In 1951, a Time magazine wit (probably a Harvard man) called the Yale motto, “For God, For Country, and For Yale” the outstanding anticlimax in the English language. Later that year, Yale graduate William F. Buckley, Jr., perhaps recognizing Time’s point, wrote, as the dedication of his first book, God and Man at Yale: “For God, For Country, and for Yale… in that order.”
Buckley’s point was that there is a hierarchy of beliefs: some are more important than others. That’s important to remember when deciding whether Donald Trump is or is not a conservative — a question that is raised mostly by conservatives who don’t like him.
Buckley raised a related point when he said that President George H. W. Bush was “conservative” but not “a conservative.”
And so we have to go back, or part-way back, to basics to determine who is a conservative and what it means to be conservative in the time of Trump.
But before we do, we can wallow in the distress of the progressive liberals who try (vainly) to tell us to be Burkean, by which they mean we should not make major changes to the Roosevelt-Johnson-Nixon-Obama nanny-state theory and practice of government, so well described in some lines by Hilaire Belloc: “Always keep a-hold of Nurse / For fear of finding something worse.”
For God: In Buckley’s mind, God and man’s relationship to him were primary — before foreign policy, before domestic policy. That might well disqualify Trump from being considered a conservative. Asked about his religion during the campaign, the man who made it safe again to say “Merry Christmas” said:
We I take, when we go, and church and when I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that’s a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed, OK? But, you know, to me that’s important, I do that, but in terms of officially, I could say, ‘Absolutely!’ and everybody, I don’t think in terms of that. I think in terms of, let’s go on and let’s make it right.
“You’re fired!” does not seem like an inappropriate first response to such an inarticulate formulation from the Tweeter-in-Chief, which must have the authors of the King James Version of the Bible still laughing their doublets off.
Doctrinaire Catholicism Trump’s statement is not. And yet… and yet it’s possible to coax out of his incoherence (1) an acknowledgment of the existence of a Supreme Being (higher even than the Supreme Court of the United States or the editorial board of the New York Times) (2) who has the power to forgive and (3) who may do just that if we ask (though Trump says he doesn’t), (4) which, realizing man’s constant proclivity to sin, it is necessary to do “as often as possible,” since (5) there is the obligation to make amends and (6) to live a better life by doing what’s right. By those standards, Trump is a believer.
But whether he is or isn’t, Evangelicals turned out for Trump in large numbers. And Catholics played an even more important role: their votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania caused those states to go Republican and win the election for Trump.
Why? Because Hillary Clinton, although she may identify as a Methodist, doesn’t believe what most Christians believe. At the 2015 Women in the World Summit she said, “… deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.” (And they call Trump an authoritarian!)
And in the third debate with Donald Trump, Clinton described the rights she wanted to be protected and expanded by the Supreme Court as “women’s rights,” the “right” to an abortion, and “the rights of the LGBT community.” That is, rights made by judges, not granted by the Constitution — or by God.
Not all conservatives believe in God (George Will says he’s an atheist), which means that belief in God may no longer be (if it ever was) a sine qua non for being considered a conservative. Perhaps today we must define a conservative only as someone who is not hostile to religion. That test Trump clearly passes. And given the hostility of the left to Christianity (from which the West was formed) manifested by the Democrats and especially their abortionist and LGBTQ brown-shirty supporters, a Trump win in November was essential if we were to have any hope of beating down Satan under our feet.
For Country: Do Trump’s plans for the country make him a conservative? That will always be difficult to get agreement on because if he proposed a hundred programs, no certified conservative would ever agree with all of them. However, his signature campaign program, building “The Wall” and reforming immigration policy (even if he’s prevented from accomplishing it), is clearly and fundamentally conservative: it takes the concept of “country” seriously. Indeed, on that point, Donald Trump is the most conservative president we have had in decades.
But his other programs, as mentioned in his speeches, also indicate a clear conservative bent: e.g., (in no specific order) appointing recognized conservatives to the Supreme Court (Neil Gorsuch); repealing Obamacare; promoting school choice; returning supervision of education to local communities; opposing abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood; simplifying taxes; and eliminating thousands of regulations while reforming the regulatory state (giving us back a government that is both limited and has only three branches). And let us not forget his personal, and exhilarating, scorched-earth war against the progressive liberal media and their zeitgeisty friends.
The details of his foreign policy strategy (Will he be too friendly to Russia? How much of the NATO burden should other countries bear?) may not please all conservatives. But there are few slogans or ideas more conservative than “America First,” pace the progressive liberal one-worldy Davos transnationals (the original transies) who have tried to smear the phrase as being anti-Semitic.
For Yale: Trump seems to care about local communities more than many traditional free-market conservatives have. Hardcore free-traders look at the macro numbers and conclude that free trade works. But it doesn’t always work for everyone, and maybe it never will without fixed exchange rates. Trump spoke to, and about, the needs of small towns and forgotten and marginalized communities. For them he will modify free trade. Is that conservative?
Which is more conservative: Letting truckloads of immigrants who will work for peanuts come into the country to pick veggies so coupon-clipping Berkshire Hathaway stockholders in J. McLaughlin dresses and Ermenegildo Zegna suits can have cheap garden salads at the club? Or paying higher wages to American workers who can then live better lives in their own subdivisions, ministering, themselves, to the unfortunate poor and oppressed in their own little platoons (to reference a part of Burke the progressive liberals don’t like)?
Different people will answer that question differently. But there can be no doubt that Trump cares about communities, the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love of our country and of mankind.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric is not Buckleyesque, and he’s probably never read God and Man at Yale. But neither, probably, had the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory, by whom, in spite of their own and almost certainly un-Buckleyesque rhetoric, Buckley, ah, said he’d rather be governed than, ah, by the two thousand people on the faculty of Harvard University.
The important question is not whether Trump is a conservative (he is certainly not a traditional conservative), but only whether he is conservative enough to solve, or attempt to solve, some of America’s problems. Assuming he keeps his promises and tries to accomplish some of what he said he wanted to — and given the meltdown of the progressive liberal chattering class, which is suffering from Acute Trump Derangement Syndrome (and providing much of the country with a tsunami of Schadenfreude) — the answer is clearly yes.
Email Daniel Oliver at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com