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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Are you proud?

Eight-year-old Sofia Yassini, a resident of Dallas and a Muslim-American, has recently spent many sleepless and tear-filled nights checking and rechecking the locks on her doors, convinced that President Trump would soon be sending the military to snatch her away. Her fears are not unwarranted, given Trump’s chilling comments on forcing Muslim citizens to wear special identification. Worse, he has threatened to torture and murder the families of terrorists, seemingly for the sheer sport of it, and has given his approval to the idea of summarily executing suspected terrorists by firing squad with bullets coated in pigs’ blood.

The exploitation of fear for political gain is textbook terrorism, but the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party is guilty of far worse. He is a proto-fascist lunatic with no regard for moral boundaries of any sort.

But this is no longer about Trump. Truthfully, it never has been. Demagoguery is only an interesting phenomenon in so far as what it represents, not for the identity that embodies its megalomania. Trump, the actor, the entertainer, is no force in and of himself; he is rather an ugly reflection of something brewing in this country.

True, the toupee may be a passing fad, but what it evinces will remain. Trump supporters existed before this election, and they will continue to exist after it has concluded. I would venture to say that nearly all of these individuals had their predispositions formed long before Trump ever arrived on stage. He did not galvanize these people towards hatred, bigotry or ignorance in June of 2015; it was embedded in their hearts long before.

While the existence of such reactionaries may seem anathema to our democratic principles, they have in fact always played an integral role in liberal society. The political philosopher Lord John Acton once noted: “At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own. And this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous.”

Conservatism has in particular been attacked throughout its history for being plagued by the ignorant and the bigoted. This criticism is, as a matter of fact, true. But anyone who has read Russell Kirk, Leo Strauss or Yuval Levin knows well that the conservative tradition is rich with not only intellectual thinkers, but compassionate and unprejudiced men and women striving to advance the human condition. So yes, it is true that these “friends of freedom” have had to rely on the ignorant and prejudiced to advance themselves electorally through the years, but are we truly fool enough to believe that the progressive and libertarian movements are ripe with enlightened supporters down to the last voter? It is the raw fact of politics that all ideological movements are buttressed in part by the masses of the ignorant. This is certainly proven by the well-documented fact that Trump also pulls substantial support from self-identified liberals and independents.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Republican Party has stumbled, but for all my considerable reservations with their policy stances, I refuse to charge their bedrock philosophy with some sort of inherent bigotry or racism. Rather, the GOP has made the fundamental error of selling this philosophy, the soul of their movement, for electoral gain. They, in effect, fed the beast and lost their hand in the process. In willingly stoking the anger and resentment of those who feel suspicious of our growing multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism, the GOP has unleashed a monster they can no longer control. Acton’s partnership was meant to be an unhappy marriage of convenience. The Republican Party has turned this into an abusive relationship of dependency.

Those who belong to the progressive side of the spectrum are not free of blame either. “Trumpic” demagoguery is as much a result of poor decisions of progressive “friends of freedom” as of those on the right. For how long did the progressive movement believe that they could utilize the fundamentally undemocratic judicial system to ram blanket liberal policies down the throats of 300 million Americans? Leaving the question of moral weight aside, Supreme Court decisions such as Obergefell v. Hodges drastically altered the social and cultural customs of millions of conservative Americans, men and women who felt their voices ripped from them by actors they have no control over. When politically-induced change becomes such a distant and elitist process that the average voter feels he no longer has any say in his country’s trajectory, resentment begins to percolate from the ground up. Trump now embodies this resentment. By sidestepping the organic and glacial process of acceptance that gay communities were already experiencing state-by-state, the progressive movement has threatened their judicial victories. Beyond this, Trump represents a reactionary menace to the hard-earned progressive successes of not only LGBTQ groups, but racial and religious minorities as well.

Some on the progressive side celebrate the presumptive nomination of Trump as the heralding of the end of the conservative movement. Personally, I think this is foolishness. Donald Trump will be a far more challenging opponent for Hillary Clinton than many of us are willing to admit. Clinton beats Trump by a mere 6 percent in Real Clear’s national head-to-head, and this quite frankly understates Trump’s strengths in this election. Turnout, a far greater indicator of electoral success than early head-to-head polling, has been record-breaking this primary season for Republicans and dismal for Democrats. And even if Trump does not manage to win, his followers and his movement will remain. A Trump nomination will guarantee that this type of political demagoguery continues at all levels of government in the future. It is time for all friends of freedom, progressive, conservative and libertarian alike, to begin taking this problem seriously. While I do not pretend to have the answer, all I can advise at present is to think of Sofia Yassini and ask yourself: Are you proud of the America that we have created?

Patrick Kearney is currently a senior living in St. Edward's Hall majoring in Political Science. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.