[Note: I wrote the following before the big story dropped about Pres. Trump allegedly revealing highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador. As the story remains as yet unresolved, it’s probably good to take Sean Connery’s advice. And what I wrote before the story broke remains relevant now, maybe more so.]
I really didn’t want to spend a third posting on the argument about anti-anti-Trumpism; I have been trying to work though bigger issues here at the blog. But it turns out there’s at least three more points to cover and it’s better to address them while it’s still a current topic.
Responding to Charlie Sykes, Dan McLaughlin argues: “We shouldn’t be only anti-anti-Trump, but there is nothing wrong with being anti-anti-Trump, because politics didn’t begin with Trump, it doesn’t consist solely of Trump today, and it won’t end with him, either.”
I generally agree that Trump’s presidency should not preclude criticism of the Left (including the establishment media). But in claiming that Sykes was painting with a broad brush in critiquing “much of the conservative news media,” McLaughlin overlooks that Sykes named names — arguably the loudest voices in “conservative” media. Sykes wrote:
“In a lamentably overlooked monologue this month, [Rush] Limbaugh embraced the new reality in which conservative ideas and principles had been displaced by anti-liberalism. For years, Mr. Limbaugh ran what he called the ‘Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies.’ But in the Trump era, he told his audience, he has changed that to the ‘Institute for Advanced Anti-Leftist Studies.’ “
Sykes also singled out Tucker Carlson, who happens to have the flagship program of Fox News Channel’s primetime lineup. He further identified Sean Hannity — FNC’s cleanup batter and America’s No. 2 “conservative” radio talker — as a self-abasing Trump sycophant.
Should Sykes also have run a statistical study of how often Breitbart News is critical of Trump? Should he have noted that Bret Stephens almost certainly left the Wall Street Journal for the New York Times in large part due to the WSJ’s Trumpian editorial shift? Should he have skewered some of the smaller-time talking heads on Fox by name?
I’ll grant you that other outlets present diverse views on Trump and his actions, but the largest “conservative” outlets with the largest audiences lean (or lurch) anti-anti-Trump at a minimum.
I don’t think it was necessary for Sykes to go into all of that on a granular level. If anything, the response I have received over the past few days (both public and private) suggests to me that anyone who cares about the topic knows exactly to whom Sykes is referring.
Another objection I have seen is that labeling some people on the right as anti-anti-Trump (or NeverTrump for that matter) smacks of an ad hominem attack on some level.
I do not agree with this entirely. An ad hominem attack is directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining. Attacking the newfound position of someone like Limbaugh is — on the surface, anyway — close to the opposite of ad hominem.
Beneath the surface, it could be argued that pointing out there are some who seem to be trimming its sails to some degree implies an attack on the character of people within the bloc. I am not sure that it does, so let’s explore this a bit.
In my world, the true anti-anti-Trumpist would be someone who is often privately not a fan of Trump on a character level or on a policy level (in those cases where he deviates from various forms of traditional conservatism), but publicly spends 80-90% of his or her time complaining about Trump’s opponents, even in those cases of private doubt.
When such people are mostly in the public sphere for the audience and the money, e.g., as I tend to think most of the radio talkers are, it can be argued that there’s no character issue involved. If you accept politics as tribalism, serving the audience is arguably no more a vice than a criminal defense lawyer working even for the guilty.
OTOH, the more someone is in the arena for more than an audience, more than a smallest-c conservative tribal advantage, the more of a conscience issue emerges.
Conservatives ostensibly believe in personal responsibility; true anti-anti-Trumpism will tend to avoid questions of personal responsibility for the most powerful. Also, conservatives ostensibly value personal character; if the President already has paid defenders, the ethical question of volunteering to deflect from actions you may believe to be wrong could present itself over time.
Lastly, there is that one cheer for anti-anti-Trumpists mentioned in the title. It’s entirely possible that some members of this bloc believe the Trump skeptics or the “balls-and-strikes” conservatives to be false on some level, given the recent history of the GOP.
It is possible to look at the degree to which conservatives signed onto George W. Bush’s big-government conservatism (or largely dropped/muted their objections thereto) and wonder if there isn’t a bit of a double standard at work. Or to look at conservatarians who defended the Obama-era GOP Congress on the ground that they were better than a Democratic Congress and wonder why the same rationale isn’t just as good for defending Trump.
My response to this line of thinking is to admit that I probably did cut the Bush administration too much slack and to agree that the Obama-era GOP Congress probably could have been a more effective opposition (had they been, the sort of problems they have had with the Cruz/Freedom Caucus faction might have been reduced). But then the question becomes whether (or what) we want to learn from those mistakes.
I would submit that one reason many Trump skeptics and “balls-and-strikes” conservatives become frustrated with Trump is because they hoped — consciously or otherwise –a victory in 2016 would allow them to not only learn from, but also correct, some of those mistakes. Instead, the Right now has a unified government but is often getting the circus of reality television instead.
Not all of this is Trump’s fault. The trainwreck of how the GOP House initially addressed the healthcare reform bill is mostly on the House and exposed an essential lack of seriousness concealed for the prior seven years. And of course the Left does what the Left does. But Trump is responsible for much of this year’s meshugas as well.
It ought to be alright for all of this to be discussed in public, off the backchannels. But tribes gotta tribe. So here we are.
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