A Weak (Catholic?) Case for Trump

Otto von Bismarck, they say, gave us this famous observation: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.” That’s another way of suggesting there’s simply no such thing as perfection in politics, and it’s a darn good thing to remember.

But we’ve forgotten it, which is some consolation for Donald Trump, who on Tuesday may well have secured the GOP presidential nomination (Hillary Clinton, of course, did the same on the Democratic side), and who – although qualified by the Constitution’s simple standards – is about as capable of handling the burden of the presidency as is Paris Hilton, another celebrity.

As William F. Buckley Jr. once wrote:

If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America. But whatever the depths of self-enchantment, the demagogue has to say something. So what does Trump say? That he is a successful businessman and that that is what America needs in the Oval Office.

Later in that essay (originally in Cigar Aficionado), Bill observed: “There are moments of deep gloom during the primary season.” Well, The Donald has certainly brought us to that point in 2016. I’m certainly gloomy. Heck, though it ain’t over ‘til it’s over (and God may yet have mercy on us), I’m inconsolably pessimistic.

Of course, that’s putting aside my native Christian hopefulness, thinking only about our beloved nation’s near-term future. I hoped that we’d return to a more conservative leader in 2017.

In the year-2000 iteration of a Christmas letter I send to friends, I quipped: “Although I usually vote for the conservative candidate in presidential elections, this year I opted for Bush.” Indeed, I believe that the only conservative POTUS we’ve had since Hector was a pup is Ronald Reagan. There wasn’t anything wrong with Ike, of course, and we could do worse than another Harry Truman. But we’ve had nobody in presidential politics since Reagan able to raise the value of the conservative “political brand.”

Now Trump’s support is surely “conservative” in some sense. (Although as I know well from many years of studying the realities, very few who self-identify as “conservative” actually know much about conservatism or can describe a conservative agenda.)

Because I was Literary Editor of National Review, many people are proud to tell me we share a belief system. I’m also often told: “Of course, I may actually be more conservative than you, because I’m slightly to the right of Attila the Hun!” Rape, pillage, and burn? That’s not conservatism, although it may well be Trumpism, in that Trumpian “conservatism” is a manifestation of a thirst it’s not hard to understand, but one unlikely to be slaked by Trump.

Bismarck by Franz von Lenbach, 1890
Bismarck by Franz von Lenbach, 1890

Sure people are angry, but Trumpelstiltskin, as I’ve taken to calling him on social media, is not the answer – most especially since most of his wild promises, such as building a border wall and getting Mexico to pay for it, are utter nonsense. Former Mexican president Vincente Fox recently shocked a TV interviewer when he said his nation is “not gonna pay for that f—ing wall,” and he wasn’t kidding. Señor Fox also evoked Pope Francis and our own USCCB: “Only those who feel fear build walls.”

Well, no. To paraphrase Robert Frost’s neighbor, “good borders make good neighbors,” and there’s nothing un-Christian (if I may repeat myself for the umpteenth time) about a properly acquired visa. But Trump manages to turn such commonsense into nonsense.

He reminds me of Chauncey Gardiner, Jerzy Kosiński’s blank-slate everyman from Being There (1971) – a simpleton (really an illiterate gardener named Chance) who manages (unintentionally) to become a presidential contender by uttering bland phrases he has heard on television, onto which listeners project grand meanings.

I’m not suggesting that Trump is as vapid as Gardiner, just that those who support him are responding to his manifest anger (true also for fans of the excitable Bernie Sanders), which anger seems to be the Great Motivator in the politics of the moment. And there’s plenty to be angry about.

My wife and I were out walking the other day, talking about all this. She doesn’t share my views in every particular, but having had the pleasure of knowing and liking Bill Buckley and a number of other “movement conservatives,” she knows we don’t fit the demonized appraisals typically read in mainstream media. She cannot abide Trumpelstiltskin.

So I decided to pitch her on the Catholic-conservative case for supporting him: Assuming Senate Republicans hold the line on not approving any nominee to the Supreme Court put forward by President Obama, and assuming the GOP majorities in both Houses remain in place in 2017, a President Trump may very well be in line to name three new justices to the Supreme Court – nominees who could only be better than those Hillary Clinton would choose.

“You’d trust him to do that, huh?”

I thought for a moment. . . .I’m still thinking.

But it’s moot anyway because Trump probably won’t beat Clinton.

Understand what that means: Even if HRC is a one-term president and, say, the Catholic Marco Rubio – more mature in 2020 – becomes our 46th president, the philosophical balance of the Supreme Court is liable to be 6 liberals and 3 conservatives, with the average age of the liberals at about 55, with none over 66.

Those are speculative numbers, but you get the point: two more decades of even more decisions such as Roe and Oberegfell. Every leftist with a lawyer will drum up suits in order to capitalize on a Court willing to tear down the Constitution in pursuit of a more sinister novus ordo seclorum.

When Charles Thomson, the Latinist and secretary of the Continental Congress, suggested that motto for the new nation’s Great Seal, he was proclaiming a new generation in the world, though not a secular order in the sense of “not religious” or worldly, but that’s where it seems we’re headed now, barring some very fancy footwork by Republicans and an outpouring of divine grace.

Brad Miner

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer).