by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Open support for socialism and for policies that resemble fascism ought to concern anyone interested in limited government. Rachel Lu writes for the Federalist about ways to steer the debate back to government’s proper scope.
Trumpism shows us the dangers of living in the past. The general principles of conservatism remain as applicable as ever, but we need to do a better job of updating our vision and message in response to changing tides. When large numbers of people feel left behind, there is always more danger of civic unrest. Trump voters do feel left behind. In their perception, the economy and the culture have simply moved on without them. …
… In fact there are problems with the mid-century social contract. But it’s one thing to recognize that the standing social contract is problematic, and quite another to cancel it peremptorily. Most Americans seem to feel these state actions are, at least to a great extent, legitimate. They are legitimized by a tradition and existing social understanding that was negotiated in good faith by previous generations. From that perspective, it’s the diehard small-statists who look like the lawless ones, unwilling to respect the significance of custom and tradition.
It’s a difficult conundrum. Conservatives are right that our present social arrangement is unsustainable. Great Society reforms are contributing to the social breakdown that is a major cause of unrest. Elderly entitlements can’t be continued into the indefinite future, especially given current birth rates. Nevertheless, these have become fixtures of our culture and tradition (as most Americans conceive of it), so we can’t just cancel them. Some kind of social re-negotiation will be needed. But how is that possible when the country is so deeply divided?
If there is an answer to this puzzle, it will need to lie in something more transitional than most committed, small-government conservatives would ideally prefer. Our goal, moving forward, should be to develop that kind of transitional agenda: one that pays its respects to the mid-century social contract, while easing us forward towards a more harmoniously diverse society, in which Americans expect less from their federal government and look more to their families, communities, and more-local governing bodies.
In our present electoral landscape, the candidate who has come closest to identifying such an agenda is Rubio. Where Cruz’s rhetoric is more heavily laden with resentment and nostalgia politics, Rubio has for some time been talking about the hollowing out of the middle class, the need for more cultural and economic dynamism, and the importance of mediating institutions (especially the family). He surrounds himself by cutting-edge policy advisors who are discussing these issues. He actually listens to what they say.