2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.
Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.
To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic. The stakes can’t be that high because they are never that high—except perhaps in the pages of Gibbon. Conservative intellectuals will insist that there has been no “end of history” and that all human outcomes are still possible. They will even—as Charles Kesler does—admit that America is in “crisis.” But how great is the crisis? Can things really be so bad if eight years of Obama can be followed by eight more of Hillary, and yet Constitutionalist conservatives can still reasonably hope for a restoration of our cherished ideals? Cruz in 2024!
Not to pick (too much) on Kesler, who is less unwarrantedly optimistic than most conservatives. And who, at least, poses the right question: Trump or Hillary? Though his answer—“even if [Trump] had chosen his policies at random, they would be sounder than Hillary’s”—is unwarrantedly ungenerous. The truth is that Trump articulated, if incompletely and inconsistently, the right stances on the right issues—immigration, trade, and war—right from the beginning.
As a Canadian, I find it necessary to distance myself, slightly, from the eleven-out-of-ten American hyperbole. Nevertheless, a strain in me thinks this is the correct analysis: that the United States cannot much longer endure a ruling class that despises at least half of the people who compose the nation, and taxes the working classes to support the indigence and fecklessness of the ruling class’s welfare and disability clienteles.
Publius Decius Mus also puts his finger on an attitude in which I often take refuge: that things are bad but the decline can be endured almost indefinitely.
Whatever the reason for the contradiction, there can be no doubt that there is a contradiction. To simultaneously hold conservative cultural, economic, and political beliefs—to insist that our liberal-left present reality and future direction is incompatible with human nature and must undermine society—and yet also believe that things can go on more or less the way they are going, ideally but not necessarily with some conservative tinkering here and there, is logically impossible.
Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions. Because, first, few of those prescriptions are in force today. Second, of the ones that are, the left is busy undoing them, often with conservative assistance. And, third, the whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away from what we all understand as conservatism.
I am forced to admit this: I think the United States is in a period of political decadence. Its constitution was designed by moral men for a moral people who, by and large, are being overwhelmed by relativism, leftism and its odious manifestation, political correctness. I think it is entirely possible that the United States as we have known it will cease to exist within fifty years, and some form of oligopolistic or caesarist government may yet replace the current constitutional division of powers. If you think like Decius Mus, this transformation has already happened. I could be persuaded of that too: think how the US has failed to react politically to the 2007 financial crisis by jailing its perpetrators and stripping them of their gains.
When Mus considers that, metaphorically, Trump may not know how to fly the plane, but that situation is better than the certain prospect of Hillary flying it into a mountain, it is clear that many conservatives in the United States think this is the last election they will ever see where the disaster could have been avoided.
And the other part of me thinks that, even if this view is exaggerated, the long term leftist cultural decline is showing signs of accelerating. Safe spaces. Black lives matter. Anti-pipeline agitation. I see no signs that this rubbish is being rejected by the body politic. Maybe today I am at glass half empty. Maybe I should believe my own analysis.