I’ve changed my mind. For a while, I was anti-Trump. Then during the first days of the administration, I flirted with being anti-anti-Trump. Then for a while I was in the anti-anti-anti-Trump camp. But gosh darn it, I’m fed up with the anti-anti-anti-Trumpers, so now I’m anti-anti-anti-anti-Trump. So wait, where does that put me, exactly?
Welcome to the tangled web of stupid partisan bickering in 2017.
The term anti-anti-Trump was introduced a few months ago by Jonathan Last who defined it as “an emerging group of conservatives who seem reluctant to criticize Trump, but who aren’t particularly interested in defending him, directly. Instead, they tend to focus on the media reaction to Trump and the antics of the left.” There’s something to this. There’s a definite temptation to find yourself siding with Trump all of the time just because a fair number of his critics are so thoroughly detestable and make such a terrible case for their views. But supporting someone just because you hate his enemies is a form of intellectual corruption and needs to be resisted.
On the other hand, it is possible for most people to hold two thoughts in their head at the same time. It’s possible for them to think that Trump is the wrong leader, either on a particular issue or just in general, while also pointing out that this critics on the left are unhinged and ridiculous. It’s not either-or, it’s both-and.
Now anti-anti-anti-Trumpism is veering into the same kind of corruption. There is a group of NeverTrump dead-enders whose new loyalty test is that you cannot ever criticize anyone who is opposed to Trump because this somehow makes you an apologist for Trump.
For most of us, NeverTrump ended with the election. It was about whether we would support Trump after he won the Republican primaries. Once he was elected and actually in office, it became about taking what good we could get out of the administration—a Supreme Court nomination here, withdrawal from a bad international agreement over there—without succumbing to the temptation to reflexively support the president just because he’s the figurehead of our own party.
For a few others, though, NeverTrump became a lifestyle, a personal identity. Or, if you’re Evan McMullin, it became a market niche.
The irony is that the anti-anti-anti-Trumpers are drawing on exactly the same reasoning offered by Trump’s most slavish apologists: the all-or-nothing binary choice. Either you’re with us or against us. Either you defend the president down the line, or you’re an ally of the left, a lackey of George Soros and Nancy Pelosi. Believe me, I get this sort of thing all the time on social media and in the comments fields of my articles. The anti-anti-anti-Trumpers have merely flipped this script: either you criticize the president all the time on everything, and never criticize his opponents, or you’re basically a lackey of Steve Bannon.
The partisan discipline required to comply with anti-anti-anti-Trumpism is brutally rigorous. Seriously, how can a human being with a functioning brain live through the past 24 hours of ridiculous hyperbole about the Paris Agreement without succumbing to the urge to mercilessly mock Trump’s pseudo-scientific critics? Heck, even Jonathan Last has relented.
Better yet, though, let’s get rid of this whole ridiculous terminology. At the end of the day, I am not anti-Trump. I’m not anti-anti-Trump. I’m not anti-anti-anti-Trump. I’m not even anti-anti-anti-anti-Trump. Being for or against a single person is not an ideology, and it’s not a stand on principle. It’s the opposite of ideas and principles. It’s only about personal loyalty or enmity. It is not principled, for example, to vigorously oppose the Paris Agreement—then flip-flop on it simply because Trump opposes it.
It’s certainly valid, even necessary, to arrive at an overall estimate of Trump as a leader and as a person. I recently declared him to be foolish and reckless, and I’m sure I’ve said much worse in the past. But if it’s a form of intellectual corruption to be tempted to defend him constantly just because you hate his critics, it’s also an intellectual corruption to attack him constantly, or to give his critics a free pass, just because you don’t like him.
The unions used to have a saying: no permanent allies, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. We should adapt that into a better form: no permanent allies, no permanent enemies, just permanent principles. Then feel free to judge both sides by how well they live up to, or—since this is 2017—how far they fall short of those principles.