Can We Reconcile the Trump Phenomenon With America’s Founding Principles?

June 3, 2016

Apart from the endless question of who always will, who probably will, who may and who never will vote for Donald Trump, I’d like to call a temporary truce between the believers and the skeptics and warn against any conscious abandonment or neglect of our founding principles.

I sense that the Trump movement in some ways presents a false choice — that we either temporarily abandon our principles to save America or preserve our principles and lose America. To the contrary, even if we take drastic action, we must always do so within the constraints of the Constitution — being mindful that to restore America’s greatness, we must reclaim our founding principles.

Some Trump supporters will be offended by the suggestion that they want to de-emphasize the Constitution or do not hold Trump to ordinary standards of decency, but I’ve had many exchanges with Trump supporters in which they have demeaned the Constitution as a bygone relic, a meaningless piece of paper.

I refuse to believe that to combat leftism we must abandon our founding principles, our standards of decency and our aspirations for a noble, virtuous and civil society. If, as a Trump supporter, you agree with me, then this column is not meant for you, but if you disagree, please indulge my sappiness for a moment.

The gravity of this issue hit home to me as I was watching, with two of my daughters, an online lecture by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn on Western civilization. I wish everyone could hear Arnn’s inspiring message on the critical importance of studying Western civilization and how ignorance of our history and founding principles has directly contributed to the situation in which we now find ourselves.

Arnn said: “We live in a time when a kind of blight has settled on the world because of doctrines that were adopted in America … in the 19th and 20th centuries. … So we’ve lost a lot because of that. We don’t teach old and high things in school the way we used to, and ignorance of those things is everywhere — and that’s a threat to our freedom. Hillsdale has an old commitment to the principles of our country and an old belief announced in the founding document that learning the right things is necessary to perpetuate our freedom and our justice in America.”

It’s not enough to say “we will make America great again.” Closing the borders is vital, but it’s not the only thing that matters.

I share the angst of Trump supporters toward the left and the establishment, and I’m deeply concerned by the current miserable condition the nation is in. Indeed, constitutional conservatives have been fighting against these foes longer than most Trump supporters, but there’s no point in bickering over that now.

Trump supporters must know it’s outrageous to lump constitutional conservatives in with the establishment merely because we are skeptical of Trump. There are many reasons for skepticism, including that he has hardly been anti-establishment and is not likely to be consistently so if he becomes president.

We understand the gratification of believers when Trump refuses to kowtow to leftist and politically correct pressure to conform to the left’s thought-stifling standards. We feel it, too; at least I do.

There are countless examples of Republicans caving to liberals on policy and muzzling their own ideas. No wonder young people gravitate toward the left. It’s not just cultural influences and educational indoctrination. It’s that our side often doesn’t stand up for what it claims to believe in.

In contrast, when Hillary Clinton recently denounced Trump for buying up properties at depressed values, he didn’t defensively scramble to offer some irrelevant excuse. He ridiculed the allegation and affirmed capitalism in one fell swoop. In response to Clinton’s claim that he bought properties at low prices to sell at higher prices and make profits, he said, “Who the hell doesn’t?” Apart from my issues with Trump, that’s how you handle leftist bullying.

There have been plenty of such incidents throughout the course of this campaign — sometimes appropriate but sometimes not, which brings me back to one of the concerns I have with the Trump phenomenon.

I fear we are in danger of sacrificing too much at the altar of Trump. As I’ve said before, Trump supporters seem to have an endless willingness to forgive anything he does. Though it is admirable to combat political correctness, it is not commendable to abandon decency in the name of fighting political correctness. We should applaud the former and condemn the latter — lest we succumb to the notion that things are so bad these days that the only way we can fix them is to be bad boys ourselves.

I get that Trump supporters believe extraordinary measures must be taken to restore America, given the Republicans’ failed track record of effectively opposing PC and leftist tyranny. But we mustn’t lose ourselves in the process. Leftists long ago adopted an ends-justify-the-means approach and will say and do anything in support of their cause. If the right does likewise, ostensibly to save America, we will have already lost it.

Even if you disagree, Trump supporters, please humor us and understand we will always believe, like Larry Arnn, that neglecting our founding principles has imperiled our liberties and that learning and aspiring to what is noble and virtuous is necessary to perpetuate our freedom and our justice.

Please try to meet us halfway.