Don­ald Trump’s rise re­flects Amer­ica’s de­cay

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ge­orge Will

— Look­ing on the bright side, per­haps this elec­tion can teach con­ser­va­tives to look on the dark side. They need a tal­ent for pes­simism, rec­og­niz­ing the signs that what­ever re­mains of Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism does not im­mu­nize this na­tion from de­cay, to which all regimes are sus­cep­ti­ble.

The world’s oldest po­lit­i­cal party is an ex­hausted vol­cano, the in­tel­lec­tual stal­e­ness of its re­cy­cled can­di­date un­chal­lenged be­cause a gen­er­a­tion of younger Demo­cratic lead­ers barely ex­ists. The Repub­li­can Party’s can­di­date ev­i­dently dis­dains his cred­u­lous sup­port­ers who con­tinue to swal­low his men­dac­i­ties. About 90 per­cent of pres­i­den­tial votes will be cast for Hil­lary Clin­ton or

WASH­ING­TON

Don­ald Trump, re­fut­ing the the­ory that this is a cen­ter­right coun­try. At the risk of tak­ing Trump’s words more se­ri­ously than he does, on some mat­ters he is to Clin­ton’s left re­gard­ing big gov­ern­ment pow­ered by an un­bri­dled pres­i­dency.

His trade pol­icy is lib­er­al­ism’s “in­dus­trial pol­icy” repack­aged for faux con­ser­va­tives com­fort­able with pres­i­dents dic­tat­ing what Amer­i­cans can im­port and pur­chase at what prices, and where U.S. cor­po­ra­tions can op­er­ate. Trump “wouldn’t ap­prove” Ford man­u­fac­tur­ing cars in Mex­ico. He would cre­ate a fed­eral po­lice force to de­port 450,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants a month, in­clud­ing 6.4 per­cent of Amer­ica’s work­force in two years. Yet the 25 mil­lion jobs he prom­ises to cre­ate would re­quire more than dou­bling the cur­rent rate of le­gal im­mi­gra­tion to fill them, ac­cord­ing to econ­o­mist Mark Zandi. Of the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo de­ci­sion di­lut­ing prop­erty rights by vastly ex­pand­ing gov­ern­ment’s pow­ers of em­i­nent do­main, Trump says, “I hap­pen to agree with it 100 per­cent.” Even Bernie San­ders re­jects Kelo.

When Trump says “peo­ple are not mak­ing it on So­cial Se­cu­rity,” he im­plies that peo­ple should be able to “make it” on So­cial Se­cu­rity for a third or more of their lives, and that he, like Clin­ton, is for en­rich­ing this en­ti­tle­ment’s ben­e­fits. He will “save” the sys­tem by elim­i­nat­ing — wait for it — “waste, fraud and abuse.” Trump is as par­si­mo­nious with specifics re­gard­ing health care (“Plans you don’t even know about will be de­vised be­cause we’re go­ing to come up with plans — health care plans — that will be so good”) as re­gard­ing for­eign pol­icy (“I would get China, and I would say, ‘Get in [North Korea], and straighten it out’”).

“Charis­matic author­ity,” wrote Max We­ber in 1915, seven years be­fore Mus­solini’s march on Rome, causes the gov­erned to sub­mit “be­cause of their be­lief in the ex­tra­or­di­nary qual­ity of the spe­cific per­son. ... [C]haris­matic rule thus rests upon the be­lief in mag­i­cal pow­ers, reve­la­tions and hero wor­ship.” A dem­a­gogue’s suc­cess requires a re­cep­tive demos, and Trump’s as­cen­dancy re­flects pro­gres­sivism’s suc­cess in chang­ing Amer­ica’s so­cial norms and na­tional char­ac­ter by de-stig­ma­tiz­ing de­pen­dency.

Un­der his pres­i­dency, he says, gov­ern­ment will have all the an­swers: “I am your voice. ... I alone can fix it.” The pro­noun has unlimited an­tecedents: “I will give you ev­ery­thing. I will give you what you’ve been look­ing for for 50 years. I’m the only one.”

Ur­ban with­out a trace of ur­ban­ity, Trump has sur­rounded him­self with star-struck acolytes (Mike Pence mar­vels at Trump’s anatom­i­cal — “broad-shoul­dered” — for­eign pol­icy) and hys­ter­ics (Rudy Gi- uliani: “There is no next elec­tion! This is it!”). When Fer­di­nand VII re­gained Spain’s throne in 1813 he vowed to end “the dis­as­trous ma­nia of think­ing.” Trump is Amer­ica’s Fer­di­nand.

The Amer­i­can project was to construct a con­sti­tu­tional regime whose in­sti­tu­tional ar­chi­tec­ture would guar­an­tee the limited gov­ern­ment im­plied by the Founders’ phi­los­o­phy: Gov­ern­ment is in­sti­tuted to “se­cure” (the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence) pre-ex­ist­ing nat­u­ral rights. To­day, how­ever, nei­ther the ex­ec­u­tive nor leg­isla­tive branches takes this se­ri­ously, the ju­di­ciary has for­sworn en­forc­ing it, and nei­ther po­lit­i­cal party rep­re­sents it be­cause no sub­stan­tial con­stituency sup­ports it.

The ease with which Trump has erased Repub­li­can con­ser­vatism matches the speed with which Repub­li­can lead­ers have nor­mal­ized him. For the formerly con­ser­va­tive party, the Founders’ prin­ci­ples, al­though plat­i­tudes in the party’s cat­e­chism, have be­come, as Daniel Pa­trick Moyni­han said, “a kind of civic re­li­gion, avowed but not con­strain­ing.”

The be­gin­ning of con­ser­va­tive wis­dom is recog­ni­tion that there is an end to ev­ery­thing: Noth­ing lasts. If Trump wins, the GOP ends as a ve­hi­cle for con­ser­vatism. And a po­lit­i­cal idea with­out a po­lit­i­cal party is an or­phan in an in­dif­fer­ent world.

Pes­simism need not breed fa­tal­ism or pas­siv­ity. It can de­fine an agenda of re­gen­er­a­tion, but only by be­ing clear-eyed about the ex­tent of de­gen­er­a­tion, which a char­la­tan’s suc­cess­ful sell­ing of his fab­u­lous­ness ex­em­pli­fies. Con­ser­vatism’s re­cov­ery from his pi­rat­i­cal cap­ture of the con­ser­va­tive party will re­quire fac­ing un­flat­ter­ing facts about a coun­try that cur­rently is in­dif­fer­ent to its found­ing.

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@wash­post.com.

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