People would label me an anti-establishment conservative and a likely fit for the Trump campaign. Yet, in watching closely each of the candidates as they made their final sprint last week in South Carolina, I’ve grown concerned.
I had planned on staying out of the race yet made an 11th hour endorsement the afternoon before Saturday’s primary, believing it was important to publicly state how critical I think it is to somehow slow the Trump juggernaut. Endorsing is not my history, I have my own race to run, and there are other men in the race who have my utmost respect. But I spoke out – and it’s time for each person reading this to do the same.
Trump’s candidacy has become the receptacle for the public’s profound frustrations with the economy and the degree to which they believe the government does not work for them. If anyone gets that, I do. I have always been on the outside looking in when it comes to political establishment. Indeed, I am the guy who walked into South Carolina’s State Capital as Governor with a pig under each arm to decry the politics of pork preempting a Constitutional requirement for a balanced budget in our state. So, while I like what Mr. Trump is getting at, I have come to believe passionately that the way he is doing so is both dangerous and destructive.
To suggest that former President Bush was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks is to inflame all the conspiracy theories that undermine the very trust essential to representative government. To condemn Ford for opening a plant in Mexico, while essentially half his own hotels are overseas, is political hypocrisy of a high order. To insult and paint ethnic or religious groups with the same broad brush is to encourage a level of intolerance that makes compromise impossible. To dismiss the idea of entitlement reform, as he does at a time when balanced budgets cannot be achieved without it, is to pander to the worst degree. I could go on, but my point in this is that the tenor and quality of debate in national elections determines the policy options so vital to change in this country, and I believe Mr. Trump’s approach is taking us in the wrong direction.
I say this because his political focus seems to rest on blaming or condemning someone else. Yet, in life, sometimes it’s hardest to look in the mirror and recognize the problem is indeed right here rather than embodied elsewhere. I know something about this and suspect we all do.
Liberal and conservative solutions will abound for every problem that ails us, but I believe there are two keys to finding them. One, recognize we can’t fall into a salesman’s trap of blaming others. For instance, if we want to stop corporate inversions, maybe we should do something about our corporate tax rate. It is the world’s highest rate and is essentially three times the size of Ireland’s by the time one includes state taxes. Two, remember “I will do” didn’t fit in the Founding Father’s vocabulary; it was “we will do” in the American system. Their division of political power was extraordinary. Not only did they divide laterally across the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, they also devolved power vertically, ultimately to the individual and then across local and state governments.
It’s a dizzyingly frustrating system…but by design. Something not to be forgotten in this moment.
If you are a conservative Republican like I am who has a natural distrust of government, it’s time to really think about what’s occurring. If nothing changes, Trump is our nominee, and I think likely the next President. To fall prey to a showman’s promise would be a natural reaction, given our frustration with the party’s seemingly impotent response to the eight years of Obama. This is why Boehner went, and why many conservatives are frustrated McConnell is still around.
But Hayek warned about what we are seeing right now in his book, The Road to Serfdom. Its premise was that, over time, free governments became so dysfunctional that the masses were open to the words of a “strongman” who would return order. The catch in this Faustian bargain was that freedom would be lost in the process. One hundred years earlier, Edward Gibbon wrote of the same as he recounted how the Athenians gave up freedom in exchange for security — and lost both.
Maybe I am wrong on all this, and Trump is simply a disruptive force in politics that will generate change much like new technology does … but maybe not. History would suggest we are playing with fire and need to step away from the entertainment found in the Republican primaries and think about what’s really at play. It’s worth a thought.