I shouldn’t have been surprised when a recent discussion on the future of conservatism turned into an argument over Donald Trump, his presidency, and the midterm election. The renaissance in conservative thought that began with the publication of the Road to Serfdom in 1944, and culminated in the founding of National Review in 1955 and the Sharon Statement of Young Americans for Freedom in 1960, gave way to conservative politics long ago. Since 1964, it has been difficult if not impossible to disentangle conservatism’s fate from the Republican Party’s. And for the last three years Trump has dominated that party and the movement associated with it. Neither Republicans nor conservatives ought to kid themselves. There is no escaping Trump.
International business consultant Wendy Sherman was the chief American negotiator of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal agreed to by President Obama in 2015 and abrogated by President Trump earlier this year. She has a new book out, Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power, and Persistence, and in the space of 14 Tweets promoting it the other day she managed to combine basically everything I dislike about Washington.
The litany has been repeated so often that it’s easy to recite: the walls are closing in on Donald Trump, person x or y or z is going to bring him down, it’s only a matter of time before he is caught or exposed or loses his base of support and driven from public life. The phrases sound out from our cable channels. We see them in newspaper headlines and in our Twitter timelines. This time Trump has gone too far. The end is near. Take that, Drumpf!
What is forgotten is that the president has operated in this atmosphere of emergency and crisis and imminent doom since he announced his campaign. No matter how dire the outcry, he moves on.
Between June 16, 2015, and July 25, 2018, Donald Trump flummoxed his opponents. He flouted the conventions of American politics, violating the norms that have long governed the behavior of both candidates and presidents. Telegenic, volatile, and dramatic, given to accusations, insults, nicknames, and conspiracy theories, and capable of outrageous and sometimes mystifying behavior, Trump presented a challenge to his rivals: How to respond?
The Democrats have decided that agendas are overrated. Back in May, the party unveiled its “Better Deal” program, calling for expanded broadband access, an increase in the minimum wage, and paid family and sick leave. Voters didn’t bite. So last month the Democrats came up with “For the People,” which simplifies the platform to infrastructure spending, lowering health care costs, and draining the swamp. Again, crickets.
I spend a few weeks every year teaching high school and college students, and in my interactions with young people in and around universities I have noticed a trend. After class, at meals, and in walks around campus, the politically engaged students invariably ask me the same question: What do I think of Ben Shapiro?
Nor am I alone. Recently Eliza Gray had a similar experience while reporting on young conservatives in the age of President Trump.
“Few who met Willmoore Kendall ever forgot him,” George Nash once wrote. The same can be said of those who read him. Every summer, in my class on the conservative intellectual movement for the Hertog Political Studies Program, I look forward to the day when my students encounter Kendall for the first time. Let us just say his defense of Joseph McCarthy, drawn from his 1963 book The Conservative Affirmation, arouses strong reactions.
President Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, has opened another round of debate on the purpose and future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Since assuming office, Trump has moved away from his earlier position that NATO is obsolete, preferring instead to highlight the disparity between U.S. defense expenditures (3.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product) and those of other signatories to the treaty, especially Germany (1.2 percent). Indeed, Trump rightly views the commitments of NATO powers to increase defense spending as one of the ways he has strengthened the alliance.
The national security adviser was ecstatic. The presidents of the United States and of Russia had agreed to a ceasefire in Syria, where years of civil war had killed some half a million people and created refugees of millions more. “The United States remains committed to defeating ISIS, helping to end the conflict in Syria, reducing suffering, and enabling people to return to their homes,” the national security adviser said. “This agreement is an important step toward these common goals.” Southwest Syria would become a zone of “de-confliction.” Among the provinces covered by the agreement: Daraa.
The victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over longtime Democratic congressman Joe Crowley of New York inspired some hysterical punditry. We were told that the 28,000 people that voted in a district of more than 600,000 had decided the fate of the political universe. Ocasio-Cortez, in this telling, heralds the coming of Democratic Socialist, multiracial, female-dominated America. The 28-year-old bartender and community activist is the Democrat of the future—according to no less an authority than the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And in a polarized media climate, with hyperbolic insinuations of “civil war” and calls for the harassment of political opponents, one is tempted to believe that romanticism and extremism grow ever stronger.