Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

The Bad Year May Get a Whole Lot Worse

In November and beyond, there is as much cause for worry as there is for hope. Whichever way it goes, we'll be on the front lines.

As the annus horribilis of 2020 comes to a close, we find ourselves facing not a rebound after having hit rock bottom, but a turn for the even worse: the prospect of a constitutional crisis and, if the past few months are any guide, significant violence and civil unrest. We hope that by the time you receive the next issue, the country will know who the president is going to be for the next four years, but even that seems less than a sure thing.

If President Trump leaves office in January, it will mark the end of the only brief period in the history of this magazine in which we had a president who, for all his flaws, broke from the disastrous foreign policy consensus of both parties—at least in his rhetoric. To paraphrase a MacArthur genius, we were four years near power. If Trump is reelected, the course forward is simple: continue to push him, which is even more important if he never has to face the voters again. The mistakes of the president’s first term must not be repeated.

But in a first term of President Biden, there is every reason to expect some rough going. Though he himself refuses to state his position on the campaign trail, progressives are now talking openly about packing the Supreme Court, a drastic step that if taken, with no exaggeration, will impact the very stability of this country. The media will justify much in the name of de-Trumpification, and New York Times columnists are already proposing Orwellian tribunals like a truth and reconciliation commission. In the eyes of our democracy’s self-appointed managers, something happened in 2016 that shouldn’t have. They will work to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and change the rules if they can.

If the GOP fails to retain the Senate, the chance of finding out exactly who is responsible for the outrages of the 2016 Russiagate investigation will be close to zero. Emboldened by the lack of consequences, we can expect the same political skullduggery that characterized the Obama-era Justice Department and IRS.

The Republicans that remain in Congress will settle back into the familiar pattern of their party in the opposition: complaining about spending and hounding Democrats for not being eager enough to wage wars. Meanwhile an enormous ideological campaign will be waged, or rather continued, to persuade Americans that there were no lessons to learn from 2016, and that any distinct issues on which Trump ran and won on are now discredited. Whoever is in the White House in January, this is a reversion we intend to resist. The wisdom of the pre-2016 consensus has been thoroughly discredited, while the predicted catastrophes of a Trump presidency have mostly failed to materialize.

A recent symposium in these pages asked what are conservatives for? This one asks, what are conservatives to do? In David Hines’s piece for this issue, he begins to sketch out the daunting task of what it might take to build an activist enterprise as effective as the other side’s. If Republicans find themselves losing big on November 3—or whenever the election results are deemed final—that is something they can do.

If all the foregoing sounds a little gloomy, we only mean to be realistic. Readers may take heart knowing that, as Mark Bauerlein’s piece explores, there has always been something ungovernable about the American character. And as the last four years have disenchanted Republican base voters with our forever wars and the economic tenets of Bushism, there is no reason to feel defeated. We know what it’s like to be in the wilderness. But now there are millions of us.



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