What I saw at the American Academy of Religion.
A Former NeverTrumper Casts Her Ballot
The journey of a convert.
Welcome, and thanks for subscribing to the Roundup, where you'll receive our summary of The American Mind every week in your inbox. We're looking forward to bringing you the best writing and commentary on the ideas that drive the debate in this pivotal time for our nation.
In 2016, I voted for the deceased William F. Buckley, Jr. for president, on the assumption that if he won, he would demand a recount.
Even more than my disgust at his vulgarities about opponents and praise for authoritarian heads of state, I worried Donald Trump would govern as a New York liberal; a Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger type, if you will, whose only accomplishment would be to force the GOP to go along with left-wing policy.
On that score, and I suspect largely thanks to the hysterical and hateful response to his election from the left, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Other former NeverTrumpers have also seen the light, and now publicly pronounce his successful conservative record, from his nominees for the federal bench and war against critical race theory to his shift to a Jacksonian foreign policy, and even that Paul Ryan-est of victories, a tax cut.
Best of all, Trump stood athwart the left and shouted, with typical Queens flair, stop. And he did so, truth be told, more successfully than the sentiment’s original author and my 2016 presidential candidate.
Still, many who see the rising danger from the left remain dubious about the Orange Man. The most convenient argument they advance is that the excesses of the left are somehow Trump’s fault. For instance, the Harper’s free speech letter decried the increasingly totalitarian strategies of the elite wokes, but was careful, of course, to condemn Trump as the “real threat to democracy” and urged the left not to become more like the enemy in opposing him. Over at The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum imagines that without Trump in office, Biden can restore centrist liberalism as the driving force in the Democratic Party. Yasha Mounk, in the same outlet, writes that Donald Trump is the “best candidate for the illiberal left” and fantasizes about the wokes fading away as a part of the abruptly-ended Trump era. Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris make the same argument in their pre-election podcast.
The single biggest intellectual error among those in the liberal left and NeverTrump right is that they continue to see Trump as the driving force behind the rising illiberalism. The reality is that Trump never would have been, or would need to be, elected if conservatives were not under attack from every major culture-shaping institution. From the public school and university systems, to Hollywood and the media, to Silicon Valley and Wall Street, each of these institutions has been captured by the hard left. This dominance ensures that the woke movement will only grow in power, adding newly-graduated revolutionaries, rank after rank, to the nation’s newsrooms, boardrooms, and academy.
Would the captains of the Fortune 500 have refused to pump Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility if a “normal Republican” were in office? Would Jack Dorsey have found another recipient for his $10 million than the overtly tyrannical Ibram X. Kendi, who argues that America needs an unelected board of hard-left academics to oversee every single law passed in the country, if Trump weren’t in office? Kendi’s magnum opus condemning the American system, Stamped from the Beginning, was published in early 2016 and much of it was likely written before Trump was even a candidate.
The authoritarian, speech-chilling, and overtly anti-American direction of the left has been decades in the making. As always with the culture wars, the left and the media (but I repeat myself) try to turn the Right into the aggressor, when in fact Trump represents the first time in the post-Cold War era that Republicans actually pushed back against the relentless cultural onslaught.
But let me speak to those who are still on the fence, offering the opposite advice of the Applebaums of the world. Let’s assume Donald Trump actually harbors dictatorial ambitions. Let’s assume that everything Applebaum and Mounk wrote about him is true. Still, he would represent the lesser of two evils, because every single institution in American life stands not just as a bulwark, but in direct opposition to Donald Trump. If his inner dictator shows itself, it’ll be ineffectual without any institutional support from other parts of American society.
The media is fanatically opposed to Trump to the extent that they refuse, almost universally, to cover a juicy Biden corruption story that in any other era would be headline news for months. In school districts across the country, children are being taught that Trump is a fascist. And of course, the administrative state that supposedly exists to do his bidding is in reality an active fifth column within his own executive branch, willing to leak, lie, and undermine his directives at every step. Trump is less Caesar than Gulliver, bound to the seashore with a thousand ropes.
Joe Biden is, as he admits himself, a transitionary and likely transitory figure. His administration will turn loose the power of the woke left into the administrative state, and provide it encouragement and cover from the highest office. Already, Biden cannot bring himself to condemn Antifa, which he laughably calls an “idea,”—let alone BLM itself, for the violence and destruction these groups are wreaking on American cities from coast to coast.
And for those who, like myself in 2016, think they simply can avoid making the choice, I’m not going to say you “have to vote,” or imply that voting is the apotheosis of civic duty. You will have to vote, or not vote, your conscience. I have only a warning.
In August, the Wall Street Journal published an excellent article by Ruth Wisse, a professor emerita at Harvard, in which she detailed the story of a young women who studied under a Polish academic so enamored of the socialist project that he eventually snuck across an already-sealed border into to the Soviet Union. When she followed his example and immigrated to the USSR some years later, before his execution in 1937, he wanted to impress upon her that it was better under the czars. His was not an endorsement of czarism, but rather, a warning that even between bad options, it is important to choose “the merely bad over the worse.”
Given the forces arrayed against him, even if you believe Trump is the bad, the totalitarian left is the worse.
Underlying it all, the real reason this prior NeverTrump conservative cast her ballot for Donald Trump yesterday is to lay down a marker of objection. I hope to be wrong, but I see a very dark future for this country, one in which speech is stifled, heavy-hitter institutions like the administrative state and the Supreme Court are utterly corrupted and turned against the American people, and where much of the curtailment of liberties is done in a private-sector end run around the Bill of Rights. In which people, increasingly terrified of the consequences meted out by a Big Tech-turbocharged cancel culture, start to cultivate a Soviet-style contradiction between internal thought and external expression. The mental gulag may be vastly more comfortable than Siberia, but it’s a prison nonetheless.
I do not consent to that future, so I marked the circle for Donald J. Trump.