Pre-Mortem of the Post-Mortem

It seems now is a good time to weigh in even though the election’s outcome is still unknown — mainly because I will be in no condition to write anything coherent once the outcome is known, whichever way it goes.

The day after Romney’s loss in 2012 I wrote the following:

Over the coming weeks and months conservatives will engage in a lot of soul searching.  Let the recriminations commence!  But underneath the Monday-morning quarterbacking and general wishful thinking (“If only Chris Christie and Marco Rubio had run!”), the fundamental problem will remain.  The electorate has changed, and by 2016 will have changed some more.

I think I was right about the electorate changing, but wrong about the recriminations and soul-searching — they never commenced with sufficient intensity!  Instead, Conservatism Inc. convinced itself that its trusted playbook and its unblemished record of failure were right as rain, and the sunlit uplands of 2016 were only a day away.

Trump has upended that and so much else.  So just maybe, regardless of the outcome today, the recriminations and soul searching this time around will be more exhaustive and perhaps a bit vicious.  Good.  It’s overdue.

If the GOP is to have any chance in 2020 it will have to be with a platform that speaks to the Trumpian agenda and its acknowledgement of the legitimate complaints of middle and lower income whites.  However, it is important it does so in a way that makes clear to blacks, Hispanics, Asians – everybody — that we are all in this together, and they have just as much to benefit from such an agenda.  Rod Dreher has similar thoughts.

The three pillars of such an agenda are immigration, trade and foreign policy.

Immigration

Conservatism Inc. and the GOP need to get serious about drastically limiting low-skilled and illegal immigration.  I know, I know, they claim to have been against both all along.  But that pose has become untenable with the rise of Trump, which is precisely the reason they hate him so.

Conservatism Inc.:  Of course we are opposed to illegal immigration.

Trump:  Good.  Me too.  Let’s do something about it.

Conservatism Inc.:  Racissssttttt!!!

Drastically reducing illegal and low-skilled immigration is eminently defensible on any number of grounds, the most salient of which is that doing so will disproportionately benefit low-come blacks and Hispanics because they disproportionately compete against those immigrants for jobs.  Which is to say, Conservatism Inc.’s cheap smear that only racists want to reduce illegal and low-skill immigration is a complete inversion of reality.

(As an aside, it so happens that while I am a fat-cat member of the One Percent now, I spent ten years working as a laborer and carpenter on construction sites in South Florida before I could put myself through law school.  I was frequently the only white guy on a crew, and sometimes the only U.S. citizen (back in the days when the illegals in Miami were mainly from Haiti and Jamaica).  My co-workers – white and non-white alike — understood perfectly well that illegal immigration was a weapon their employers wielded against them to depress their wages by constantly importing ever more desperate people to work harder and cheaper.  Conservatives who tell themselves that immigration restriction is a turn-off for middle class and low-income minorities are deluding themselves.)

Free Trade

Conservatives should not let their embrace of free market principles morph into uncritical support for “free trade,” whatever that meaningless phrase might mean in a particular instance.  Rather, free trade ought to be put to the same test as other policies.  Namely, do its benefits outweigh all its costs, as best we can measure them?  Stated another way, the fact that free trade is good for economic growth should not be considered dispositive, the end of the inquiry.  It may well be that the few basis points of growth it produces are not worth the cultural, social and human costs it entails.

As is the case with immigration, conservatives should not be wary of looking into how free trade promotes inequality.  If free trade costs the middle and lower classes one trillion dollars, but puts one trillion plus one dollars into the hands of the One Percent, does that mean it’s a net positive and thus fine and dandy?  Is conservatism OK with this outcome?  I understand that protectionism in any form is an uneasy fit with conservatism, but if maintaining ideological orthodoxy means no compassion for Americans harmed by free trade, then the orthodoxy has to go.

Foreign Policy

As ever, foreign policy will be dictated by events.  I don’t understand the critique that viewing events through a more cautious, less interventionist foreign policy is somehow inconsistent with a strong national defense.  (For those keeping score at home, the Iraq and Afghan Wars are not widely acclaimed as brilliant successes.)  Nor do I see how asking allies to contribute more for their own defense, or avoiding avoidable wars, or steering clear of idealistic nation-building exercises, is somehow a breach with conservative precedent.  For better or worse, the public believes that our recent military interventions have been extraordinarily costly in blood and treasure, have been conducted under constraints that virtually ensure their failure, and across the Middle East have more or less produced the opposite of their intended effects – and they are not wrong in that assessment.

Each of these three proposals is the moral thing to do, the politically popular thing to do, and is entirely consistent with conservative principles as classically understood (i.e., prior to their revision by the Chamber of Commerce the day after Trump won the nomination).  But the restrictions on free trade and immigration are anathema to the donors who prop up the vanity magazines and underwrite the think-tank sinecures of Conservatism Inc.  You can therefore expect them to scream bloody murder that such an agenda is 100% pure distilled evil.  Hopefully they’ll be shouting that from the comfy chairs at their new Open Borders-Donor Class party HQ.

About Conrad

Conrad O'Connor is the nom de web of a tax lawyer working in Atlanta, Georgia.
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