by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It is an awkward time for conservatives.
It’s not awkward on policy grounds — thus far, President Trump’s policies have matched the preferences of conservatives far more than most (including me) predicted. It’s awkward because those policies are being put into action by a man who sees nationalism as the core of his platform. And his version of nationalism has nothing to do with the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. …
… Trump’s definition of nationalism is not the conservative definition of nationalism. Conservatives love America because we believe it is a nation founded on an idea. Our interests ought to prevail because our principles ought to prevail: limited government, individual liberty, God-given natural rights, localism in politics, religious freedom, freedom of speech and of the press, and so forth. If America ceased to believe those things or stand for them, we would not deserve to win. “Make America Great Again” would then ring hollow with the same blood-and-soil nationalistic violence of the Old World. If greatness is measured in utilitarian terms rather than ideological ones, nationalism is merely tribalism broadened, a way of valuing the collective over the individual.
Trump’s vision of American greatness doesn’t lie in ideas. What does Trump believe makes America great? Success. “We don’t win anymore,” he constantly complained on the campaign trail. In other words, he feels about the country the same way he feels about himself, measuring its greatness in crowd sizes and airplane sizes, in the height of towers and the breadth of walls.
And herein lies the conflict for conservatives: How do we bridge the gap between Trumpism and conservatism?