The pitfalls of weighing Trump’s actions one at a time and hoping thereby to arrive at a judicious assessment.
In recent months, a consensus has emerged among the conservative dissidents of the Trump era: We’ll continue to oppose the president when his policies and practices are counter to our principles, they say, but also be sure to publicly give credit whenever he stakes out an agreeable position on any issue that matters. During the campaign, obdurate opposition served the purpose of challenging his candidacy and elevating his competitors, but now, with Trump sitting in the Oval Office, the thinking goes, it smacks of sour grapes—and, given that he does do things with which we agree, it amounts to cutting off our noses to spite our faces. So, serve as the loyal opposition as necessary but join the cause when possible.
It is a coherent approach. It is the pragmatic one. But it is unsatisfying and unsettling. And with each casual lie, crude insult, attack on the media, slight of the intelligence community, and example of grotesque servility to Russia’s dictator, it increasingly appears morally misguided.
The first problem with itemizing and compartmentalizing is that actions can’t be treated as discrete. In politics, they are the direct result of a system’s arrangements and a leader’s philosophy. They reflect the larger enterprise. We deceive ourselves by separating quiet streets from the oppressive police state that brought them about. We shouldn’t laud an initiative to aid the impoverished if it’s part of a Rawlsian undertaking that continuously impinges on liberty. Support for modernizing an outdated social convention is irresponsible if the larger agenda aims to replace all traditions with state-controlled institutions. In other words, we have to be mindful of a position’s pedigree and its role in a broader program. If President Trump has a modus operandi, it is the control, manipulation, and distortion of information: hiding his tax returns, meeting with Putin alone, firing the FBI director investigating him, lying habitually, undermining the media, pitting staff against each other. We are being purposely obtuse if we don’t assess his executive actions in this context. Our constant need to cordon off specific Trump actions from others is a red flag waving in the wind.https://www.weeklystandard.com/andy-smarick/the-moral-ledger