NRO: Against Jefferson
Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Aristocrats fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society.”

–Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1825.

National Review has entered dangerous territory: they have inadvertently made the case for Trump.

An angry screed by Kevin Williamson titled “Our Post-Literate Politics” (later renamed to “What’s a Book?”) makes the case that Trump supporters are illiterate, uneducated, dim-witted, racist, homophobes. To wit (via Breitbart.com’s John Nolte):

Thomas Aquinas cautioned against “homo unius libri,” a warning that would not get very far with the typical Trump voter stuck sniggering over “homo.” (They’d snigger over “snigger,” too, for similar reasons.)

And

Donald Trump is the face of that insalubrious relationship, a lifelong crony capitalist who brags about buying political favors.  But his enthusiasts, devoid as they are of a literate politics capable of thinking about all three sides of a triangle at the same time[.]

The magazine’s aristocratic editors have examined the species homo trumpicus and found it unfit for self-governance. Until last fall, homo trumpicus was NR’s favorite fellow-traveller.

For those who don’t regularly read Hennessy’s View (and I seem to have a lot of new readers of late), I am not supporting Donald Trump. Also, I agree with the NR writers that Trump does not fit my definition of conservatism (which, like most conservatives, I cannot articulate in a way that you could a draw a picture from). Further, I’ll give you that Trump scares me a little. Finally on this point, there are at least three candidates I’d greatly prefer to Trump and a couple more I’d probably hold my nose and vote for before I’d touch the screen next to The Donald. (Or maybe he’ll be on the ballot as simply “TRUMP.”) (And Jeb! is not one of them. I’ll take Trump over Jeb!)

While I revere William F. Buckley, my own vision of a conservative utopia has been out of phase with NR’s for some time, at least in a few ways. In 1993, for example, I wrote an essay opposing US intervention in the Balkans. I am proud that my essay was published alongside similar sentiments from Patrick J. Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly. (Maybe it’s a St. Louis thing. Buchanan cut his newspaper teeth at Globe-Democrat, and Schlafly is, of course, a St. Louisan.) I differed from my favorite magazine on the issue.

In 1994, a friend and I earned beer money by selling shirts and bumperstickers. Our best-seller said “He’s Rested, He’s Ready, He’s RIGHT! Buchanan ’96.” (My personal favorite didn’t sell worth a damn: “Why did I get wet when Clinton soaked the rich?”)

I should point out that I have differences with Buchanan (Israel) and Schlafly (convention of states), too. But my vision of conservative utopia is probably a lot closer to theirs. And while I’ve dutifully bucked up and supported whatever lame Establishment punching bag the GOP sends up every four years. like many others, I’m getting pretty sick of supporting a party that prefers abstract principles and handouts to billionaires over sound policies that lift people out of poverty and give those well above poverty the confidence to jump employers, change careers, or hang out a shingle. 

My view is pretty simple and probably more libertarian than conservative. I believe that free men and women, decently educated, reasonably honest, occasionally sober, and mildly ambitious make for an exceptional nation. I believe that a government that provides the safety and security to let the men and women have their fun (without feeling the need to wear rearview sunglasses in case some crazed jihadi is sneaking up on them) is a government that engenders exceptionalism. (Unlike my definition of conservatism, I can point you to a picture of exceptionalism. It’s something like Burning Man surrounded on each end by a week or two of hard work.) And I believe that an agreed-upon and complete list of things government is allowed to do lets the people plan more than 3 minutes ahead, which is a prerequisite of exceptionalism, freedom, and fun.

And all of my beliefs are built upon the idea that people, by their nature, can govern themselves. One requirement of self-governance is choosing representatives, including presidents.

If I’m wrong on that–if people truly cannot government themselves and cannot form governments that function–then the whole concept of liberty and everything written on the subject from John Locke to Thomas Jefferson to William F. Buckley, was a lie, an error, a sham, a horrible mistake. On that point, Locke, Jefferson, and Buckley agree with me.

So yesterday National Review, in its screechy cat-fight of a hissy fit, determined that 41 percent of Republican voters (and 100 percent of Democrat voters) fail the self-governance test and need an aristocracy to rule them. Assuming half the voters are Democrats, that means NR has written off, not 47 percent, but 91 percent of American population. Nearly everybody but the National Review’s editorial is, by their reckoning, too ignorant and illiterate to own their own lives.

And this is where the fun begins. 

National Review’s anti-Trump symposium warns that Trump is a modern day Hitler ready to seize autocratic power in America, and that Americans need an autocrat to rule them in their vast ignorance and bigotry.

Put syllogistically (a word that should satisfy Mr. Williamson and most of the NR symposium authors):

If Donald Trump is an authoritarian with conservative-ish pretenses, and if the American electorate’s ignorance requires authoritarian rule, then Trump is the best authoritarian for the job. 

I utterly refute National Review’s pessimistic, aristocratic, and undemocratic conclusion. I reject the middle leg of their pro-Trump syllogism because I believe we are competent to run our lives and to decide on a working government.

And on that, Jefferson concurs:

“The people, being the only safe depository of power, should exercise in person every function which their qualifications enable them to exercise consistently with the order and security of society. We now find them equal to the election of those who shall be invested with their executive and legislative powers, and to act themselves in the judiciary as judges in questions of fact. The range of their powers ought to be enlarged.” –Thomas Jefferson to Walter Jones, 1814.

Either we can govern ourselves, or we can’t. I think we can; NR thinks we can’t.

But I admit to taking great satisfaction in the pain and suffering Trump causes to snobbish blowhards like the one told his NR readers that 41 percent of Republicans can’t govern themselves.

As always, I’ll end with the words Dennis Miller gave us: that’s just my opinion; I could be wrong.

 

 

  • I believe Trump in conjunction with a Convention of States (limited to proposing amendments to the United States Constitution that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress) might actually be able to rein in the out-of-control federal government. Pergé!

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