By Josh Hammer
The Party of Lincoln, the once-serious Reaganite vehicle for advancing substantive ideas about spurring economic growth and promoting Aristotelian human flourishing, of which I have formally been a member since the day I turned eighteen years old, and which has otherwise made extraordinary gains at every level of government throughout the lethargic and Leviathan-engorging Obama presidency, has done the unthinkable by nominating for the highest office in the free world a catastrophically unfit, temperamentally unbalanced, borderline-deranged, willfully ignorant, quasi-fascistic, Kremlin-tained, bloviating, demagogic reality TV show blowhard.
The Democrats, in reneging upon their own one-time intellectually defensible tradition of supply-sider John F. Kennedy and “peace through strength” internationalist Scoop Jackson through the economic centrism and tough-on-crime resolve of Bill “the era of big government is over” Clinton, have similarly beclowned themselves by nominating for the highest office in the free world a congenital liar and shapeshifting chameleon of a zealous kid-killing socialist who is the most systemically corrupt person to receive a presidential nomination in at least a full century, who recklessly helped foment the metastasis of the global jihad due to her serial profound misjudgments on the world stage as U.S. Secretary of State, and who quite possibly belongs in jail due to her deliberate and deceitful undermining of U.S. national security.
Seriously—thank God this election season is over. In thinking back to how excited I was last fall, when it looked as if the GOP had its best presidential field in half a century—and how excited I was after Iowa, when my preferred candidate won a dramatic victory in the first-in-the-nation caucuses—it is hard to believe it has come to this. But, alas, it has.
How will you commemorate the end of the suffocating dumpster fire known as Election 2016?
— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) November 7, 2016
Pending a perfect storm—possibly a “Bradley effect” of sorts which would amount to the biggest error in polling since, at least, this summer’s Brexit—Hillary Clinton is going to win the Electoral College vote total tonight. My own prediction is for a tighter race than many expect it to be, but I’m also giving Trump Florida in my map, and I candidly have absolutely no idea if that will be true. A Trump internal poll had him down two points in Florida as of yesterday, which coincides with what I’d heard from a friend of a friend working on the Marco Rubio reelection campaign in Florida—namely, that Rubio, who is largely expected to run ahead of Trump (in a delectable reversal of fortune from Rubio’s fatal March 15 presidential primary loss in Florida, I might add) on Tuesday night, is himself in a razor-thin polling margin-of-error dogfight. And even if Trump wins Florida, moreover, the math still does not add up unless he wins every other feasible swing state and also wins Pennsylvania (not happening), Michigan (not happening), or a combination of New Hampshire and Nevada (not happening).
So Hillary Clinton is all but certain to become the next President of the United States this evening, and those who pushed Trump in the primaries—who nominated the one buffoon who Hillary Clinton was dying to face, possibly because he is the one clown even more unfathomably unlikable than even she is—will have no one to blame but themselves. Ditto the feckless GOP establishmentarians who unconscionably chose the nationalist populism of Trump over the constitutional conservatism of Sen. Ted Cruz when it mattered most.
But, from the perspective of preserving and promoting post-Russell Kirk/William F. Buckley, Jr. movement conservatism, the presidential election tonight almost does not even matter. After I went out and cast my early vote for Evan McMullin, I noted how conservatism has, sadly, already lost:
Conservatism is going to lose on November 8, no matter which amoral jokester prevails in the Electoral College tally.
David French of National Review, in yet another must-read column from yesterday, agrees:
The election of 2016 is lost. An unfit candidate is going to become president.
At this present juncture, it is impossible to know how much of Trump’s rise is attributable to his unique star power—his massive name recognition and branding/marketing ingenuity, the abundance of free media he received relative to all his primary season foes, and the concomitant possibility of de facto collusion between Clinton’s corrupt praetorian guard and the lackeys of the palpably Leftist, elitist Fourth Estate—and how much is attributable to his overtly populist substantive positioning on issues like trade protectionism, campaign finance “reform,” anti-arithmetic entitlement demagoguery, anti-constitutional authoritarianism, and “Bush lied and people died” Infowars-style cartoonish conspiracy theorizing in the realm of foreign affairs. We have small samples like the Paul Ryan primary rout of Paul Nehlen in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, but Ryan is a national powerhouse name (if an imperfect one) and a sitting U.S. Speaker of the House. So with regard to the aforementioned Trump question and the mid- to long-term sustainability of his ego-driven nationalist movement, I think it suffices to say that we just do not know enough yet. The jury is still out on just how much of his rise is due to his star power, and just how much is due to the issues on which he focused.
Frankly, it is probably a combination of both. What is clear, however, is that movement conservatives have the fight of their lives on their hands right now. The nefarious “alt-right” has been emboldened by a dangerous and divisive figure, and it is not going away; the onus is thus on conservatives to simultaneously reject the racists and anti-Semites of the true “alt-right” movement whilst welcoming back into the fold those Trump supporters who may be merely more receptive to a more overtly populist, protectionist, paleoconservative, Pat Buchanan-esque message. And, as if our task were not difficult enough, we must also work to win over these stauncher brute populists toward a more ideologically and intellectually coherent form of civically virtuous, ardently limited-government, Leviathan-slashing, Burkean “little platoon”-empowering (see the above cover photo I selected for this piece), American exceptionalism-promoting doctrinal conservatism.
The day after Cruz dropped out of the presidential primary fight in May, I defined our pro-Constitution, anti-Trumpism movement as the Resistance. Later in July, I analogized our situation—having been displaced within our own political home by an occupying foreign force—to being something akin to the biblical situation of Babylonian exile:
The Resistance will endure as the conservative movement in exile. Cheeto Jesus is our Nebuchadnezzar. Welcome to Babylon. With enough strength and force of will, we will persevere and eventually find our way back to Jerusalem.
Finally, last week, I began to fill in more of the concrete details as to what this restorative process will look like:
On the morning of November 9, the slow process of turning our Resistance movement into a broad-scale civic restoration will commence. We will need to re-promulgate and evangelize our principles, elevate morality back into its rightful place in the national conscience, expiate the post-Russell Kirk/William F. Buckley conservative movement of the wretched cancer represented by the racists and Jew-haters of the so-called “alt-right” (whilst leaving be the merely more overtly populist-minded/Pat Buchanan-esque voters), and then take the fight to the Left.
The rest of this piece will be dedicated to filling in more of what this restorative process will look like. In so outlining, it is my hope that my platoon mates in our Resistance movement will come to embrace a new term: as being not just part of the Resistance, but as now being part of the Restoration.
Any conservative revival, including our Restoration, will need to begin within the confines of the ubiquitous “little platoon[s]” of which Burke once eloquently spoke: of the sundry mediating institutions between individual and government, beginning with the nuclear family itself. Here was the brilliant Yuval Levin, in a fantastic Wall Street Journalessay last April:
- … a modernized conservatism would also have much to offer to our troubled cultural debates. In an increasingly fractured society, moral traditionalists should emphasize building cohesive and attractive subcultures, rather than struggling for dominance of the increasingly weakened institutions of the mainstream culture. While some national political battles, especially about religious liberty, will remain essential to preserve the space for moral traditionalism to thrive, social conservatives must increasingly focus on how best to fill that space in their own communities. That is how a traditionalist moral minority can thrive in a diverse America—by offering itself not as a path back to an old consensus that no longer exists but as an attractive, vibrant alternative to the demoralizing chaos of the permissive society.*
Indeed, the revival of the mediating institutions of community life is essential to a modernizing conservatism. These institutions—from families to churches to civic and fraternal associations and labor and business groups—can help balance dynamism with cohesion and let citizens live out their freedom in practice. They can keep our diversity from devolving into atomism or dangerous cultural, racial and ethnic Balkanization. And they can help us to use our multiplicity to address our modern challenges.
Conservatives must rededicate themselves to fortifying these institutional “little platoon[s]” against Leftist assault. Sky-high out-of-wedlock birthrates remain a genuinely vexing problem, both from a perspective of sociology and from a perspective of the solvency of the public fisc. Marriage must be incentivized, instead of (illogically) penalized. We must develop creative means to push back against extremely liberal divorce regimes and stagnant national birthrates. More generally, the deeply pernicious attempts by the Left to undermine familial sovereignty with the ever-increasing tentacles of the federal Leviathan must be manifestly resisted. The intergenerational inculcation of civic virtue, after all, was presumed by the Founding generation to be the peculiar domain of the family. Never before has it been more pressing to devolve as much education as possible to the most local level, in accordance with classic subsidiarity principles, so that the thinly veiled Leftist facade of public school indoctrination can be ameliorated with heavy doses of school choice and private morality.
After an election season replete with nakedly demagogic populists and irreverent protectionists, free marketeers must proudly re-assert themselves. There is such thing as a healthy dose of populism; what matters is the kind of populism that is espoused. Free marketeers must focus on the types of reforms that predominate in what Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner has long called “libertarian populism,” and which similarly imbue Sen. Mike Lee’s “conservative reform agenda.” Conservatives must find the balance between remaining true to doctrinaire laissez-faire principle (e.g., proposing a simple health insurance voucher as something akin to a postcard-sized replacement for catastrophically failing Obamacare) and also proposing clever, tangible, real-world policy solutions to middle-class voters, such as the ostensibly arcane idea of replacing the Earned Income Tax Credit with a low-income wage subsidy. We will have to find a way to rehabilitate the badly damaged image of the objective good of free trade—which is literally just capitalism, on a global scale—in a way that also shows deep sympathy for and concern with the quotidian travails of the post-globalization economically downtrodden.
An intriguing possibility for a new economics-focused Restoration, as I noted in June, would be to focus on monetary policy reform:
Conservatives’ criticism of the Fed’s status quo—including its artificially low interest rates, its grand post-2008 crash experiment in endless [quantitative easing], and its pernicious effects on potentially abetting long-term inflation and dollar weakening—would go a long way toward pushing back against … Trumpist economic illiteracy. By focusing on the Fed, conservatives can simultaneously defend capitalism and free trade, lament an activist Fed’s micro-management and excessive central planning of the economy, resist Leftists’ rhetorical assaults on wealth inequality in an ideologically coherent and consistent fashion, and distance themselves from Donald Trump in a way that meaningfully attempts to preserve the GOP as a partisan vessel for free market conservatism. It’s a win-win-win-win.
After an election season in which the Republican nominee admitted that he thinks judges “sign bills” and that the Constitution has twelve Articles, constitutionalists and originalists must rededicate themselves to a political ideology which places fealty to our governing charter at its very core. We must regain an appreciation for preaching the importance of not just protecting and preserving the individual rights provisions in the Bill of Rights, but also of stressing the importance of the structural securings of the blessings of liberty that take the form of both separation of powers and federalism. As our mercurial U.S. Supreme Court “swing justice,” Anthony Kennedy, eloquently wrote in the 2015 case of Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads (some internal citations omitted):
At the center of the Framers’ dedication to the separation of powers was individual liberty. The Federalist No. 47 (J. Madison) (quoting Baron de Montesquieu for the proposition that “‘[t]here can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates’”). This was not liberty in the sense of freedom from all constraint, but liberty as described by Locke: “to have a standing rule to live by … made by the legislative power,” and to be free from “the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man.” At the heart of this liberty were the Lockean private rights: life, liberty, and property.