I just discovered the ultimate argument for the #NeverTrump stance, and I discovered it by considering the best argument against #NeverTrump.
The argument is this: that no one man can do that much to destroy the American system, because we have such a long history and so many big institutions that keep it alive. As one person put it, we have more than 200 years of constitutional rule behind us, so the faults and vices of one particular personality don’t matter so much. Donald Trump may share some of the traits of Hugo Chavez, but he won’t be an American Chavez because we have the benefit of history and institutions that a country like Venezuela does not have.
The idea is that whatever downside there is to the Trump presidency, it is a merely temporary diversion, no worse than what we’ve suffered under previous presidents, and certainly not something that makes Trump a worse evil than the other major party candidate. Given that the other major party candidate will be Hillary Clinton, that’s a pretty good argument.
But it’s still wrong, and it’s wrong in a way that makes it very clear why #NeverTrump is such an urgent necessity.
To begin with, if we’re relying on our history and institutions, we have to acknowledge that neither is in particularly good shape.
If we look to our political history, particularly when it comes to constitutional limits on government power, we have to ask how many students are still taught any significant portion of that history—even, or especially, at our elite universities. Are these people going to be a bulwark for human liberty? Of course not.
As for the institutions, those were eroded long before Barack Obama came along. The entire apparatus of the modern welfare and regulatory state is deliberately designed to be outside the reach of the people. The largest chunk of the federal budget, the middle-class entitlements, are “mandatory” programs where the money goes out automatically year after year with no need for any special appropriation by Congress. The regulatory state churns along according to the collective will of the permanent bureaucracy, which draws its authority from decades-old statutes that are expanded to fit whatever the bureaucratic Borg wants to do at the moment.
The current president’s only innovation to this is a more expansive use of executive orders to bypass Congress. I have taken some comfort in the fact that much of Obama’s legacy, having been imposed by executive order, can be undone by executive order. But it also means that it can be redone or done differently by executive order, if we get a president who is interested in abusing his power in the opposite direction. That’s precisely what Donald Trump is showing us he’s going to do. As Glenn Beck has been pointing out—and this is such a crazy year that he, of all people, has emerged as a voice of sanity—every time President Obama passes another executive order doing what he wants, Donald Trump thinks: thank you for giving me more power.
So a review of the health our institutions does not support a sense of complacency when it comes to the mind and character of our next president. The bigger and more powerful government becomes, the more individual personalities matter. The less the president is restrained by Congress or the courts, the more we need someone who will restrain himself. But there is one respect in which Donald Trump uniquely makes the situation worse, because the health of our institutions—and of one institution in particular—is precisely what his candidacy calls into question.
History and institutions have power only because people give them their loyalty. And where would you expect to find the highest concentration of people who give America’s unique ideas and institutions their loyalty? Which major political party talks most about liberty, about small government, and about the Constitution? Obviously, it’s the Republican Party. So this is the one major political faction that you would expect to rely on as the bulwark of our system, resisting attempt to undermine it.
And Donald Trump just knocked it over in six months. So any sense of complacency about the role of our history and institutions is totally misplaced.
For years, I’ve very sympathetic to the idea of identifying myself as an advocate of limited government but not as “a Republican,” as a way of emphasizing that my loyalty is to ideas and not to a political party. But I’m starting to think we won’t realize how much we’re going to miss the Republican Party until it is gone. We’ve taken for granted that there will always be a party which, however imperfectly it lives up to its ideals, still regards the preservation of liberty and the Constitution as an indispensable part of its agenda and its very identity.
As such, the Republican Party has actually been a central institution in the preservation of our liberty. We always need to have at least one major party that takes this as its mission. Without that, the Republic is doomed, because there will be no major political faction that views the defense of our system as part of its basic mandate. And if that happens, politics just becomes a raw scramble for power, with each party looking to loot the country on behalf of its base of supporters. Which is precisely what Trumpism amounts to.
That is what’s terrifying and what needs to be resisted.
This goes beyond the Hamilton Rule, Alexander Hamilton’s dictum that, “If we must have an enemy at the head of government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible.” This is not just about resisting one bad candidate. It’s about preserving the ideological soul of the institution he is attempting to seize as a vehicle for his rise to power.
America’s history and its institutions are precisely what is at stake in this election. Our most urgent necessity is to save the Republican Party as the party of limited government and constitutionalism—or to replace it. Donald Trump is destructive of either goal, which is the most important reason to say #NeverTrump.