The election of Donald Trump will have a series of fascinating policy implications in the coming days. But one thing it won’t do is settle – or preempt – the conservative movement’s internal debate over what conservatism is, or is supposed to be.
I think we’re all a little tired of the whole thing right now, so I want to keep this brief. This post was prompted by the panel discussion on Fox News Sunday today, and by one little passage in which George Will responded to something that (more-liberal) columnist Charles Lane had said.
The exchange is very telling, less about Lane than about Will. I haven’t located a video clip, but excerpts from the transcript are below. The set-up is that the talking-head panel was discussing why Trump won. Chris Wallace asked Lane to pontificate:
WALLACE: Chuck, how do you explain Trump’s victory?
LANE: Well, I think the first thing I have to say is to admit that I didn’t expect it and that I’ve been trying to understand why I got this wrong and why so many others got it wrong, and that leads me to my answer to your question, which is, like so many others, I didn’t understand the surge in sentiment that was going on out there in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, et cetera. And what I think that is related to is that for many people this was a — this was a vote — and it’s been called a protest. I think that’s too easy. It’s more like a statement. It’s more like an expression. It’s more like a demand for validation from people who, as Mr. Trump has said, and I think we’re in — we must defer to his judgment at this point, who felt forgotten and who felt that Washington was focused on the grievances of lots and lots of other people.
And when George Will weighed in, he keyed on Lane’s statement that Trump voters felt “forgotten.” (The word “forgotten” came up several times in the broadcast. It harks back to the FDR-era idea of the “forgotten man,” and seems to be the pundits’ new favorite buzzword this week.)
But Will thought a different slant would be more accurate. Chris Wallace is probing Will for commentary here. Emphasis added:
WALLACE: But — but let me pursue this with you because there was so much talk before the election, before election night, just before election night, about the Republican Party being in shambles and that there was this split between the establishment and the Cruz conservative Tea Party wing and the Trumpists. What happened to that?
WILL: They were united by Barack Obama. They were united by an agenda. Chuck said people felt forgotten by — no, I think they felt condescended to. And there’s something about progressivism that just is condescension. We know what your healthcare ought to be, be quiet and take your medicine. We know how much water should come through your shower head. We know what kind of toilets you ought to have. We’re going to change your light bulbs, be quiet and take our direction, and people are tired of it.
Condescension? Worrying about condescension would be worrying about the attitude of the guy trying to jack around people’s healthcare, shower heads, and light bulbs.
No one cares about attitude.
What people care about is that progressives are actually jacking around with their healthcare, shower heads, and light bulbs.
Trump voters really don’t give a rat’s posterior orifice about the attitude of the self-appointed managerial class. It’s the managerial class’s activities and results they strenuously oppose.
It’s one thing if the managerial cohort is setting limits on the flow rate for new shower heads. Most people don’t readily understand that if they sit still for that, they’ve already sold out in principle.
But in the Obama years, the managerial actions moved on to really noticeable things like “using pen and phone to kill your job and make your healthcare options disappear.” The specific action may have been making the incandescent bulb increasingly illegal to sell, or setting emission limits for power plants so that using coal would become impossible. But the outcome was the serious and painful material loss for the ordinary working person.
Those things, people easily recognized as attacks on them and their way of life. Millions of them experienced the damage first-hand.
They didn’t care whether the jokers doing this to them had a condescending attitude. They cared that managerial-fiat moves by the federal government had been the cause of real injuries inflicted on them.
They recognized full well, moreover, that it was managerial fiat that was allowing unfettered, illegal migration into their country. (And they saw it – still see it – as a national security emergency, in several dimensions.)
This idea that Trump voters are motivated by feelings about other people’s attitudes is itself weirdly misguided. One gets the sense that George Will, and too many of the old-consensus punditry, don’t actually know any Trump voters. If Trump voters had such juvenile motivations, they would all along have been acting like the rioting herds flooding the streets of our biggest cities right now. But Trump voters haven’t done that. Nor is there any prospect that they will.
I have my philosophical differences with Trump voters, even on some important issues. But I walk among them every day, and know who they are, in a way George Will apparently doesn’t. Their concerns – which are not abstractions but real, food-on-the-table worries – are jobs, safe streets, things like Islamic catechisms and pornography being force-fed to their children by the public schools.
It’s been a real lesson in the complacency and detachment of the political establishment, to see that too many conservative pundits truly don’t understand this. What exactly do they think conservatism is, if it doesn’t entail knowing and respecting the people any more than left-wing progressivism does?
Condescension? Get a life. Tell it to the hand.