For any conservatives unsure how to work their way through their reaction and sense of obligation under the presidency of Donald Trump — or non-conservatives who are surprised to find us not all in lockstep — I recommend a recent Ricochet podcast featuring James Lileks, Peter Robinson, Mona Charen, Jay Nordlinger, and Victor Davis Hanson, reviewing the new president’s inaugural speech and his character more broadly.
Frankly, I find myself agreeing with all of them — from Nordlinger, who expressed visceral disgust at Trump’s speech to Hanson and Robinson, who defended the president. The difference, it seems to me, isn’t one of policy, politics, or even etiquette, but rather of framing.
I’ve never liked Donald Trump as a public figure, and I don’t like his behavior, now, but that doesn’t mean I have to work to thwart his every move or to jump on board with every narrative-builder that the progressives will throw out for a public minute of hate every single day during his presidency.
Given Republican control of Congress and the largely conservative nature of his cabinet picks, there is clearly a path toward better policy and better governance whereby the more-mainstream officials take the lead in crafting legislation and running the government while the president declares policy themes and runs interference against the liberal media. As progressives attack Trump (sometimes irrationally and sometimes with justification), I expect he’ll move more and more toward the opposing side, which is to say our side.
This isn’t a strategy I would have chosen in advance, but we can only make decisions based on where we are. Assisting the Left in their deliberate effort to prevent our positive outcome by emphasizing that which is unsavory about Trump would be counter productive and would probably not improve the public square in the way that Trump degrades it. Quite the opposite.
That doesn’t mean doing as progressives do and insisting that somebody who’s on our political side must be excused in every respect. After all, we do have to keep Congressional Republicans from concluding that they must move toward Trump and his approach. But it does mean being clear-eyed about the significance of particular issues and taking rhetoric and actions that bother us as momentum to be redirected — impulses to be refined — rather than excuses to wedge our side against itself.
Parts of President Trump’s inaugural address made me laugh out loud, parts of it made me cringe, but parts of it made me think, “I’m glad somebody’s finally willing to say that.” As Roger Kimball argues, going through the speech line by line, although some key words and phrases can’t help but stand out, Trump’s statement, overall, should be a hopeful one for conservatives.
Over years of cultural dominance and narrative building, the Left has conditioned us to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Frankly, we need to take the more-Christian approach of seeing the imperfect as an opportunity for conversion.