October 12, 2016


The End of the Utilitarian Argument for Trump (Gregory Brown, October 12th, 2016, Public Discourse)

Many conservatives, then, have been making what we can call the utilitarian argument for Trump. They argue that those who appreciate how bad a liberal majority on the Supreme Court would be should recognize that Trump, for all his faults, would be less bad than Clinton, so they ought to vote for Trump.

Stated in these terms, this argument has always been too simple and too fast. A vote has lots of effects, only one of which is increasing the probability of a particular candidate's victory. In particular, all else being equal, the more votes Trump receives, the more people will think that his platform is one that deserves a place in American politics and that his style of politics is worth emulating; it encourages the Republican Party to adopt his views and manner. A Republican vote for Trump will, generally, be taken as a Republican condoning of Trump.

For some people, this is a good thing. Trump is focusing on what really matters, they reason, and his abrasive and controversial style is what's needed to challenge the stranglehold of the media and political elite.

Others acknowledge that there have always been costs associated with supporting Trump--even if they think that doing so is, all things considered, the best thing to do. He has debased political discourse and crafted a right-wing identity politics. Support for Trump may be taxing, in future years; social conservatives, for instance, will have to explain how they could support a man with a history of infidelity, and Christians will have to explain how they could support a man whose first reaction to criticism is often unhinged mockery.

Trump neither cares for nor understands issues such as abortion, marriage, or religious liberty. When he defends them, it is always clear that it is because he feels, or has been told, that he has to. His defenses of issues that social conservatives care about merely consist in a kind of Christian identity politics, as he insisted at the Value Voters Summit last month:

A Trump administration, our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended, like you've never seen before. Believe me. I believe it. And you believe it. And you know it. You know it. And that includes religious liberty--remember, remember.

Social conservatives who support Trump contribute to the impression that their votes are cheap. They will accept a candidate who does not speak their language as long as he throws them a few bones; a candidate whose concern for their interests is halfhearted can still earn their votes.

Posted by at October 12, 2016 1:40 PM