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Josh Hammer / January 8, 2021

If Trump Cares About the Movement He Helped Build, He Should Now Go Away

The 45th president largely failed to leave a constructive, substantive, forward-looking conservative agenda in his wake.

The ignominious events in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, Jan. 6 will not soon be forgotten. Images of an enraged mob overpowering police and breaching the walls of the U.S. Capitol, the West’s preeminent citadel of republican self-governance, will hinder Americans’ already cratering faith in their government’s institutional integrity and tarnish their belief in American exceptionalism. These are the sort of sordid deeds, and the sort of searing images, that one normally associates with malefactors in a developing nation or a banana republic — not what Abraham Lincoln once called the “last best hope of earth.”

Hypocrisy, of course, abounds. It is more than a little rich for partisan Democrats and their sycophantic media mouthpieces to only now condemn anarchic mayhem and the wanton destruction of private and public property, following their systemic refusal to do so amid last summer’s harrowing, monthslong antifa/Black Lives Matter riotous rampage across the nation’s urban corridors. As for the “health professional” charlatans who once argued against restricting the “mostly peaceful” protests in the name of the greater “public health crisis” of “systemic racism,” they are now nowhere to be found during an actual crisis of national political health, wherein recent polling suggests nearly 40% of Americans doubt the legitimacy of the recent presidential election.

But that hypocrisy, galling and lacking in self-awareness as it may be, still must not obscure the moment’s imperative. And that takes us to President Donald Trump, the Republican Party and the state of American conservatism.

The election of Trump in 2016 was a well-deserved wrecking ball to the cobwebbed pieties of Conservatism Inc. and the dripping disdain with which the GOP’s libertarian-oriented donor class deigned to look at its more populist voting base. Only Trump, the exotic and iconoclastic real estate magnate who rose to prominence wholly outside Conservatism Inc.‘s formative institutions, was able to break through the staleness and more authentically stand with Republican voters on issues such as immigration, trade and foreign policy.

But while the Trump phenomenon was a salutary earthquake, forcing conservatives to retire their bromides and reconsider the difference between timeless principles and prudential policies, the 45th president largely failed to leave a constructive, substantive, forward-looking conservative agenda in his wake. This is hardly Trump’s fault; far too many administration officials and GOP poohbahs remained wedded to the dead consensus, and in any event, it is hardly incumbent upon a commander in chief to play the role of egghead policy wonk.

Fortunately, there now exists a sprawling network of intellectual and media institutions dedicated to fleshing out this “new right” agenda — one that is more prudential and less wedded to abstract dogmatism; more overtly communitarian and protective of religion; and more focused on national health and the common good over the excessive economic and cultural deregulation that are hallmarks of post-World War II neoliberalism. I would know because I am a part of this movement. And in light of the past week, especially the loss of two eminently winnable Senate races in Georgia and the shameful manner in which Trump conducted himself during Wednesday’s seditious Capitol storming, it is imperative for our nascent movement’s prospects that President Trump go away after Jan. 20.

He is highly unlikely to do so, of course. The flip side of Trump’s irreverence and indifference toward established norms, which helped make him the perfect political disrupter, is his turgid ego and need to, at all times, be the center of attention. But that ego, which long manifested itself in anodyne Twitter rants, has now come at a real cost.

This peculiar election featured myriad irregularities and was blighted by the proliferation of inherently destabilizing mail-in balloting, but it is highly unlikely that there was enough fraud to alter the Electoral College margin. The president’s insistence to the contrary over the past two months undoubtedly helped sink Georgia Republicans — disastrously handing over the Senate to Democrats — and his deeply irresponsible decision to inflame rally-goers on Wednesday may have provided rhetorical cover for Capitol trespassers. The fact this was done under a “Make America Great Again” veneer could well poison new-right/common-good-conservatism efforts to evangelize and build out something meaningful and substantive.

Donald Trump the wrecking ball was much-needed — and tremendously successful. But it is time for conservatives, who will spend the next four years in exile, to cultivate a constructive governing agenda out of this now-toxified rubble. It is no small irony that our imperative to do the latter demands that Trump now get out of the way and let us finish his work.

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