Donald Trump

Why An Ugly Trump Is Better Than a Lovely Trump

He embodies and exposes the ugliness of the modern conservative agenda

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For the longest time, I have been looking for a silver lining in the rise of Donald Trump. What good could possibly come from a boorish, megalomaniacal ignoramus sporting the worst bouffant in the Western hemisphere becoming the presidential nominee of a major party of the most powerful country in the world. Finally, I thought of something.

Trump is offering America a rare thing: truth in advertising. It isn't often that ugly ideas come packaged in an ugly wrapping. But when it happens, it's easier to repel them.

Imagine what might have happened if Trump had been a more attractive and sophisticated spokesman for his witch's brew of nativist bigotry, protectionism, authoritarianism, and bare-knuckles foreign policy. Instead of driving varied conservative factions to band together in a #NeverTrump movement against him, he might well have led them in a #ForeverTrump movement for him.

Democracies are not immune to demagogues and, in recent years, the world has witnessed its share of them. India has elected Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi and Turkey Islam-booster Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. The difference between them and Trump is not that they had less extreme views than him, but that they communicated them with more civility, decorum, and command of the issues. Modi, in particular, argued his positions with such rigor and wit that people up and down the social strata from peasant to pundit forgot that thousands of Muslims were slaughtered on his watch when he was chief minister of a state. India handed him a landslide victory.

Trump, by contrast, clearly embodies the ugliness of his ideas — making it exceedingly hard for sophisticated conservatives to embrace him. Scan their anti-Trump objections and it becomes clear that they are appalled not as much by his substance but his style and personal vices — the very thing about Trump that attracts many working-class conservative voters.

Suppose that Trump were less of a vulgarian and buffoon – and presented his terrifying plans to kill innocent children of terrorists with the appropriate-level of chin stroking about how the constitution or international law is not a suicide pact? Suppose that he prefaced his plans to revive Operation Wetback to eject millions of undocumented immigrants not with a gleeful smirk but a troubled furrow noting that sometimes restoring order means relaxing one's dogmatic commitment to cherished values? Would conservative elites then not be more open to him, especially since there is no fundamental conflict between much of what he's proposing and their key issues? Maybe. But maybe not.

Consider, for example, National Review's lead editorial for its "Against Trump" issue, which lambasted Trump — correctly — as a "philosophically unmoored political opportunist" who is an affront to "the preservation on limits on government power." But if that's the case, then surely National Review would have deep qualms about the virtually limitless state power that Trump would need to build his wall, tear apart mixed-status families, and separate willing American employers from willing foreign workers, and ban Muslim travel, right? Wrong.

National Review's main problem with Trump is that his restrictionism doesn't go far enough. The magazine criticized Trump for even suggesting that maybe — just maybe — he'd consider letting some undocumented immigrants return with proper papers to their American families after they'd been ejected. It also expressed "dismay" that Trump wasn't questioning the "conventional view" that the current levels of immigration are fine instead of rethinking the H-1B program for skilled foreign workers — the one program that no conservative outside ultra-restrictionist circles had to date questioned. Trump, as it turned out, was only too happy to oblige, pledging in the last debate to scrap even this program.

But just as Trump's restrictionism is not fundamentally out-of-sync with National Review's paleo-conservatism, his foreign policy is also completely not out-of-line with neoconservatism. To the contrary, in fact.

Contemporary neo-conservatism as developed by its flagship publication Weekly Standard is characterized by a hawkish foreign policy that wants America to flex its military muscles to maintain world order and advance democracy. Nothing upset neo-conservatives more than President Obama's apology tour to the Middle East and elsewhere after assuming office. But the word "apology" is not even in Trump's vocabulary, something that should warm their heart. Indeed, he might believe that Bush lied America into the Iraq war, but that doesn't mean he will apologize. Marco Rubio might be the neocons' favorite son, but Trump is even more hardline about spending what it takes — sequesters be damned — to rebuild America's military, which, like them, he believes has gone to the crapper even though America spends more than the next seven countries combined.

Among his foreign policy heterodoxies as far as neocons are concerned, apart from his praise for Vladimir Putin, is his (Andrew) Jacksonian isolationism. But it is unclear how much daylight that really puts between Trump and them. He has criticized NATO and America's other international military alliances in Asia as bad deals. But that doesn't mean he'll pull America out — only that he'll negotiate reimbursement, hardly something that should be a deal breaker for neocons. In theory, he doesn't want America playing hegemon in the Middle East. But he's no pacifist. And with his hair-trigger temperament and bellicose saber rattling against ISIS and Islamic extremism, it's unlikely that he'll stick to his isolationist resolve. As columnist Virginia Postrel has noted, he isn't averse to starting wars, only losing them.

And then there are Iran and Israel, issues on which Trump is 100 percent in agreement with neocons. He has promised to shred the Iran nuclear deal on Day One, just as neocons want. And on Israel, after an initial misstep when he said he'll stay "neutral" while brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, he's struck a note so friendly that he had much of AIPAC cheering on its feet for much of his 17-minute address last week.

Apart from his style and temperament, then, it is hard see any issue on which Trump is in substantial disagreement with neocon foreign policy, including, by the way, downgrading trade relations with China, which the Weekly Standard was never in favor of normalizing in the first place.

And speaking of trade, every Republican president in living memory has engaged in protectionism while paying lip service to free trade. Mitt Romney jettisoned even that pretense when he made beating up on China for currency manipulation a central plank of his campaign — a plank Trump has been only too happy to pick up. Nor is Trump acting in an intellectual vacuum. After the last election, a populist right emerged, defined less by a commitment to principled limited government and more by a new kind of white identity politics that rails against crony capitalism, trade, immigration, and cuts in entitlement programs — the sum total of Trump's economic program.

No doubt, Trump has said heretical things in praise of single-payer health care, an assault weapons ban, and other issues. But those departures seem minor compared to the major resonance every item on his bucket list has for every major conservative faction. What's more, notwithstanding conservative wailing against executive overreach, much of what they — and he — are proposing would require a strongman approach to government, not respect for the delicate system of checks and balances that the Founders put in place.

So why has Trump failed to bring conservatives together in a new, anti-Reagan coalition-of-the-dour? It is not because he's a strongman, I submit, but because he's an ugly strongman.

In that, America may have lucked out (at least for now). The only thing worse than an ill-read, repulsive, sleazy Trump becoming the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination may have been a well-read, likable, upright Trump becoming the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination.

If history was going to hand America a demagogue, Trump might be the best kind.

This column originally appeared in The Week

NEXT: On Taxes, Economics, and Trade, Trump Is an Incoherent Mess

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  1. “Donald Drumpf”

    Oh God….we’ve fallen into the Block Insane Yomamma trap!

    1. That was my reaction as well. Except that it isn’t random asshat commenters, it’s the worthless pseudolibertarian contributors. I expect Chapman and Richman will pick this up as well.

      1. Please, reason, moderate your comments. It is not difficult to make judgments about which comments contribute, and which don’t. Also, the internet has plenty of other places where commenters can post obscene remarks if they like. Why let this kind of ugliness pollute a worthy forum?

        1. You must be new around here.

      2. I don’t care what they call him, so long as if they call him Drumpf they will publicly call Caitlyn Jenner, Bruce.

        I dare them.

    2. It’s exceedingly tedious.

  2. Nativism?check.

    Protectionism?check.

    Bare-knuckles foreign policy?check.

    Saying his partial-birth-abortion supporting sister would make a great Supreme Court Justice – wait a minute…

    1. You’re going to force abortion into every thread for the rest of the day, aren’t you?

      1. You’re the one with all the dirty pictures!

        1. OK, I’ll just do another glance at the A. M. links and I’ll think about other things.

  3. Sound qualitatively the same as the others to me. Just like in every other election between these two parties. Or did Clinton or Sanders promise open borders when I wasn’t looking? I haven’t been following them (has anyone?), though I bet they’re doing their own version of demagogue, against the “1 percent” or “corporations” or whomever gets their base fired up these days.

  4. No, not really. Trump isn’t a conservative, he’s an opportunist who’s gaming the nomination process. Any correlation between his statements and actual conservatism is random noise.

    The conservatives who oppose Trump oppose him largely because they believe in principles. You don’t have to like their principles or agree with them to see that Trump has no identifiable, consistent principles. I’m sure it’s lots of fun for people to take whatever they don’t like about Trump and say “see, this is what the GOP is!” But you’re not really saying anything, you’re merely restating things that you dislike about what some Republicans have embraced. Principled conservatives refuse to answer for someone who can’t make a coherent case for anything he says, as well they should.

  5. If he had been more attractive and less boorish, notes Dalmia, instead of driving varied conservative factions to band together in a #NeverTrump movement against him, he might well have led them in a #ForeverTrump movement for him.

    I actually agree with Shikha on this. Most of the opposition to Trump from non-partisan Dems is based purely on his style.

    I think I’m going to have to lay down now.

    1. I think it’s more from the un-PC things he says but yeah that can be part of his style.

      1. Saying un-PC things is exactly Trump’s style, and a large part of his popularity. Trump is a creation of the left. Think of the story of the boy who cried wolf- the left is the boy. Wolf- is racist, bigot, misogynist, and every other term they hurtle around at anyone who violates their PC codes. Trump supporters are tired of being called racist for having an opinion or knowing statistics love this aspect of Trump- they adore that he has the balls to stand up to the PC police- It’s not a perfect fit, but I think it is reasonable to think of many Trump boosters as single issue voters who care about anti-regressive-left-PC more than most everything else.

  6. Good analysis. The National Review will not have a reply. Neither will Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, and certainly not Ted Cruz. The authoritarian bug has bitten both Democrats and Republicans, but style, as you point out, does matter.

    If Republicans encountered an anti-authoritarian presidential candidate with a thoughtful style, who is well read, reasonable, courteous, and careful in his remarks, how do you suppose the Republican Party would react? We already know. Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee barred Ron Paul from speaking at the 2012 convention, though they would have welcomed any conventional candidate who received as much support at Paul did. The Republican Party is not a home for people who want a smaller, less intrusive state, that’s certain.

    For people concerned with political organization, one hopeful solution is to see the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party switch places. Let the Libertarians become a major party that runs successful candidates, and the Republican Party a sliver faction that people don’t want to waste their votes on. Do you know why that won’t happen? I don’t either, except changes like that take a long time, no matter what the circumstances. It’s a useful thought experiment, though.

    1. +1 47%

    2. “Do you know why that won’t happen? I don’t either, except changes like that take a long time…”
      -x-
      Because neither conservatives nor libertarians can afford to have it take a long time. Once more than 5% of current conservatives are voting Libertarian, the U.S. is a Democratic Party-run country until less than 5% of current conservatives are voting Republican. Libertarians won’t manage to pull people off the Democrats enough to keep the balance – not without abandoning small government.

  7. Before I saw the bank draft which had said $9426 , I didnt believe that…my… brother woz like actualy earning money part-time at there labtop. . there uncles cousin has done this 4 less than fifteen months and by now repaid the dept on there place and got a great new Mini Cooper . read the full info here …

    Clik This Link inYour Browser
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    1. There really should be a report spam button for this crap.

  8. Suppose that Trump were less of a vulgarian and buffoon ? and presented his terrifying plans to kill innocent children of terrorists with the appropriate-level of chin stroking about how the constitution or international law is not a suicide pact?

    The horror! Every Progressitarian knows that Liberty *is* a suicide pact. Consequences be damned, we must be Pure!

  9. Mitt Romney jettisoned even that pretense when he made beating up on China for currency manipulation a central plank of his campaign ? a plank Trump has been only too happy to pick up.

    Because recognizing that a particular central bank is actively undermining any pretense of ‘free trade’ is the same as speaking out against actual free trade. This is the problem with Dalmia, her arguments are predicated on ‘all else being equal’ when all else being equal couldn’t be further from the truth.

  10. “What good could possibly come from a boorish, megalomaniacal ignoramus sporting the worst bouffant in the Western hemisphere becoming the presidential nominee of a major party of the most powerful country in the world?”

    He builds a wall and sends illegal aliens home resulting for more jobs for low skilled Americans like the citizens of Ferguson Missouri.

    He ends the H-1B and similar programs resulting in more jobs and better wages for high skilled Americans.

    He end outsourcing resulting in more jobs for middle skilled Americans.

    What is not to like?

    Vote Trump!

    1. He builds a wall and sends illegal aliens home resulting for more jobs for low skilled Americans like the citizens of Ferguson Missouri in the jobs moving to Mexico and the products are imported into the US.

      He ends the H-1B and similar programs resulting in more jobs and better wages for high skilled Americans the next Intel and Microsoft being founded in Shanghai or Bangalore.

      He end outsourcing resulting in more jobs for middle skilled Americans more expensive goods made in the US or imported into the US.

      FTFY

      Throwing out Mexicans isn’t going to bring back jobs to the US. Alabama and Georgia faced labor shortages after they drove away their illegal immigrants:

      Georgia passed a similar immigration law in 2011. When undocumented workers fled, farmers lost around 40% of their workers and $140 million worth of blueberries, melons, onions, and other crops due to labor shortages. This year Georgia farmers again fear they will be short on workers to pick the crops, and many have scaled back production or stopped planting altogether.

      Read that last sentence again but replace “Georgia” with “US” to see what such a policy would do if applied across the US.

      (Georgia’s unemployment rate in 2012 was between 8.7% and 9.3%, so there were plenty of people to fill in.)

      1. It’s slavery labeling people illegal immigrants. I hope USA changes that in time.

      2. Shouldn’t the libertarian position be: what you predict is a good thing?
        That many jobs going unfilled might make America wake up to realize that the biggest competitor for low-wage jobs is the welfare state.
        As long as one can make a decent living off the freebies that libertarians are supposed to abhor, jobs that pay a lower wage than freeloading, will go unfilled and America might wake up to the destruction of enterprise and personal fulfillment that the welfare state produces.
        As it is, now, only those who aren’t supposed to qualify for welfare fill those jobs, but still cost the taxpayer plenty. Get rid of those and it becomes obvious how deleterious the welfare state is.

  11. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.net-jobs25.com

  12. Good choice of picture because Trump is actually your parody, Rashomon-effect idea of what Conservatism is. He’s your idea of what conservatives are like so he must be representative of them but is your idea objective?

    If Libertarians throw small government conservatives out with the defensecon bathwater then the Libertarian Moment, which began with Ron Paul’s impact as a GOP — not third party — presidential candidate will be over.

    1. I always find it amusing to read what lib/progs think conservatism is.
      A lot of good laughs in a Shikha screed.

  13. Psuedo-Libertarian Shikha Dhawan ?

    Shikha is a Left-Liberal for Indians. She is writing a lot rubbish here.

    1. I’ve been seeing a lot more non-libertarian sounding voices writing articles on reason of late, what’s going on?

  14. Before I saw the bank draft which had said $9426 , I didnt believe that…my… brother woz like actualy earning money part-time at there labtop. . there uncles cousin has done this 4 less than fifteen months and by now repaid the dept on there place and got a great new Mini Cooper . read the full info here …

    Clik This Link inYour Browser
    http://www.JobToday60.com

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