Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Trump Is No Champion of Western Civilization

An argument is haunting American conservatism, the argument that Donald Trump is the defender of Western Civilization.

This is an attempt to draw conservatives initially turned off by Trump's bullying, his dishonesty, his crassness into the Trump-supporter camp. Western Civilization and Christianity is under attack, goes the argument, by the forces of leftism and political correctness. Only Trump is willing to fight those people, and thus even if he's unsavory in some sense those who support Christianity and Western Culture must rally behind him.

One example of this argument may be found in this Mercatornet piece which asks "Is Trump the New Constantine?":
Christians are unable to speak freely. Religious freedom is under attack. Society is materialistic and immoral. Western civilisation is facing huge threats, from within and without. And apparently the one powerful emerging leader is no saint.

You’re thinking America 2016? No. Rome 312.

The leader is Constantine, who is vying to become the Roman Emperor. Constantine had many defects: he had multiple wives and even put one of them to death, was extremely ambitious, and was a ruthless general and politician. But the legend remains that he had a “Road to Damascus” moment, saw a vision, converted to Christianity, triumphed over his opponents, and became a great emperor of Rome.

Constantine would go on to not only save the Roman Empire, but also liberate Christianity. He signed the Edict of Milan in 313, giving Christians the right to practice their faith and speak freely. This was enough to allow Christians to engage in the public sphere with freedom, thereby enabling them to spread the Christian message to the ends of the empire and Christianise a pagan culture.

Constantine himself was no pillar of virtue, but he created the environment which gave Christians the freedom to influence society. The early Christians were perfectly capable of influencing society themselves; all they needed from the emperor was the freedom to do so.

Fast forward to 2016, and we can see many obvious similarities. Western society has many problems. Conservative Christians have the solutions to many of those problems, but cannot articulate them freely in the public square due to endemic political correctness and cultural Marxism.

Conservatives do not lack will, good arguments, or articulate defenders; what they lack is the freedom to speak bluntly about social issues without being shouted down by the vindictive hordes of secular progressivism for “offending” particular groups of people. Donald Trump is the only person who can give us that freedom.

But first, consider the following:

  • Stating that children should ideally have a mother and father because on average they will do best in that environment (as supported overwhelmingly by the relevant social science) renders you “homophobic” (even though the statement has nothing to do homosexuality) and a “hater of single mothers”;
  • Explaining that there is actually a biological and societal reason that marriage has been promoted and protected as between a man and a woman for millennia (hint: it's about children) makes you “bigoted”;
  • Arguing that the high divorce rate hurts children, and that no-fault divorce is responsible for many social problems, makes you “living in the 1950s” and a “dinosaur” (even though the social data on the effects of divorce is indisputable and President Obama himself has said as much);
  • Affirming the biological fact that men and women are inherently different makes you “transphobic” (something that no one knew existed just a few years ago);
  • Pointing out that babies do not simply magically appear out of nothing after nine months, and may in fact have a right to life and dignity before birth, makes you an extremist (just because) and a sexist (even though this statement says nothing about women).

There are many more examples. The point is that making perfectly reasonable statements causes so much outrage that conservatives either give up or end up losing credibility and becoming impotent in influencing public opinion. Arguments are not considered on their merits but rather assessed based on the extent to which they offend particular groups of people. This makes the conservative Christian cause in the public sphere ultimately hopeless.

And this is where Trump comes in.

American doesn’t need a president to make arguments for us. America just needs a president to give us the freedom to make our arguments without fear of being shouted down by the politically correct brigade.
Of course, this gets the history of Christianity's relationship with Constantine backwards.  Christianity did not settle upon Constantine as a strongman likely to help its cause in the Roman Empire and then push him forward in hopes that despite his not being Christian or particularly virtuous he would manage to help Christianity out. Rather, appreciation for Constantine was backward-looking. Once he became emperor, ended the persecution of Christianity, and began to promote the Christian cause within the empire, Christians warmed to him. But set that aside for the moment.

Another variation on this argument comes in a self-indulgently wandering piece in The Federalist by Mytheos Holt setting out "The Intellectual Case for Trump", where he argues that white nationalist support for Trump should not be seen as a turn off, because white nationalists actually have a point about Trump protecting the Western tradition from attack.
This brings me to the first and, arguably, the most important lesson that Sylvia taught me about what drives people into the arms of white nationalism: that urge comes not from economic dispossession, nor spiritual dispossession, but cultural dispossession.
That heritage, as white nationalists in America see it, is the heritage of Western civilization. If you wonder what that means (which is reasonable), let me spell it out: It means historically Western European cultural norms. Specifically, norms like respect for agents of the law, aspirational pride in work, willingness to accept the consequences of one’s actions, disdain for laziness and welfarism, and reproductive responsibility (i.e., not having children you can’t afford to keep).
Moreover, and this cannot be stated enough: these people genuinely believe that to be proud of the history of Western European accomplishment, and one’s own descent from the people responsible, is taboo in modern America. If you look at what cultural studies departments, much of modern media, left-wing college students, and the crazy wing of the Democratic Party says, this is probably at least partially accurate. Unfortunately, however, it’s not just leftists who are responsible for the rise of white nationalism in communities like Sylvia’s. We conservatives bear some blame too, though in this case, largely because of misunderstandings of how our own behavior is perceived.

Moreover, and this cannot be stated enough: these people genuinely believe that to be proud of the history of Western European accomplishment, and one’s own descent from the people responsible, is taboo in modern America. If you look at what cultural studies departments, much of modern media, left-wing college students, and the crazy wing of the Democratic Party says, this is probably at least partially accurate. Unfortunately, however, it’s not just leftists who are responsible for the rise of white nationalism in communities like Sylvia’s. We conservatives bear some blame too, though in this case, largely because of misunderstandings of how our own behavior is perceived.

The biggest problem we have is that many conservatives are, understandably, reluctant to engage with the sort of leftist, victim-culture-spouting loons who regard Western civilization as unrepentantly evil. This is not because we have no good arguments against them; we do. But to argue with them, we think, makes them look more serious and relevant than they are. If you live in the rarefied world of Washington policy debates, this approach probably makes sense and even seems obvious.

But if you’re a blue-collar worker in Appalachia being screamed at by leftist protesters that you have “white privilege” and all you hear from the official Right is stony silence, you come to a wildly different conclusion: you assume conservatives are either ashamed to express our disagreement, or don’t disagree.

Add to this the fact that so much of the official Right’s response to left-wing attacks about diversity involves not denying their premise, but instead pointing to how many token members of each ethnic group are Republicans, or the fact that we’ll throw accusations like “racist” around over issues like immigration, and it gets harder and harder for otherwise conservative people to deny the idea that “conservatism” doesn’t want to conserve them, or the Western values and norms that made conservatism and constitutionalism possible, at all. The only people who do seem to want to man those barricades, from their perspective, are white nationalists.

This is not ground we should be ceding to extremists. Yet, so far, only one candidate has refused to do such a thing: Donald Trump.

Trump, whatever else he might be, is unabashedly pro-Western. What’s more, he understands the essentially cultural and even spiritual nature of the vacuum white nationalism fills. Unlike so many so-called “reformocons,” who wax poetic about the need to empathize with blue-collar workers’ economic concerns, yet are only willing to throw “family-friendly” tax credits at them like table scraps to starving dogs, Trump understands that however besieged people like Sylvia feel by economic woes, they feel even more besieged by attacks on their pride and dignity.

Unlike the white nationalists, Trump has defended that pride and dignity without once mentioning race, but instead with reference to the historical reality and promise of uniquely American greatness. His pitch is nationalist, yes, but it is not racist, and so immediately understandable that you can even put it on a baseball cap.

In fact, Trump, and Trump alone, has been willing to say what should have been obvious from the start: that the universalism and Whig historical pretensions of Kemp-and-W-style “bleeding heart conservatism” are dangerous distractions if they leave the American people as wounded prey for anti-American, extremist bottom feeders.

His image of a man fighting for America and its allies, and only them is a long-overdue return to form for a GOP long since captured by delusions of immanentizing the eschaton at the point of a gun. Those delusions have to stop, and Trump has to be allowed to punch through them.
There are several problems with this line of thinking, and I think it's important to be clear on them.

Perhaps the most basic error is to simplify a multi-front cultural conflict into a simplistic struggle between two sides. In this vision, if various forces associated with the left (the LGBT agenda, radical feminism, secularism, the sexual revolution, moral and cultural relativism, and the "political correctness" which is used to enforce all of these) are against some Christian beliefs and elements of the Western cultural heritage, and if those same forces of the left are also offended by the antics of someone like Trump, that he must therefore be a defender of Christianity and the West. However, it's necessary to ask not merely what Trump is against, but what he is for.

What is Trump for? A concept of ruling which ignores questions of right to focus solely on strength:
What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?
I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That's my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.

You mean firm hand as in China?
When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak ... as being spit on by the rest of the world--


The bomb Harry Truman dropped on Hiroshima was a toy next to today's. We have thousands of weapons pointed at us and nobody even knows if they're going to go in the right direction. They've never really been tested. These jerks in charge don't know how to paint a wall, and we’re relying on them to shoot nuclear missiles to Moscow. What happens if they don't go there? What happens if our computer systems aren't working? Nobody knows if this equipment works, and I've seen numerous reports lately stating that the probability is they don't work. It's a total mess.

And how would President Trump handle it?
He would believe very strongly in extreme military strength. He wouldn’t trust anyone. He wouldn't trust the Russians; he wouldn't trust our allies; he’d have a huge military arsenal, perfect it, understand it. Part of the problem is that we're defending some of the wealthiest countries in the world for nothing. . . . We're being laughed at around the world, defending Japan--

Trump is for an utter crassness in culture. (Link not safe for work.) His morals may be no worse than the Borgias, but his taste is almost infinitely so.

And in religion... Well, this is the guy who, when pressed, said that his favorite passage from the bible was "an eye for an eye". How does Trump think about religious leaders? Here's a key example from the same interview in which he praised the Chinese government for massacring the protesters in Tiananmen Square:
How large a role does pure ego play in your deal making and enjoyment of publicity?
Every successful person has a very large ego.

Every successful person? Mother Teresa? Jesus Christ?
Far greater egos than you will ever understand.

And the Pope? [that would have been Pope John Paul II]
Absolutely. Nothing wrong with ego. People need ego, whole nations need ego. I think our country needs more ego, because it is being ripped off so badly by our so-called allies; i.e., Japan, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, etc. They have literally outegotized this country, because they rule the greatest money machine ever assembled and it's sitting on our backs.

Trump cannot be a protector or champion of Christianity or Western Civilization because he is one of the people degrading and neglecting Christianity and Western Civilization. Electing him might annoy feminists, but feminism is not wrong to object to men calling women they don't like "ugly" or "pigs". Not is feminism wrong to object to ideas of beauty and sexuality which lead to a photo shoot of one's wife lying naked on a fur while handcuffed to a suitcase full of jewelry. Feminism is wrong when it asserts that abortion is necessary for women's equality and liberation or when it asserts that marriage and childbearing represent sources of cultural repression rather than being some of the key purposes of human culture. But Trump is not going after these errors of feminism, nor will he, because it's unclear that he even disagrees with feminism on these points.

It's claimed that Trump will protect American institutions and culture by stemming a flood of immigrants. But does Trump have any understanding of what it is in American culture and government that is worth protecting, other than the relative whiteness of its current inhabitants compared to those coming from Mexico and South America? His rhetoric and policies would be far more at home in Peron's Argentina or Chavez's Venezuela than in our own republic. Trump offers the doubly depressing prospect of excluding Latin America's people while importing some of its worst tendencies of government.

Does Trump support (or even understand) the principles of American constitutional republicanism? Of limited government? Does he support the cultural and moral ideas that make Western Culture something worth maintaining? No. At best he represents a crass "up with us, down with them" approach to attacking perceived enemies, without and within, while promising to funnel jobs and money to "real Americans". He cannot make America great again because he does not even know what made and makes America great.


August said...

And then there is everybody else. Most explicitly, most candidates appear to be heading us toward a war with Russia, except for Sanders, who would head us into a swamp of economic ruin. And nobody is promising any ending to the stupid culture war- and in many ways, this is our fault because, frankly, Christians don't want to fight the way we need to fight that war. Might threaten your pension. And not having your child go to college- well, what would the neighbors think?
Nah, we must continue to compromise ourselves with modernity, and have our young couples sign that state marriage license to boot- despite what it means now.

So, in context, Trump might buy us breathing room. I don't know. I figured out this voting thing is pointless in 2008. You want a culture, you have to make culture. You can't vote for it. Democracy is a religion. You don't beat it by participating in its rites.

Robb Minneman said...

I refuse to vote for a liberal Democrat who has a casual relationship with the truth, no conception of the limits on Federal power, an absolutist pro-abortion position, and who will say anything to gain power.

I'm not voting for Hillary, either.