Thanks in part to Bill Bennett, the knives have come out for Never Trump conservatives. It’s personal now. Gone is the always-fantastical claim that we would hand the election to Hillary, replaced with the notion that we’re simply exhibiting a “terrible case of moral superiority” and putting “our own vanity and taste above the interests of the country.”
Echoing Bennett, the Huffington Post interviewed a number of “establishment” figures who’ve thrown in with Trump, and their words about anti-Trump holdouts are scathing. It’s “slick moral preening,” said one anonymous critic. “These are mostly self-serving political hacks,” said another. We have a “desperate need to be accepted in the liberals’ putative morally superior universe.”
Look, this was bound to get ugly. It’s been ugly for a long time. Because Trump represents such a radical departure from decades of Republican leadership, the choice to support him involves a host of moral compromises that are atypical for a Republican primary, much less the general election. And since most of us in the conservative movement scorn notions of moral relativism, we’re simply not going to be content with reasoning that says, “My choice is right for me; your choice is right for you.”
But this isn’t “moral preening.” It’s moral argument. It comes not from a place of “moral superiority” but from a deep anguish, especially as concerns the fate of Trump’s alleged base, the struggling working-class and middle-class voters who so need positive change.
As I’ve written many times before, I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, not far from the communities J. D. Vance describes in his remarkable book, Hillbilly Elegy. My wife’s family is from the mountains outside of Chattanooga, Tenn. When I talk about this segment of Trump voters, I’m talking about people I’ve lived around and worked with almost my entire life.
I’ve seen the unraveling of communities, the rise of substance abuse, and the splintering of families first-hand. I’ve watched it happen to friends. Working with church ministries, my wife and I spent years of our lives laboring mightily to reach some of the most vulnerable kids in our town.
As a result of my own life experiences, I’ve emerged with a number of deep convictions. First, the crisis afflicting working-class communities goes far, far beyond politics, so the more we sell a political solution to a spiritual crisis, the more we sell a lie. Second, these problems aren’t always near-term artifacts of closed factories and mills, but instead — especially in the South — often reflect cultural habits that have developed over centuries. Third, the last thing these communities need is more family instability, more drug abuse, more sexual libertinism, and less church.
What’s staggering, infuriating, and ultimately upsetting, then, is watching Donald Trump stride into their lives, and — helped considerably by billions in free media and a spineless GOP establishment — capture their hearts and minds with lies and outright nonsense. Like the snake-oil salesmen of years past, he promises the cure as he exacerbates the disease. There are few things in life more frustrating than watching your friends become victims before your very eyes and being powerless to stop it.