When a political disaster like Donald Trump occurs, there is always plenty of blame to go around. Political correctness made Trump’s bullying blather sound refreshingly honest; decades of off-hand nastiness from the left made his nastiness seem justified; the ideological corruption of our news media made his corruption seem minor by comparison; the deer-in-the-headlights paralysis of the Republican Party frustrated GOP voters to the point of madness; the Republican failure to address the concerns of workers hurt by globalization made the workers’ anger seem like wisdom. Fred Siegel has an excellent article in City Journal detailing Obama’s role in the catastrophe:
Trump wasn’t possible without Obama. You didn’t have to be a white, male, working-class voter to be stunned by Obama’s unprecedented assertion of executive power…. It was Obama who showed that ignorance was no obstacle, and sheer demagoguery worked.
All true; all fair. The problem is, with so many things to blame, it’s easy to choose your own favorite pet peeve and focus on that without ever taking a look in the mirror. But if the fault is pretty much universal, then some of it must lie not in our stars but in ourselves.
On my podcast the other day, I had the brilliant election analyst Henry Olsen on for an interview. I asked him what effect purist right-wing commentators and politicians might have had on the primaries:
Klavan: I’ve wondered sometimes if the purity of their ideals doesn’t get in the way of an actual functioning Republican Party – the perfect being the enemy of the good sort of thing. Has that played into this, do you think?
Olsen: I think it’s the reason — the main reason — why Ted Cruz is out of the race right now — is that in the early races Ted Cruz was consolidating himself as the candidate of the two factions of the very conservative. If the Republican Party were the Tea Party plus the social conservatives, Ted Cruz would be the nominee, not Donald Trump, because he [Cruz] has been winning those voters consistently…. But they’re only a third of the party. And when you say to the other two thirds of the party that not only do we disagree with you but we think that you’re impure and that you’re closeted Democrats, then when your guy comes around and asks for help, you may not find it very forthcoming.
American politics is not a battle between demons and angels for the throne of God. It’s a negotiation among immensely flawed human beings over the proper governance of a country. There are people on different sides with different opinions. Even among those who may be terribly wrong-headed, there are good folks trying to do their best. Such a scenario is, or should be, more like a football game than a war. On any given play, a good outcome is when you move the ball six or seven yards in your direction. When a Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney fails to walk whistling into the end zone, he is not a traitor to the team. And — dropping the metaphor — even when people stray from the purest form of your philosophy, they are often not villains but only allies who disagree.
Ted Cruz — whom I supported — was an unappealing candidate. He looked like Grandpa Munster and talked like Elmer Gantry. But even if he had had all the grace and charm in the world, he might have placed himself so far to the right of the mainstream, he never stood a chance. Someone like Jeb Bush was a horror show to purist conservatives like me… but right this minute, I would kiss Jeb’s butt and call him baby if it would put him in the place of the low-life leftist demagogue we seem to be stuck with.
It has long been my belief that we as a nation are not as divided as we seem. I suspect that seventy percent of the country agrees on seventy percent of the issues. In such an atmosphere, one can argue one’s political principles without mistaking them for moral ideals. It seems worth a try anyway. After all, out of the ruins of compromise come monsters. And boy oh boy, we’ve got one now.
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