Thursday, May 23, 2019

From Conservatism to Libertarianism: My Personal Journey (Part IV)


By 2010, I had self-consciously left the Republican Party and was voting for Libertarian candidates when available. I even refused to vote for Romney in 2012. That being said, I still viewed this separation as temporary. The GOP would get its act together in a few years, recognize that fighting the culture through politics was a lost cause, and get back to limiting government spending (including military spending). The fact that they were losing young voters (like myself) would give them no choice. Once things turned around, I would gladly go back to the party and we could resume the serious struggle of saving the country from the left.

I was led astray by the fallacy of overestimating how common my personal sentiments were.  I continued to read mainstream conservative sources like National Review or Townhall with growing disagreements and I interpreted conservativism through that lens. As I did not have access to cabal TV, I did not watch Fox and I had long since stopped listening to talk radio. The fact that I spent the Obama years away from right-wing culture meant that I was unprepared for how conspiratorial it was becoming.

What is important here is not to what extent conservatives went insane over the course of the Obama years, but what those beliefs justified. Every position carries with it an unstated moral claim as to the spectrum of allowable actions. If Democrats really were an existential threat to this country then all kinds of previously unthinkable actions suddenly became perfectly defensible, including handing the country over to a buffoonish conman clown with no allegiance to conservatism let alone anything besides his own ego. For example, any liberal who denounced Judge Kavanaugh as the threat to the country was also implicitly endorsing making up charges of sexual assault against him. Similarly, saying that a President Hillary would put conservatives in reeducation camps meant that our conservative has implicitly signed on to allow Trump to collaborate with Russia as allowing Trump to get away with impeachable offenses would be preferable to allowing Democrats to control the government.

I may have left the Republican Party but I still believed in the fundamental decency of the Republican leadership and it's rank and file voters. A Trump candidacy presented an opportunity for regular conservative voters to demonstrate how they had been slandered by the liberal media. Yes, Trump might have name recognition but his hateful rhetoric would turn off Republican voters and the victorious primary candidate would be the one who could articulate the most distinctly anti-Trump vision. 

I used to visit the late Prof. Louis Feldman ztl, a classics scholar, and he would ask me what Trump stood for. I would tell him that Trump was Cataline, a demagogue willing to destroy the country in order to seize power. What we needed was a Cicero to stand for what makes this country great and save it (hopefully without violating the Constitution and having people executed without trial). I really believed, that for all his flaws, Paul Ryan could step into that role of Cicero.

The fact that Trump managed to win out over a crowded field in the primaries simply raised the stakes. The Republican Party establishment led by Ryan now had the opportunity to be statesmen and patriots to fall on their swords to stop Trump even at the cost of allowing a Clinton victory. Yes, we might have President Hillary in the White House and she would get to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court but a morally invigorated conservative movement freed from having to rely on Trump voters would stop her dead in her tracks. This made sense to me because I actively work on myself not to think of politics as a daily soap opera but as a struggle to be played out over lifetimes. Let Hillary win in 2016. Let the Democrats take the Supreme Court. Just as long as I do not have to, say in 2024, respond to "what about Trump?" questions.

Up until the night of the election, I really did expect the better angels of the Republican Party to prevail. As much as I was not looking forward to a President Hillary, Trump's victory left me as downcast as many on the left. Much like the Iraq War, Trump's victory forced me into the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge that the left could be pretty much right about some things. If Republicans really were motivated by the three pillars of Buckleyite conservatism of limited government, a strong defense, and family values, as opposed to simply using these as cover for bigotry, then how could they have voted for Trump, a man who stands for none of these three things?

The Trump presidency has left me in an impasse. I thought I understood conservatives and was proven wrong. I recognize now that there is no going back to the Republican Party and that the Milton Friedman Republican strategy based on cutting taxes was a mistake. I am open to the idea of pursuing a leftward strategy built around some combination of universal basic income (another Friedman idea), drug legalization/criminal justice reform, and open borders. That being said, I readily admit that I would be the wrong person to be involved in such a process. I am not from the left and I lack the necessary empathy for understanding it. In truth, it is not like I am qualified to work with the right anymore. If a large percentage of the libertarian movement are people like me then we have a problem. All the more reason for us to stand aside and make way for people who are not disgruntled former conservatives.