Donald Trump has not come out with a social policy so far, but I am not sure he can avoid it much longer. His opponent personifies social and family policies that have brought not only social but fiscal disaster. Meaningful cuts in spending and taxation will require him to confront the out-of-control welfare entitlements that are bankrupting Western civilization.
Trump must also reach out to the poor, who are tired of living in disaster zones, infested with drugs, crime, and drop-outs.
He may also want to remind his Republican critics that the welfare apparat functions as a huge political patronage machine for the Democrats.
Politicians prefer to kick the welfare can down the road, giving it time to worsen. But the welfare crisis transcends this election: It poses the perennial problem of how our civilization defines government and whether to allow our citizens’ solvency to be siphoned off by the leviathan state acting as the servant of the politically radical and sexually liberated. Bold action could confer qualities of statesmanship Trump needs.
Trump must also deflect demands by the militant “LGBT” lobby to take a position on same-sex marriage. Waffling on this could endanger his core.
He can avoid this pitfall – not by wiggling out of it, but by rising above it. This means taking a decisive stand on marriage – not same-sex marriage, but marriage itself, which cuts the Gordian Knot of welfare because marriage is by far the most effective welfare. Same-sex marriage is only a symptom and far less destructive than the larger breakdown of marriage and proliferation of single-parent homes and connected social ills. He must shift the conversation by asserting that the married, two-parent family is the only viable long-term solution to poverty and every social problem associated with it, such as crime and substance abuse. He can assert this boldly and not defensively, putting Hillary on the spot as the apologist for an ever-expanding government behemoth that condemns the poor to lives of dependency and violence and bankrupts responsible households.
As Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned in 1965, the destruction of marriage has both caused, and been caused by, the omnivorous welfare state. Its gargantuan expenditures are actually minor compared to the multiplier effect of spending on the social problems it creates. Virtually every social pathology is directly connected to fatherless homes (not to poverty or race): crime, substance abuse, truancy, poverty itself. (Pointing out that young black men who get shot by white policemen tend to be fatherless might be more constructive than divisive accusations of “racism.”) And to these social ills, if you consider European immigrant communities, you can now add terrorism.
For welfare is also the magnet for immigration, which is otherwise manageable. Here too Trump can deflect criticism of his immigration proposals by pointing out that welfare creates the ills associated with immigrant communities. Immigrants in two-parent families are generally productive contributors to society. Welfare both attracts single-parents and creates them after they arrive. Immigration policies that welcome productive two-parent families, coupled with social policies that ensure that they remain solvent and productive, is a constructive alternative to building walls.
Failure to face this is also what led to same-sex marriage in the first place. Restore true marriage, and same-sex marriage evaporates. Gays are a tiny part of the population, a tiny proportion of them want to marry, and a small proportion of those want to raise children. The real beneficiaries of this cynical subterfuge are welfare officials, who can increase their client base by encouraging welfare mothers to “marry” one another and derive increased benefits.
Trump needs to be both cautious and innovative. Standard welfare reforms from the 1970s will not work now. They were implemented in 1996 with limited results and have mostly been reversed by Obama. Greater vision is needed.
Welfare must be temporary, moving families not “from welfare to work,” as the old reforms attempted, but from welfare to marriage: the only real alternative to welfare dependency. Marriage is also a formula for a prosperous society, with low levels of crime and substance abuse, and communities that can integrate productive immigrants in reasonable numbers while remaining vigilant against criminal and terrorist elements that are already overwhelming law enforcement and intelligence services.
A sane policy might look something like this:
- Tax incentives encouraging marriage are not sufficient, but they are a start.
- Limits on welfare benefits over time. Welfare should be “bridge financing” that tapers off over time to encourage a return to marriage.
- Overdue reforms of the marriage and divorce laws: replacing no-fault divorce with a mutual-consent model, waiting periods, shared parenting provisions, and protections for parental rights, so that welfare officials cannot confiscate children without due process protections.
- Reform of the child support system, so that child support benefits truly abandoned children and does not simply become a form of private welfare that continues to subsidize single parenthood.
- Review of federal policies governing higher education, so that universities are citadels of learning rather than seminaries of leftist indoctrination, rife with orgiastic drug and alcohol abuse.
Starting a realistic dialogue on all this will steal the thunder from most of Trump’s critics.
We are not a poor society. “Poverty is chiefly predicted by family structure,” writes Phyllis Schlafly. “Marriage drops the probability of child poverty by 82%.” Despite the hysteria of welfare functionaries, the “poor” of the West are not starving children with distended bellies. They are the offspring of single mothers and disestablished fathers. They are the victims not of stinginess but of sexually indulgence.
Trump’s own indulgent life ironically now situates him to lead. He can demonstrate the repentance demanded by his religious critics by focusing on the serious secular consequences of sexual indulgence. He can even take the high moral ground by challenging religious leaders to channel their indignation into socially constructive policies and demonstrate forgiveness by preaching more robustly about not only same-sex marriage but divorce, cohabitation, unwed childbearing, hooking-up, and intoxication.
The stark alternative is Hillary, a walking prescription for more dependency and more debt, more apparatchiks and patronage, more crime and more government intervention in our private lives – and for further enslaving responsible households to the ideologues and their clients on the radical left.
Stephen Baskerville is Professor of Government at Patrick Henry College. His book, The New Politics of Sex, will be published by Wipf and Stock.