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Trump The Destabilizer

His candidacy challenges the signal conservative virtue of Prudence

Ross Douthat lays out what he calls “the conservative case against Trump.” He says that electing Trump would mean the end of Reaganism, but concedes that for some conservatives, that would not be a bug, but a feature.

Here is the heart of the argument:

Trump would not be an American Mussolini; even our sclerotic institutions would resist him more effectively than that. But he could test them as no modern president has tested them before — and with them, the health of our economy, the civil peace of our society and the stability of an increasingly perilous world.

In sum: It would be possible to justify support for Trump if he merely promised a period of chaos for conservatism. But to support Trump for the presidency is to invite chaos upon the republic and the world. No policy goal, no court appointment, can justify such recklessness.

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. I told a friend the other day, “If Trump is elected, I don’t know how he’s going to govern the country.” If it’s only about ticking off the Social Justice Warriors, I would be sorely tempted to say, “Bring it.”

But it wouldn’t be. Trump is a chaos candidate by nature. There’s no telling what he would say on any given day — or who he would insult. It’s a gross understatement to say that a very great deal depends on the stability of the US presidency. One of the defining characteristics of conservatism is an appreciation for stability and continuity in our institutions. Trump, purely from a temperamental point of view, would likely be the most radical president we’ve ever had, because the most unpredictable, and the one most driven not by principle, but by ego.

And, what kind of scenario would we be looking at if whole regions of the country were to regard the US president as somehow illegitimate? I’m not talking about merely hating him; I’m talking about refusing to have any part of him and his administration. If Trump wins the election fair and square, he will be the lawful president. But let’s not kid ourselves about the ability of such a polarizing and intemperate figure to lead the country, especially in a time of crisis.

Let’s say China makes a provocative military move in the South China Sea. How confident would you feel with Trump in the White House? Or if Russia invades western Ukraine — do you really think a wider war is more likely or less likely with Trump as Commander in Chief?

I don’t have confidence in Hillary Clinton’s leadership, but compared to Trump, she at least has the virtue of being predictable, and not likely to shoot her mouth off.

Douthat’s column shines light on an aspect of conservatism that has not been appreciated much in our ideological age: its bias toward stability. In the same way many liberals today have forgotten the liberal virtue of tolerance, so have many conservatives forgotten the conservative virtue of prudence.

It must be said that the Republican Party has earned the Trump curse, both because it has cultivated rashness, and because the status quo it has stood on for so long caused it to ignore fundamental changes in the country, and to respond creatively to them. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, a political party without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation. Trump-As-GOP-Nominee is the walking, talking, combed-over embodiment of this principle.

It is a withering indictment of the GOP Establishment that not one of its candidates could persuade a plurality of Republican primary voters that More Of The Same would be better than whatever Donald Trump is selling. At some point, though, you have to put away the Schadenfreude and think about the future of the country. That point is going to come in early November.

I never imagined that I would face an election choice worse than the Louisiana governor’s runoff in 1991, in which Edwin W. Edwards faced off against David Duke. I voted for Edwards, without apology, but felt sick inside over it. This one is worse, because the stakes are immeasurably higher. #NeverTrump folks may want to resurrect that old bumper sticker seen all over Louisiana during the 1991 race: VOTE FOR THE CROOK: IT’S IMPORTANT



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