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My fellow Americans:
It hasn’t been a good week for relations between us, has it? Make that more like a month. I’d like to dial the temperature down a bit and take a look at where, and who, we are. You have every reason to be frustrated and angry with our current politics. Only on occasion do our leaders do something useful; only slightly more often do they stop something terrible. But screaming that we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore — while cathartic — doesn’t take anyone anywhere.
The establishment side of this discussion hasn’t always covered itself in glory. Senator McCain should not have referred to Trump’s supporters as “crazies” and then tried to pass it off as the normal rough-and-tumble of politics. It was wrong, and he should have said so.
The problems with this back-and-forth are fourfold:
1. Good, patriotic citizens are talking or yelling past one another, not to each other. Here on Ricochet, we’ve had some interchanges that, quite frankly, reflect poorly on us. Arthur Brooks is right: Obama has helped to create a mirror image in us, his opposition. He has governed with such cynicism, division, and contempt that we have felt free to respond in kind. That habit is hard to break. We can easily tell everyone what is wrong with our current situation; we feel smacked in the face every time the president opens his mouth. Describing the problem is an essential part of the solution, but it’s just the beginning.
2. Although I don’t know for sure, we probably agree on principle much more than we disagree about the issue that Trump supporters say animates their outrage: immigration. The most pro-immigration among us (I might count myself in this group) are outraged that the President thinks he can violate the Constitution and federal law at will under the guise of “prosecutorial discretion.” We abhor the way illegal immigration undermines the rule of law. We mourn the way mulitculturalism undermines the notion of e pluribus unum, and facilitates the divisive interest group politics that FDR initiated and Obama perfected. We want people who live in America to be Americans, not “dwellers of a polyglot boarding house,” as Teddy Roosevelt put it.
The most restrictive of us don’t want mass arrests; they aren’t nativists or racists; they believe anyone can come from anywhere to America and truly embrace not just our economy but our culture; they want what immigrants want, for all our children to have a better life than we have had. They want each of us to fulfil our God-given potential and make our country better.
The problem is we talk at each other as adversaries, not friends. Pro-immigration Republicans want to erase the border and don’t care if the country is transformed demographically. Restrictionist Republicans hate foreigners and want to turn the clock back to 1870. Neither caricature is true, and both are deeply destructive. Yet if we just sit here and yell at one another, this is the impression that the country will remember, which brings us to our third problem.
3. We need every vote we can get. Every single one. As Dr. Brooks correctly observes, people won’t to vote for you if they think you don’t want them on your team. I can’t call someone an idiot one moment and in the next expect them to check the space next to my name. We can’t expect people to vote our way if we haven’t even asked them to do so, in their neighborhood, in the world they inhabit. Rick Perry’s advice — and some of the things Rand Paul have said — have been more helpful on this score. We can change the perception people have of the party by asking for votes in places where we have no chance of winning a majority. We don’t have to win a majority of the black vote to win; we need to persuade those people that are willing to listen to us, but haven’t heard from us for a while. We need to show people that conservative principles apply to everybody, from the inner city to the gated community.
Canadian Conservatives can also be a model for us this way. They did not form three consecutive governments by maximizing the number of Calgarians who voted for them, but by actively campaigning in ethnic minority neighborhoods in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and other cities. They won the so-called ethnic vote. Visible minorities in Canada are the entrepreneurs, the social conservatives, the professionals. Sound familiar? There is no reason why American conservatives cannot win a much larger percentage of non-Anglo voters, unless we talk and act as if we don’t want them on our team.
We need to stop demonizing people who support Donald Trump. These are patriotic Americans whose frustration has too often not found a voice in Washington. In case anyone has forgotten, Ross Perot went a long way toward denying Bush 41 a second term, and gave us eight years of Bill Clinton (and the precursor of a President Herself). Perot was crazy; his supporters weren’t. The recent debate and its aftermath may have alienated some of Trump’s supporters, but a lot of people like the idea of Trump sticking a thumb in the eye of the GOP establishment. That frustration is real and legitimate. We need to hear, and respond to, what they have to say. This calls for patient persuasion, not snark. This brings us to problem number four.
4. Donald Trump is not a worthy vehicle for your frustration. I don’t need to go through the litany of characteristics that make him singularly unsuited to be President, but I’ll mention one. Anyone whose first instinct is to call someone stupid or living in a fantasy world, or to whine about difficult questions, shouldn’t be anywhere near the nuclear launch codes. The world isn’t reality TV. The election process chooses the next leader of the free world. There are other candidates who can more legitimately express your disdain for the GOP establishment — Cruz, Rand Paul on his better days, Carly Fiorina (my personal choice) — without exacerbating divisions within the conservative movement.
We need to beat Hillary in 2016. We will do so only if we work together and add to our numbers, while dividing our opposition. Let’s have a vigorous clash of ideas, then come together and win the country — both in our culture and at the ballot box.
Thanks for listening.