Hating Trump Is Not a Political Strategy - BCB #85
Also: a proposal for a new Red philosophy, and a different way to show up for Israel-Palestine
Bret Stephens from The New York Times makes a case for Donald Trump's appeal, despite wanting him to lose. This is a wake-up call for Stephens’ Blue allies, as dismissing his candidacy risks underestimating the factors that contribute to his political resilience.
You can’t defeat an opponent if you refuse to understand what makes him formidable [...] let me here make the best case for Trump that I can.
Stephens argues that Trump's stance on migration, seen in his assertion that “a nation without borders is not a nation at all,” taps into widespread anxieties about unchecked migration affecting national identity and security, in a way that feels very common sense. This perspective resonates with many who feel ignored by those who view migration solely through a humanitarian lens or as a source of cheap labor.
Stephens also credits Trump for acknowledging the deep-seated pessimism felt by many Americans, contrary to the more optimistic and caricatured views of liberal elites.
Brokenness has become the defining feature of much of American life: broken families, broken public schools, broken small towns and inner cities, broken universities, broken health care, broken media, broken churches, broken borders, broken government. At best, they have become shells of their former selves.
Trump's narrative of national decline, economic stagnation, and growing social issues, struck a chord with Americans disillusioned with the status quo.
Finally, Trump's critique of the government, media, and academia resonates with the many Americans who have lost faith in our institutions. Stephens argues that these institutions have eroded their own trust, inadvertently bolstering Trump's position.
The point isn’t to prove that Trump is a good candidate, but to take seriously the concerns of those who will vote for him.
In an analysis of the broader conservative landscape, Jeffery Tyler Syck, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pikesville, identifies two dominant strains within the current Red ideology and proposes an alternative philosophy, Humanist Conservatism, in an attempt to avoid past failures.
Syck says the two dominant strands of conservatism today are Fusionism and National Conservatism. Fusionism is rooted in libertarian and traditionalist ideas, focusing on minimal government and a free market in the manner of Ronald Reagan. National Conservatism uses state power to preserve moral traditions and fight cultural progressivism, as embodied by Donald Trump and his former competitor Ron DeSantis.
Syck critiques both ideologies: Fusionism's economic policies, though initially successful, led to long-term economic disparities, while National Conservatism risks encroaching on civil liberties and diversity. He proposes Humanist Conservatism as an alternative, a philosophy prioritizing the dignity of everyday human life.
Drawing on the ideas of Christian Democracy, Humanist Conservatism emphasizes individual dignity and natural rights. It rejects absolutist thinking and acknowledges the diversity of human experience. Its five principles include compassionate capitalism, preservation of communities, pragmatic internationalism, promoting a pluralist society, and embracing moderate politics.
Many who are staunchly on the Red side still see something wrong with their political culture (just as many on the Blue side feel uncomfortable with the dysfunctions of social justice ideologies). This, perhaps, is a path that could rejuvenate the conservative movement and breathe new life into Red’s future.
Micah Sifry reports on a movement led by Israeli-Americans and progressive American Jews organizing "peace vigils." In contrast to traditional protests, they aim to build community without forcing participants to choose a side.
Since October 7 we’ve been asked to make a binary choice. Either you are for Palestine or you are for genocide. Or either you are for Israel or you are for terrorist savagery.
These vigils are characterized by their non-divisive nature, asking attendees not to bring personal signs or flags, and instead providing pre-printed signs that reflect their principles. However well intentioned, those flags have become deeply upsetting symbols for many, as Chloé Valdary writes:
For many who are mourning the loss of beautiful, innocent, young Gazans killed by Israeli strikes, the only symbol the mourners can reach for that symbolizes their mourning is the Palestinian flag.
And for Israelis so much hatred and murder has been done in the name of that flag that to just see it triggers a great deal of sorrow and pain and rage.
And the same is true for when Palestinians see an Israeli flag. It represents repression and a surveillance state and an absence of autonomy.
Far from neutered neutrality, the peace vigil movement still takes a stand and calls for specific actions, including a bilateral ceasefire. But it recognizes that being forced to pick a side has caused real damage, including the loss of relationships and withdrawal from political and civic engagements due to the fear of contentious conversations. The peace vigil approach is appealing to those looking for a different way.
I had wanted for some weeks to express my support for a ceasefire, but this was the first action that felt comfortable for me—where I could stand up for Palestinian lives without being surrounded by people devaluing Israeli lives. The mood was somber and reflective, as you'd expect—but also surprisingly uplifting, from being around so many other people who refuse to let fear, anger, or despair harden their hearts.
Americans are mostly removed from the immediate threat and pain of this conflict. Perhaps this “privilege of distance” allows a different approach to grow.
Quote of the Week
When the opponent is not defined in political but in moral terms, he cannot be envisaged as an adversary but only as an enemy. With the "evil them" no agonistic debate is possible, they must be eradicated. They are usually conceived as the expression of a moral plague; there is therefore no need to try to understand the reasons for their existence and success. This is why moral condemnation often replaces a proper political analysis and the strategy is limited to the building of a “cordon sanitaire” to quarantine the affected sectors.
Image prompt: An illustration of the donkey, symbolizing the Democratic Party, studying a book, with an elephant on the book cover to symbolize the Republican Party. The donkey remains portrayed in a thoughtful and focused manner, sitting in a comfortable reading environment. The donkey, with human-like qualities such as wearing glasses, is engrossed in reading a large book. The book cover prominently features a stylized image of an elephant, representing a bipartisan theme. The surrounding environment reflects a study or a library, with shelves of books and a peaceful, academic atmosphere. The image conveys a sense of intelligence, curiosity, unity, and the importance of understanding different perspectives.