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O Ye Men Of Intemperate Minds

Yes, Hillary Clinton is awful. But conservatives don't dare embrace Trump's paranoia

Some further thoughts on last night.

I really can’t understand the lack of alarm on the part of so many of my fellow conservatives over Donald Trump’s refusal in advance to confirm that he will accept the results of the election.

“But what about Al Gore?” you say. “He contested the results of the 2000 election.” Yes, he did, and he was right to do so — and so would Trump be in those circumstances.

Gore won the popular vote, and the presidency depended on the integrity of the results in South Florida. The US Supreme Court made its decision, ultimately. I don’t recall that I had much good to say about Al Gore, ever, but his decision to accept the Court’s verdict as final was an act of selflessness and patriotism. Many of his supporters believe the Court’s call was nakedly political, and unjust. It may have been, but that’s beside the point. The important thing is that whatever his belief in his heart, Gore affirmed that in our system, the Supreme Court has the final say – and in so doing, affirmed our system.

What if Gore had spent 2001 gallivanting around the country rousing angry liberal audiences against the government, saying he had been cheated, and so had they? What kind of condition would the nation have been to meet the challenges ahead on 9/11? Had Gore done that, he would have had a far stronger case than Donald Trump can possibly have, given that he, Gore, won the popular vote.

But he didn’t do that. He accepted a loss he surely believed was unjust for the sake of the good of the country.

Donald Trump is going to lose on November 8, and he is going to lose badly. He is going to be soundly beaten by a terrible Democratic nominee, a woman who is unliked, tainted by corruption, and the most divisive figure in public life other than … Donald Trump. I believe it is true that the Democrats are capable of engaging in voter fraud, and I take it as given that somewhere in America on election day, it will happen.


If the current polls hold up (Clinton ahead by seven points), the scale of Trump’s loss will far exceed anything that could be credibly attributed to fraud or any other kind of “rigging.” It is extremely reckless for Trump to be seeding the nation with doubt about the validity and legitimacy of the election. The only reason he’s doing it is to protect his own vanity when he is walloped, and walloped by a woman at that – and not only walloped by a woman, but walloped by Hillary Clinton, who would have been a pushover for any other GOP contender.

The Republican establishment has to realize that Trump didn’t rig or otherwise steal the party’s nomination: he won it fair and square, and he won it mostly because the party establishment itself fell badly out of touch with the mood of the country and its voters. You don’t have a fool like Trump defeating what was once touted as the deepest GOP candidate bench in history if Trump didn’t know something that that allegedly deep bench did not.

And yet, Trump has blown this race entirely on his own. In truth, he never really stood a chance, because the only way he was going to win it was to pivot towards being someone he’s not. No 70-year-old man is going to be able to do that, especially given that he has made his public reputation by saying outrageous things on camera. We all know Trump’s many weaknesses, so I won’t rehearse them again here. The point to be made, though, is that Trump gave Americans who might have been persuaded to vote for him 1,001 reasons not to. Hell, he rubbed the nation’s face in them.

For me, it has always been a matter of character with Trump. I know what Hillary Clinton is about, what she stands for, and what she will do in office. I dread it and reject it strongly. I think she and her husband are grifters. I believe that Project Veritas has credibly demonstrated that there are elements within the Democratic Party machine willing to engage in Saul Alinsky-type provocations, and even voter fraud. I concede that the national media are reflexively biased against the Republican nominee, no matter who it is.

And yet, we still have no reason at this point to think that Trump will be denied the presidency because the election was “rigged.” 

Apply Occam’s Razor to this situation. Donald Trump represents a sharp deviation from the Republican norm in terms of his policies. Hey, that’s what a lot of people like about him! It’s why I have been somewhat sympathetic to him for most of this year, and if not #NeverTrump, then anti-anti-Trump in my convictions. But there was always going to be no small number of Republicans who found him hard to take.

Then there was his shrill, bombastic rhetoric, his many lies and self-contradictions, the many reports of his shafting people he’s done business with, his recklessness, his self-absorption, his abrasive and thin-skinned temperament. Even if you sympathize with the guy, he specializes in making it hard to vote for him. And this was before he was caught on tape bragging about forcing himself sexually on women.

Yes, the undeniable awfulness of Hillary Clinton covers a multitude of sins in any Republican nominee, but I fear more for my country under a Trump presidency than a Clinton one, precisely because of his unhinged personality. I have no idea what he would do with power, and what kind of constitutional crisis he would provoke, but I am very confident he would provoke one. Hillary is a hawk, for sure, but how can anybody believe Trump would be a more sober, restrained steward of foreign policy?

Look, maybe I’m wrong about him. But you’ve got to concede that Trump himself has given voters, especially women voters, ample reason to reject him. That’s not the result of conspiracies. There is something deeply, deeply wrong with that man.

Trump’s behavior reminds me of my own when I was a little kid, and would run foot races with my little sister. She was two years younger than I, but a really good athlete. I couldn’t stand the prospect of being beaten by her. She was a girl, after all, and she was younger than I was. Sometimes, my ego would be so great that as we approached the finish line, and I could see she was going to win, I deliberately fell, and claimed that I had tripped. Anything to deny her the satisfaction of knowing she beat me.

It was cheap and revealed a lack of character, but I did it. I was nine. Trump is 70.

If, by some unforeseen circumstance, Trump’s vote comes close to Hillary Clinton and/or there is clear evidence of significant voter fraud, I hope he will challenge the results. But if the Clinton victory is upheld by the Supreme Court, do you think he will accept it? No, he won’t! He will tour the country complaining about how the corrupt system robbed him, and trying to whip up people to rebel against the system.

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I do believe that our system is in serious trouble. Jim Rutenberg of the NYT and I talked briefly the other day about Trump’s claim that the election is being “rigged” by the media. Excerpt:

It was as tense as anyone had seen it since the candidacy of George Wallace, and yet it was almost understandable given what Mr. Trump had been telling them: The news media was trying to “poison the minds” of voters with “lies, lies, lies.” All of it, he said, is part of a “conspiracy against you, the American people” that also includes “global financial interests.”

The idea that the press is part of some grand conspiracy against the people, presented in such incendiary terms, goes well beyond the longstanding Republican complaints about liberal bias. You’d more expect to hear it from Lenin or the pages of the anti-Semitic publication American Free Press than from the standard-bearer of the Republican Party.

But it is resonating with a large portion of the American electorate. There are many reasons, some of which should cause the news media to make good on its promises to examine its own disconnect from the cross section of Americans whose support for Mr. Trump it never saw coming.


There also tends to be a shared sense of noble mission across the news media that can preclude journalists from questioning their own potential biases.

“The people who run American journalism, and who staff the newsrooms, think of themselves as sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and, culturally speaking, on the right side of history,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at The American Conservative, told me. “They don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t care to know it.”

Mr. Dreher lives in Louisiana and has worked at five major city newspapers across the country. He does not support Mr. Trump but says he understands why his supporters are so frustrated. As far as he’s concerned, mainstream journalists are “interested in every kind of diversity, except the kind that would challenge their own prejudices.” Those include, “bigotry against conservative religion, bigotry against rural folks and bigotry against working-class and poor white people.”

To be perfectly clear, it’s obvious to me that Trump is trying to deflect criticism of his own flaws and failings by scapegoating the media in classic demagogic fashion. That said, it’s important to think about why this attack by Trump works so well with so many people. As I indicated with Rutenberg, it’s because the kind of people to whom Trump is speaking know perfectly well that the media really are biased against their point of view in most cases. They’re being manipulated by Trump here, but for the reasons I gave to Rutenberg, they have brought a lot of this mistrust and loathing onto themselves. And not only the media, but most institutions of American life.

I have been going on for a while about this thing I call the Benedict Option, not because I think the system is so corrupt that it’s impossible for honest Christians to live in it, but because I believe that our culture itself has moved so far away from Christianity that the faith is in danger of disappearing via total assimilation (more on which in another post). That is the most important thing to me, and it ought to be the most important thing to all serious Christians, not the preservation of liberal democracy. I think a Trump presidency would greatly accelerate the break-up of the culture and the country, but I think another Clinton presidency will do the same, only on a slower basis. Maybe it’s inevitable. The only reason I can see choosing Trump over Hillary is the possibility that he will appoint Supreme Court justices that will protect religious liberty, and generally make better decisions. If I thought Trump had anything remotely like a sound character, I could convince myself to vote for him. But he doesn’t, and he’s a dangerous crank. For example, only a dangerous crank would be running around the country a month before the election telling everyone that the outcome, if it goes against him, will have been fraudulent.

I’ll leave this topic alone. I want to say, though, that conservatives had better be very careful about how far we go in kicking the foundations out from under our form of government. Yeah, yeah, I’m one to talk, with my growing doubts about liberal democracy. If we are going to fathom changing the constitutional order, it had better come about slowly and deliberately, not because some demagogue went out into the fields ranting and firing up people’s passions. The Republican Party establishment is partly responsible for Trump because it would not change to accommodate new realities. That’s on them.

The Democratic Party, and liberals more generally, is partly responsible for Trump because they have long embraced identity politics, in particular racial grievance politics, and are somehow shocked when it’s turned back on them. Liberal college administrators don’t have the courage to stand up to racialized mobs trampling on the normal modes of liberal democratic discourse. The Democrats are going to get their own Trump one of these days. Again, though, that’s on them.

But it’s on us, the conservatives, to respond with gravity, steadiness, and restraint to this crisis in front of us, and not to yield to our passions and go the way of the mob. It’s hard. I know it’s hard. Lots of times I too want to kick the damn thing over. But once we smash it up, then what? Trump is playing a very dangerous game here.

“It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free,” wrote Edmund Burke. “Their passions forge their fetters.” Think about it. If you don’t think things could get any worse, you have no imagination. Now is not the time for panic. We are going to have to keep our heads for the next four years, if not longer.




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