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On Trump, Conservatives Have Little Choice But To Take It Issue By Issue



Sure. What would you have us resist? Everything?

There’s an expectation — often, a demand — that movement conservatives be all in or all out on the Donald Trump presidency. Lock-stepping partisans of both varieties offer this false choice. The election phase of the debate is over. Traditionally, presidents offer a menu of policies that more or less comport with the worldview of their party. This is different. So while I don’t contend to speak for all conservatives, I do imagine many are horrified/excited/sad/happy/content/embarrassed by what’s going on — often on the same day.

For me, it’s repulsive to hear Trump and friends use authoritarian-tinged rhetoric when talking about the press. Telling the media to “keep its mouth shut,” even if journalists are antagonistic, isn’t something a person in a position of power should be saying. Although the administration hasn’t yet inhibited the media in any way — by, say, illegally spying on journalists — this kind of statement is distressing because it exposes an un-American view of free expression.

Then again, Trump is also almost certain to pick an originalist Supreme Court justice on Tuesday, who, if confirmed, will defuse Democrats’ authoritarian efforts to empower the state to ban political speech outright by overturning Citizens United. Many of us assumed the court would be lost and state power unchecked. If Trump keeps his promises — a big if — conservatives could have a generational victory.

So why should we expect Republicans to act like only one of the above is happening?

Trump issued a statement commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day without mentioning that the Nazis’ final solution was specifically aimed at exterminating the Jews of Europe. This is offensive, amateurish, and historically illiterate — and get used to it. Most Jewish organizations, as they should, condemned the omission.

Then again, it’s also highly unlikely that the Trump administration would send a billion dollars in cash in an attempt to placate an anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying, nuclear-weapon-seeking, terrorist-backing regime that openly threatens the lives of millions of Jews in the Middle East. Not in 1939. But right now. That has been happening, as well.

When Trump issues an executive order instating a temporary travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries, he inexplicably pulls in green-card holders. Although the hysteria surrounding the order is over-the-top, it’s a mess written by inept people. Conservatives like to claim that immigrants who follow the rules will be welcome in the United States. When they ignore this promise, they undermine trust in the process and our nation.

Yet for many it’s heartening to see a White House that isn’t going to pretend Islamic immigration is the same as Methodist or Hindi or Jewish immigration. Unlike the last administration, this one isn’t going to talk about Islamism — the most pervasively violent and illiberal movement in the world; one which is not only about terrorism but includes many Muslim theocracies — as if it were a fairy tale invented by conservative media outlets.

The fact that Trump installs a pseudo-intellectual chauvinist like Steve Bannon onto the National Security Council is an assault on common sense, norms, and decency. But Trump also has James Mattis, Mike Pompeo, and other apparently competent cabinet picks that align well with prevailing Republican worldviews. Most cabinet members have nothing to do with Trumpism, yet Democrats act as if every selection is a fanatic. Take Trump’s education secretary, who believes parents should have some measure of choice rather than condemning their kids to a failed public school system. This is something that’s invigorating for a lot of movement conservatives and evangelicals. Why should they pick Chuck Schumer over Donald Trump?

Despite the views of Congress and most of his cabinet, Trump says waterboarding isn’t torture. This is troubling. Yet the Trump administration also makes a point to participate in the March for Life. If pro-lifers had to choose between Trump (a person they might find crass or offputting) and the Democratic Party, which now supports unlimited abortion on demand until the moment of birth, who will they choose?

Trump will blatantly lie about crowd sizes to ease his petulant ego, and it sounds insane. Trump promises to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, and signed an executive order requiring two regulations be revoked for every new one issued, which sounds fantastic. These things happen simultaneously.

From my perspective, Trump is neither presidential, competent, nor ideologically (or otherwise) coherent most of the time. The alternative doesn’t sound that great, either.

I doubt I’m alone on this. In the best-case scenario, congressional Republicans do what ruling parties rarely do, which is hold their president in check. One day Trump’s negatives might make him completely unpalatable for most conservatives. Today, what reason do they give to make common cause with morally preening liberals who overreact to every executive order and utterance? In this environment, it’s perfectly acceptable, even preferable, to take politics issue by issue.