Published January 22, 2016
This piece is part of a symposium appearing in a special issue of National Review. Click here to read EPPC Senior Fellow Mona Charen’s contribution to the symposium.
Donald Trump is no conservative. That’s not a crime, it’s just a reason to vote against him. Many fine people are not conservatives. But the reason Trump’s candidacy should worry the Right runs much deeper than that: He poses a direct challenge to conservatism, because he embodies the empty promise of managerial leadership outside of politics.
Trump’s diagnoses of our key problems — first and foremost, that America’s elites are weak and unwilling to put the interests of Americans first — have gained him a hearing from many on the right. But when he gestures toward prescriptions, Trump reveals that even his diagnoses are not as sound as they might seem.
Conservatives incline to take the weakness of our elite institutions as an argument for recovering constitutional principles — and so for limiting the power of those institutions, reversing their centralization of authority, and recovering a vision of American life in which the chief purpose of the federal government is protective and not managerial.
Trump, on the contrary, offers himself as the alternative to our weak and foolish leaders, the guarantee of American superiority, and the cure for all that ails our society; and when pressed about how he will succeed in these ways, his answer pretty much amounts to: “great management.”
The appeal of Trump’s diagnoses should be instructive to conservatives. But the shallow narcissism of his prescriptions is a warning. American conservatism is an inherently skeptical political outlook. It assumes that no one can be fully trusted with public power and that self-government in a free society demands that we reject the siren song of politics-as-management.
A shortage of such skepticism is how we ended up with the problems Trump so bluntly laments. Repeating that mistake is no way to solve these problems. To address them, we need to begin by rejecting what Trump stands for, as much as what he stands against.
— Yuval Levin, a contributing editor of National Review, is the editor of National Affairs.