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Trump Revels in Common-Sense Conservatism at CPAC

Trump Revels in Common-Sense Conservatism at CPAC
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 24, 2017, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 26 February 2018 11:54 AM EST

What does it mean to be a conservative? In Russell Kirk’s book, "The Conservative Mind," the Bible of modern American conservatism, he begins by quoting John Stuart Mill’s description of the English conservatives as “the stupid party.” It is enough for a conservative, said F.J.C. Hearnshaw, to sit and think, or, perhaps, only to sit. Conservatives, said Kirk’s friend and contemporary William F. Buckley, stand athwart history yelling “stop.”

This is an attitude that appears simply insane to progressives, who believe that history is a tale of melioration, with conservatives wrongly attempting to frustrate the good and the inevitable. Democrats (who tend to be progressive) have always tarred Republicans (who now tend to be conservative) with the traditional disparagement of stupidity (Ronald Reagan was an “amiable dunce,” similarly, both Bushes were hopelessly naïve and inarticulate, Mitt Romney was cruel to animals, etc.). This was blatant nonsense, as all change, as Kirk taught, is simply not progress and some progressive policies, history demonstrates, are prescriptions for disaster. Donald Trump, perpetually accused of the usual ineptness, coupled with the now typical accusations from progressives of duplicity, meanness, and racism (since any opposition to progressive desires now amounts, in their eyes, to evil) is suffering the usual fate of committed Republicans.

All of this puts into context Mr. Trump’s exhilarating speech this week at a Maryland meeting of CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, now the most visible advocacy group for conservative thought. This speech was a marvel of anti-progressive oratory. It turned the usual tropes on their heads, or, as used to be said of Marx and Hegel, stood them finally on their feet. It is the Democrats, for Mr. Trump, who are wrongly standing athwart history, yelling “stop,” because the conservatives, with whom Mr. Trump now proudly employs the zeal of a convert, have realized that the unfolding of history is the story of the revelation of timeless truths, which progressives somehow stubbornly continue to ignore.

Proudly proclaiming himself the leader of a conservative administration, Mr. Trump described his efforts: “We’re finally rebuilding our nation . . . And we’re restoring our confidence and our pride, all of us here today are united by the same timeless values. We defend our constitution and we believe in the wisdom of our founders . . . . We celebrate our history and our heroes and we believe young Americans should be taught to love their country, and to respect its traditions.” “Every child,” he elaborated, “deserves to grow up in a safe community surrounded by a loving family and to have a future filled with opportunity and with hope.” If that’s not an encapsulation of the best of conservatism, it is hard to know what is.

As he has done repeatedly when speaking on the stump, the president defined the “timeless values” he embraced. “Above all else, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are at the center of American life. We know that. Because in America we don’t worship government, we worship God.” This simple statement of faith must seem hopelessly naïve to Mr. Trump’s progressive critics, but his beliefs, are, of course, still shared by many, if not most Americans.

He proudly told the CPAC audience that, “For the last year with your help, we have put more great conservative ideas into use than perhaps ever before in American history.” He then rattled off a list of such accomplishments in his first year, including the nomination and confirmation of conservative judges who “will interpret the law as written,” rather than seeking to implement their own policy preferences. He commented on the reductions in job-killing regulations, the promotion of energy production, and the achievement of the lowest levels of unemployment for all Americans, including the lowest level in history for African Americans and Hispanics, thus hitting hard at the core of the constituency of the Democrats.

With a bit of gleeful political jiu-jitsu, he stated that “the other side is going — they’re crazed, and by the way, they’re crazed anyway, these people. They are really crazed. Right.” Seeking to explain this perceived perversity, he nicely suggested that Democrats wanted to give the people’s money away, while he wanted, by reducing taxes, to return more of it to its rightful owners. He stated that while the Democrats wouldn’t cooperate in returning us to a merit-based system for immigration instead of the present lottery system, the current system irrationally brought to our shores too many immigrants not capable of what we needed, which is new Americans “who have skills, who can support themselves financially, who can contribute to our economy, who will love our people and who will share our values, who will love our country.”

There was much, much more, but this summary should be enough to suggest the clarity and common sense in the president’s approach. Who really is the “stupid party?”

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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What does it mean to be a conservative? In Russell Kirk’s book, "The Conservative Mind," the Bible of modern American conservatism, he begins by quoting John Stuart Mill’s description of the English conservatives as “the stupid party.”
trump, cpac, conservatism
Monday, 26 February 2018 11:54 AM
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