve been hearing:

I don’t mean to pick on Wilson, much of whose work I admire. He’s only one of many conservatives having a good time crowing over the defeat of liberalism.

But I can’t join in on the fun. At least these liberals have the good sense to feel their own pain, as John Lennon advised, unlike those conservatives who blithely look past their own ruin to engage in schadenfreude. I imagine them laughing at the damage done to properties along the riverbank as the swollen waters rush the raft they are riding toward the falls.

Conservatives have greater reason to weep than liberals. Progressivism will come back from this defeat stronger than before. The sense that Bernie Sanders might have fared better against Trump than Hillary Clinton did is going to strengthen the left wing of the Democratic Party. Look for Elizabeth Warren to assume a leadership role in the years ahead. Michael Moore senses an opportunity.

Conservatism, on the other hand, has been crushed. We will not see a revival of conservatism as a factor in real politics during my lifetime. All that will remain is what Albert Jay Nock used to call “a remnant,” irrelevant to the national political dialogue.  There will be no political party to which it can attach itself. The man who has commandeered the Republican Party and captured the election is as far from being a conservative as a man can get.

What do I mean by a “conservative”? Andrew J. Bacevich’s definition will do nicely for me:

  • a commitment to individual liberty, tempered by the conviction that genuine freedom entails more than simply an absence of restraint;
  • a belief in limited government, fiscal responsibility, and the rule of law;
  • veneration for our cultural inheritance combined with a sense of stewardship for Creation;
  • a reluctance to discard or tamper with traditional social arrangements;
  • respect for the market as the generator of wealth combined with a wariness of the market’s corrosive impact on humane values;
  • a deep suspicion of utopian promises, rooted in an appreciation of the sinfulness of man and the recalcitrance of history.

Does that sound to anyone like a description of Donald Trump? Would it not be easier to fit that definition to, say, Jimmy Carter than to our new Republican President?

Conservatives are the ones who should bemoan the election of such an anti-conservative man. A tear or two, a sad sigh, at least would be evidence that they are still alive, having suffered a devastating loss. Anyone for whom “the permanent things” matter should thank God that those things are permanent. They’ll have to be around for a long time before they receive any notice in the public forum again.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Alfred Nicol

Alfred Nicol’s third full-length book of poetry, Animal Psalms, was published in March, 2016 by Able Muse Press. Nicol has published two other collections, Elegy for Everyone (2009), and Winter Light, which received the 2004 Richard Wilbur Award. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Hopkins Review, and other literary journals. alfrednicol.com

2 thoughts on “Conservatives Should Bemoan Trump’s Election”

  1. Your explanation of conservatism is filled with things that are necessary, but they are not sufficient. You can’t enjoy any of those things if your borders are not secured. Lofty ideals are necessary for human flourishing, but basic requirements for society are sine quo non. I encourage you to expand your understanding of conservatism a tad to include the things that are required as bare necessities for society. Securing the good life is wonderful, but securing mere life is essential. It is because conservatives have been blind to such things for so long that a “non conservative” like Trump has appeared who stomped every other “conservative” on the primary stage. Rather than bemoan in insignificance, I suggest people thank Trump and make the most of this opportunity when republicans control more state legislatures than they have since Reconstruction.

    Conservatism is being defined again (regained?) right now, and it’s going to be an uncomfortable transition for some. I think a recent National Review article describes well what Trumpism reflects, a desire to be a nation again: “”National conservatism, or ‘one America’ conservatism, is idealistic without being naïve or utopian. It reflects the good sense, decency, and aspirations of the American people for self-government, national independence, and the perpetuation of our way of life. To believe, as most Americans do, that the U.S. Constitution is superior to international law, that immigrants — though welcome — should become part of a united national community rather than join an ethnic enclave in a balkanized America, and that our national identity is more important than any ethnic or transnational loyalty is not to take the low road of nationalist selfishness but the moral high ground of democratic self-government in a particular society.””

  2. Newsflash Alfred, conservatism was crushed long before this election. At least Trump’s 100 day agenda includes a few remnants that would align with classical liberal thought.

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