I am optimistic about President Donald Trump’s second term, both that he will have one and that it will be good. On the first point, it is not just that the president has been on a roll while the Democrats have been in disarray. It is also that Trump and his team have shown they have a solid plan for his reelection. From his Super Bowl ads to his State of the Union address, Trump is hitting the right notes.
It helps that the country has enjoyed prosperity and relative peace during his presidency. The economy has boomed for everyone, and our military has struck our enemies without getting entangled in new wars. The president has delivered on conservative priorities, especially judges. And as seen in policies such as criminal justice reform, he has helped constituencies that Republicans had tended to ignore.
Things are generally going well as Trump seeks reelection, and the political reasons many conservatives (myself included) mistrusted and did not vote for him in 2016 do not apply. This is why Never-Trump holdouts such as David French are reduced to pounding the table about Orange Man Bad. Their predictions of betrayal and disaster have not come true, so they are stuck hyping every presidential error, or rumor of an error, far out of proportion and reiterating that Trump is not a good man.
How Can Christians Support Trump?
The last redoubt of right-wing opposition to Trump is personal: How can you, especially if you are a Christian, vote for someone that crude, crass, and callous? This has been answered many times, including an extensive recent article in National Review by Andrew Walker, who observes, “The constant criticism of religious conservatives’ voting en masse for Donald Trump never comes with a suggestion of better alternatives.”
Conservative Christians see Trump as a barricade against Democratic Party leaders who want taxpayer-funded abortion on demand until birth. We see him as a shield against leftists who want to drive religious traditionalists from the marketplace, close our schools and charities, and tax our churches for refusing to bend the knee to the dogmas of the sexual revolution. We see him as a bulwark against a transgender lobby that wants to take children away from their parents and mutilate them with chemicals and surgery.
We need not admire the president’s personal character to view him as, in Walker’s words, “a bed of nails on the road, temporarily halting secularism’s advance.” Democrats’ efforts to enforce conformity with leftist cultural norms have targeted the Little Sisters of the Poor and created dissident cake artists, florists, and calligraphers. Trump and his judicial appointments are the last line of defense against the left’s coercion of cultural and religious nonconformists.
What Does Conservatism Look Like?
Nonetheless, it may be that this reprieve comes at the expense of long-term success. For example, Robert Tracinski recently argued that support for Trump is emblematic of the right having given up on the “contest of ideas.” This intellectual surrender means that “the only way forward is to never lose another election.” Tracinski charges that we have abandoned persuasion, and our use of Trump as a shield is an admission of defeat, as the president at most gains us a sheltered decline rather than any hope of victory.
Of course, Tracinski’s argument could be flipped against him. If his faction of atheistic libertarians have lost influence on the right, perhaps it is, in his words, their “own fault, for not making a good enough case to the public.” Nonetheless, he is correct that if conservatives abandon persuasion to rely only on Trump for protection, we will be overwhelmed when the left regains power, even if his judges serve as a valiant rearguard during our retreat.
But this grim forecast presumes Trump’s presidency is the last gasp of a decadent conservatism. In contrast, I think Trump’s election has created space for a necessary reconsideration of what conservatism is. There is plenty of intellectual ferment on the right, from the popular heterodoxy of Tucker Carlson to the discussions taking place in outlets such as First Things, Public Discourse, National Review, and The Federalist. We have not despaired of ideas and debate, even if our political leader is not an intellectual avatar for our positions.
Conservatives have not been idle while the Trump presidency shields us. Even with his imperfections in the Oval Office, another four years may bring to maturity a revitalized conservatism, refocused on family and community rather than individual autonomy. A Republican Party with more leaders like Josh Hawley and the current version of Marco Rubio would be an improvement over the business-as-usual GOP to which the party’s anti-Trump diehards apparently wish to return.
Can Leftist Ideas Prevail Without Political Power?
Additionally, four more years of Trump might be just the prescription needed to break the leftist fever grip of the Democratic Party. It might force moderation on a party that has careened further left than even its own voters on issues such as abortion. Imagine a Democratic Party that has many more officials like the pro-life Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Politically, another Trump term might force long-overdue compromises, such as immigration reform that is humane toward those living here peacefully while also regaining control of our national borders.
Culturally, the left’s current obsessions might pass if they are kept from further political power. Leftist ideas of social justice have attained great cultural influence and some economic and political sway. But progressives’ vision of self-creating individual autonomy within a socialist system does not promote genuine human flourishing, and that may be its undoing.
The dogmas of intersectionality, socialism, gender theory, and other leftist notions of social justice are efforts to fill the void left by the decline of churches, communities, and families. They attempt to explain the imperfections of the world and find meaning. But these secular doctrines are poor substitutes for real transcendence. They bring rage and misery, not peace. If they break, it will be because of those they have broken.
For example, the radical transgender ideology that denies the biological reality of our embodied existence is hurting people. As one young woman succinctly put it, “I transitioned because as a 15 year old it was easier to say ‘I’m a boy’ than to say ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be a skinny attractive woman’ because that’s how I felt. I will never be pretty enough or skinny enough; I can’t be a woman. HOW did NO ONE see this????” The answer is that the conservatives and some feminists who saw it were ignored and shunned, while radical trans activists bullied the rest of the leftists, liberals, and moderates into acquiescence.
Gender ideology is breaking people at the most basic level, effacing the reality of our bodily existence as men and women — the biological reality by which we are begotten into existence. Likewise, our sexual culture is distorted; men and women are struggling to permanently pair up, leaving them lonely and embittered. Americans have increasingly given up on the future, as exemplified by birthrates far below replacement level.
Can such immiserating ideology endure if it is unable to consolidate the power needed to ensure compliance? I do not think so, not if we have our freedom and use it to boldly speak the truth and offer something better to a nation that is materially prospering but relationally and spiritually adrift.
My hope for another four years of Trump is that conservatives, particularly Christians, will not just shelter, but rebuild and go forth with confidence.