Thursday, July 21, 2016

Choosing Defeat

In the era of the New Normal, our politics has tended to focus on distributing pain rather than sharing benefits.  Politicians focus on government redistribution rather than economic revitalization, and the left-wing culture war often seems to be more about bullying dissenters than working to advance the recognition of diverse human dignity.  One of the things that has intensified partisanship in recent years is that there have been so many failures (on foreign policy, on financial regulation, on economic growth, and so forth).  The fact that victory has a hundred fathers means that various factions can claim a hand in success: Republicans and Democrats can come together to share the glory of American economic success, the end of segregation, or the defeat of the Soviet Union.  In recent years, though, our politics has become consumed with foisting the orphan of defeat on the opposing faction.  This all-consuming blame-game distracts us from the work of finding solutions and defending the Republic.

Conservatives should beware falling into the same dynamic.  It's clear that some on the right would like to use a Trump defeat in November as a way of punishing their factional opponents in the GOP.  Some Trump allies seem to place more of an emphasis on rubbing their Republican opponents' noses in the dirt rather than working to unify the party to help Trump win.  However, rather than fighting over who can be the future captain of a losing team, it might instead be better to, well, win.

At the risk of being gauche, one might observe that Hillary Clinton is still not destined to be president.  Her unfavorables remain shockingly high, she stands committed to a failed radical ideology, and the scandals surrounding her are legion.  At the moment, Donald Trump--despite all his campaign's stumbles--remains only a couple points behind her in public polls.  It would border on bizarre for the right to choose a fractious defeat at this point in the summer.

If Donald Trump really wants to sit in the Oval Office, he needs to work to unify the party and prove his fitness for governing.  Part of this means exercising more discipline in public comments and toning down the attacks on intraparty rivals.  But it also demands showing more fluency with policy and conservative thought.  Donald Trump, Jr.'s speech on Tuesday night showed that it is possible to synthesize Trumpian themes with mainstream conservative arguments.  It is up to the nominee of the Republican party to make that case responsibly and to do more to earn the respect of both his party and the nation.

Meanwhile, many elected Republican officials or former elected officials who could themselves make a legitimate run for the presidency have declared both Trump and Clinton unfit for the presidency.  If that's the case, those politicians would seem to have a moral obligation to offer a viable alternative to those candidates.  If Trump and Clinton are both equally bad, there's no risk of being a "spoiler."  If they are both unfit, then surely our country deserves better.  If a plausible third-party candidate has even a slim chance of winning against two supposedly illegitimate options, what excuse is there not to run?  Compared to the conditions that our nation's soldiers are expected to face on behalf of the Republic, mounting a presidential campaign is a laughably light task.  The burdens of Veep aren't exactly those of American Sniper.  And if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are not equally bad options, politicians and the average voter have an obligation to deliberate upon who is least bad.

Our nation deserves more than vitriol.  Vindictiveness is a poor substitute for victory, and the fate of the nation is more important than the social status of political partisans.

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