Any number of pieces have been appearing over the weekend listing the many accomplishments of the current administration in its first year. Some of those articles are calling, based on the list, for an end to #NeverTrumpism. The list is rather impressive and in the realm of policy achievements my nomination for top of the list goes to the decimation of ISIS and what appears to be an impending anti-Islamic government revolution in Iran. In the later case, there is much work to be done, the deaths are tragic and we may well reach a juncture where material as well as moral support is required, but an end to this regime in Iran dries up the funding of a lot of terror around the world. We should all be watching carefully and praying intensely.
But I think the lists are missing what may be President Trump’s greatest legacy when the history is finally settled I will make my case beginning with a tweet from James Taranto that concludes, “… NeverTrump is about taste far more than policy.” If Taranto is right, and I think he is, then it means that #NeverTrump is a cultural phenomena, not a political or policy one. On the host’s TV show this past Saturday, Tim Alberta observed that outside of the DC bubble, when you ask people what matters most right now, they talk about all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the federal government.
Put these observations together and one could conclude that this presidency has successfully reduced the role of government as a maker of culture and on the long term, that is a very good thing indeed. Moreover, it is something about which the NeverTrumpers should rejoice.
The coupling of government and culture has been going on for a long time. It started in the courts. Decisions like Roe v Wade and Obergefell are in fact the courts trying to settle issues better settled in the court of public opinion, as difficult as it might be for the nation to go through such cultural battles. It has also been happening in regulation. The great social issue in Obamacare, forcing religious institutions to provide insurance for procedures to which they morally object, is the regulators attempting to establish the culture. In some cases the court has undone such regulatory overreach, but the regulators keep trying.
But the coupling of government and culture reached a fever pitch during the Obama administration as Obama was viewed almost more as cultural icon than president. In many circles Barack Obama is viewed with the sort of veneration typically reserved for the saints. That administration was viewed, certainly by the Left and often by the press, with a religious, even mystical, level of awe. The aura of religiosity associated with devotees of the Obama administration made that administration a cultural force far, far in excess of the intentions of the Founders.
The coupling of government and culture has left our other culture forming institutions either greatly weakened (religious institutions) or simply compromised (educational institutions). The decoupling of government and culture, that seems to be proceeding at a very brisk pace during the Trump administration, creates a window of opportunity for these other institutions to reassert themselves. Unfortunately, given the weakened and compromised states of those institutions they are unlikely to be able to assert themselves as cultural influencers as rapidly as government is retreating. Which means we will have to endure a period of cultural chaos, but then great change is generally a chaotic thing.
Whatever cultural objections #NeverTrumpers may have to the president, he is also creating the circumstances under which culture and government no longer go hand-in-hand. This creates an opportunity for the culture to be improved regardless of what is happening in the DC bubble – an opportunity that has been very hard to come by in recent years. In other words, #NeverTrumpers are getting what they want even while they object to the president.
There is no question our culture needs a lot of improvement. I think we are better served taking advantage of the opportunities presented to us than we are complaining about how we got those opportunities. If we do so, the presentation of those opportunities may well prove to be Donald Trump’s greatest legacy.