Jay Nordlinger writes in to demur from my characterization Monday of him and Mona Charen as ” Never Trumpers,” and I’m happy he has agreed to let me post up his full comment here. For my own part, I described myself through the campaign as “Anti-Trump,” which may not be much of a distinction from “Never Trump,” though today I could call myself, following Richard Epstein, as “Trump a la carte,” heartily approving of much of what his administration does, or perhaps as a “Trump Skeptic,” which, like a climate skeptic, is frowned upon by everyone. Epstein continues to say that he’d prefer that Trump resign. I’ll just say that I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The Trump presidency was always going to be a high-wire act even without a Mueller investigation.
To repeat one point that I tried to bring out in my conversation with Mona, conservatives have always fought with each other, usually over ideas but sometimes over candidates and leaders. I have always thought these fights were good for us (and liberals have many fewer intramural arguments over ideas, because their main idea is Power), and I think some of the Trump-related fighting is good for us. I am seeing some signs of intellectual life after a period of sluggishness in the Bush and Obama years. I regret, though, that some prominent people I know—some of longstanding close friendship—are not speaking to each other because of their divisions over Trump.
On the point of new thoughts for a new time, before turning the page over to Jay, let me briefly bring to your attention to Henry Olsen’s latest essay at National Review on what he thinks is the way forward for both pro- and anti-Trump conservatives. This is the kind of productive argument I’m trying to promote when and where I can.
Anyway, here’s Jay:
Steve writes, “Mona and Jay are of course Never Trumpers and quite hostile to him, while I am trying to hold all my friends together on all sides, and support Trump’s actions when I can (which has been, to my pleasant surprise, a lot of the time).”
I have never used the phrase “Never Trumper” about myself or anyone else. It implies an unreasoning, stubborn, petulant opposition. It makes me think of a child, stamping his foot and saying, “Never, never, never!” I think that Donald Trump is grossly unfit to be president, in mind and character. I have argued for my views in tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of words. If someone wants to take issue with my views, well and good.
Steve says, “I am trying to hold all my friends together on all sides.” I’m not 100 percent sure what that means, but I can say that I, too, am in favor of alliances and coalitions, in politics as in the rest of life. But they should not be forced, if views are out of harmony with one another. I don’t believe in “Our tribe is our tribe, so what is most important is the maintenance of the tribe.” Individuality – individual conscience – comes into play.
(Indeed, one of the reasons I became a conservative, eons ago, is that the Left was always enforcing groupthink. The line of the day, whatever it was, had to be toed. Conservatives were friendly to freedom of conscience, and diversity of thought. Today, people on the right often speak to me of “the party” and “the movement.” This is not my bag.)
Like Steve, I “support Trump’s actions when I can.” He’s not the only one. But this makes it sound so very personal, as though the president’s feelings were at stake. We conservatives freely blasted the Bushes, for example, when we differed with them. Hell, we did the same with Reagan – frequently – though that period has by now achieved the status of myth. Allegiance, I think, is mainly to principles, values, and ideals.
I often hear from Trump supporters, “You Never Trumpers oppose things you would normally support just because Trump supports them! If he cured cancer you wouldn’t give him credit!” I have no doubt this is true of some. What is equally true, I think, is that some people support things, or excuse them, simply because Trump supports them, or does them.
Anyway, if you’re in the writing life, you can’t stop other people from characterizing you – I do it regularly! – but I wanted to write in to speak for myself. I was a Reagan conservative before Trump descended on his escalator in the summer of 2015, and I remain one.