President Trump is often criticized by detractors on both sides of the political spectrum for his willingness to attack our nation’s institutions. Whether it be the FBI, the NFL, or even CNN, no “nonpartisan” institution has been spared. This has bothered many, especially elite conservatives, who have great respect for these long-standing institutions and believe them to be the bedrock of our republic.
This betrays a fundamental naïveté — that these institutions are somehow above reproach and not subject to the same infectious politicization to which the rest of society has succumbed. That assertion, of course, is ridiculous on its face.
As most conservatives outside the beltway understand, and as President Trump’s voters surely understood in the 2016 election, progressives have successfully captured the vast majority of our nation’s institutions, distorting them to serve their own ends. Although many of these institutions — academia, the media, entertainment, legal and judicial — once stood above politics in serving all Americans, most have now surrendered to progressives’ relentless push to turn every area of civil society into a propaganda arm for their politics.
Prior to Trump, elite conservative leaders generally accommodated to this progressive framework. Because of their reverence for our nation’s institutions and the traditional sense of the appropriateness of the constitutional system, conservatives largely limited their attacks against institutions to the rhetorical and the ideological. The idea of calling the entire legitimacy of specific institutions into question, however, was beyond the pale.
An Anti-Progressive, Not a Conservative
In this respect, Trump is no conservative. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Trump never claimed to be a student of Russell Kirk or William F. Buckley. But as the president’s actions have shown, he is at war with the progressives who have co-opted American civil society — and is willing to go further than any previous conservative to defeat them.
Instead of “conservative,” the president would be more accurately described as a radical “anti-progressive.” The difference? Conservatives are willing to attack progressives — to a point — but never to the detriment of the institutions they cherish and respect. Playing by these rules, conservatives are doomed to fail as progressives, who do not share the same respect for institutions, capture and dominate every American institution with the full intention of using and abusing them.
But, like the progressives, Trump doesn’t play by these ridiculous rules designed to keep conservatives stuck in a perpetual state of losing — a made-for-CNN version of the undefeated Harlem Globetrotters versus the winless Washington Generals. Trump instead seeks to fight and delegitimize any institution the Left has captured, and rebuild it from the ground up.
It should be stressed, though, that contrary to the contentions of some #NeverTrump conservatives, Trump’s attacks are not intended specifically for our nation’s bedrock institutions themselves. Rather, Trump is attacking the progressive capture of those institutions and the distortion of their true purposes. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
The News Media and Sports
Consider the president’s war on “fake news.” This is perhaps the most prominent example of this attempted delegitimization. Although the president has been frequently accused by elites of both parties of attempting to undermine the freedom of the press, he is not targeting the concept of free press itself but rather the systematic bias that has emerged as a result of progressive media dominance.
For years, groups like the Media Research Center and others have pointed out the mainstream media’s prejudicial treatment of conservative ideas and leaders. However, Trump has been the first president — indeed, the first significant political leader on the Right — to take on the media directly for this bias (and win).
Or consider Trump’s attacks on the NFL, easily America’s most successful and popular sports league. “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag, and Country?” Trump tweeted back in October amidst the anthem kneeling controversy.
Many conservative pundits speculated that battling the NFL might be too big a fight, even for Trump. Others argued it was beneath the office of the presidency. They were, of course, wrong. Picking a fight with the NFL was exactly the right tactic at exactly the right time, especially as corporate boardrooms across the country were drifting more and more to the Left.
Despite its fan base including a large portion of conservatives, in 2016, the NFL effectively acted as a campaign arm for the radical transgender movement, threatening North Carolina and other states with punitive economic action if they didn’t adopt the leftist social policies. In 2017, the NFL went even further, refusing to discipline (and even implicitly supporting) player protests of the American flag and national anthem.
In this context Trump’s aggression against the NFL ought to be read not as an assault on the league itself but rather on its misguided attempts to prop up the progressive agenda.
The Judicial System
Finally, there are Trump’s attacks on the legal and judicial system, in the form of comments against the FBI, the Department of Justice, and various activist judges who have obstructed his agenda. As I wrote recently at Townhall, recent revelations have called into question the trustworthiness of the FBI and other legal enforcement institutions, suggesting the presence of a “deep state” that has attempted to undermine Trump since the 2016 campaign.
Meanwhile, the judicial system has also increasingly overstepped and abused its authority, inserting itself into the policymaking process that ought to be the purview of the other branches of government. While Trump’s pushback against this has been often crass and imprecise, the concerns he raises are valid. They are not attacks on the legal system itself or judicial independence, as some of his critics argue, but rather on the manipulation of these institutions by progressives attempting to accomplish their own ends.
For decades, progressives have sought to capture America’s institutions to marginalize conservatives and shut down conservatives ideas. Prior to Trump, they were largely successful in doing that. Now they are facing an existential threat to the future of their movement — a Republican president who is willing to get in the mud, break a few rules (that previously only applied to Republicans anyway), and do whatever it takes to win.
Anti-progressivism is taking root in both Trump’s judicial and political appointments and his policies. Progressives intuitively understand this, which is why they feel so compelled to “resist.” Indeed, if they fail to defeat Trump, they may find themselves on the wrong side of history after all.