I have greatly enjoyed reading your writings as of late. As a liberal it has been informative and challenging work, and I appreciate the depth of your understanding and your care with argument.
I do feel, however, that you have slacked somewhat in your duties to your readers. In particular, I think it is the responsibility of all press, but especially conservative press, to keep their readers on guard about some of the more alarming behaviors and historical analogues we see right now. It may be that Trump does not seek authoritarian power, but it may be that he does. His attacks on the free press and the judiciary make many of us nervous. If he does in fact seek more power, we all need to be watching for the historical analogue of the Reichstag fire.
He has stoked in all of us a fear of Muslims. He has prepared us to blame the courts, the press, and the liberals if and when an attack happens. An attack is likely to happen, just based on the world today.
It will be the responsibility of moral conservatives to push back against the fervor and blame that could destroy the American experiment. It will be your responsibility to remind your readers that the press is our protection, that liberals and Muslims are just as American and just as well-meaning as conservative Christians. It will be your responsibility to remind us all that our representatives’ first duty is not protecting our safety as they keep saying, but protecting our constitution and our rights. If nothing happens, nothing is lost by reminding your readers what an authoritarian will try to do. If something happens, having waited will be indefensible.
I believe all of you at TAC are moral and careful and have a deep love for the freedoms we enjoy. I believe, however, that you must put party loyalty aside (even more so than you have already done, which I commend you for) to remind us all of what defending freedom can entail. It will surely entail resisting the division and fear that have become so common on all sides. I know I sound alarmist, and I hope I am overreacting. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.
Thank you for your time,
The Editor Replies
When a publication such as ours receives a letter such as that of Jacqueline Mauro, it generates a good-faith imperative for a reply. I’m particularly heartened by Ms. Mauro’s revelation that, as a political liberal, she doesn’t agree with us much but still appreciates our “informative work,” our “depth of … understanding,” and our “care with argument.” Particularly in times such as these, with the country rent so abysmally by division and rancor, Ms. Mauro’s measured and seemingly heartfelt complaint deserves an equally unemotional and respectful response.
Her central complaint seems to be that we have insufficiently raised the alarm about what she sees—and many others see—as President Trump’s tendencies toward authoritarian behavior, as manifest, in part at least, in his attacks on the news media, on judges, and on liberals. We conservatives, she says, have an obligation to push back against this rhetorical “fervor and blame that could destroy the American experiment.”
I’m not prepared to argue that she is wrong. No doubt we have passed over some of Trump’s most egregious flights of rhetorical brutality. At the same time, I’m proud that we have published some truly pugilistic attacks on Trump by our regular bloggers, Rod Dreher and Daniel Larison, who from the earliest days of the nomination process sought to expose troubling elements of his persona and agenda. Of course we ran those pieces alongside the commentary of Patrick J. Buchanan, one of our founders, who considers Trump a necessary corrective to policies of our elites that he considers destructive of the American future. That’s the great debate in America these days, and we aren’t inclined to short-circuit it.
Beyond that, though, our primary interest in covering Trump is to get beyond the man and offer interpretative insights into the state of American politics, with particular emphasis on how the country could become so riled up against its status quo leadership that it would turn to such a figure as Trump. Some argue that it’s a racist backlash to eight years of Barack Obama. Some say it is the “deplorables” consumed with fears and hatreds that Trump has exploited. Some even suggest obliquely that the American republic is disintegrating before our very eyes.
We reject all that, largely because we have faith in the collective electorate—and, having such faith, we harbor optimism also that the American people will find their way through these troubled times and emerge eventually into the sunlight of a new political coalition with a new political dialectic and new prospects for a unified polity.
Is Trump the man to pull this off? Perhaps, but it is looking increasingly unlikely. In the meantime, as that question hovers over our nation, The American Conservative will not join the chorus of those whose anti-Trump rhetoric places them in the camp of wanting to engineer the man’s failure. Our depth of understanding and our care with argument preclude such an approach.
Robert W. Merry
The American Conservative