Trump and the crisis of American Conservatism

Conservatism can be defined as an attitude of resistance to radical change marked by caution and prudence.  Because progressives reject the American idea, American conservatism quite naturally over time came to define itself as resistance to the progressive project of "fundamentally transforming" America. 

But what if the progressive transformation of America was almost complete?  What if total victory came within the progressives' reach?  What if American conservatism faced not just yet another defeat at the ballot box, but existential defeat?  Then prudence might demand that caution go by the board.  If the ship is sinking, action drastic and quick may be needed to avert disaster.  Prudence, yes, but caution not for now.

It is the same in our personal lives.  It is prudent to live in a way that does not invite life-threatening risks – but if you find yourself in a life-threatening situation anyway, prudence may demand something other than caution.  You may have to be willing to take risks to save your life.

I believe that Donald Trump sensed that America is at such a crisis point.  The Obama administration had gone far beyond not defending America's borders.  It was promoting a tsunami of illegal aliens while actively importing a hostile population from the Middle East, which included terrorists.  Government intrusions into private life and government debt threatened to reach a point of no return.  A truly anti-constitutional Supreme Court was in the offing.  In addition, the person the Democrats were planning to run for president would have been living in the Big House instead of heading to the White House if she had been an ordinary citizen – and the Democrats were calling her the most qualified candidate in American history!

America having reached a point of no return, none of the varieties of conservatism on offer were ready, willing, or able to rise to the emergency.  Tragically, some establishment conservatives chose to defend their settled way of operating instead and became NeverTrumps.  Trump had parachuted into a closed system of progressive "news" media, "expert" opinion, academia, and a Republican political establishment that was about to lose the whole game and didn't realize it.  Needless to say, he was not welcomed by any of them.

Trump calls himself a common sense conservative, and common sense conservatism was not on offer until Trump came along.  Does that mean that common sense conservatism is something totally new and unique to Donald Trump?  Or does it have more in common with the commonsense thinking of the American founders than Trump's conservative opponents realize?

Robert Curry is the author of Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea from Encounter Books.  You can preview the book here.

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