There’s a fine Howard Pyle painting called The Nation Builders, which shows a bedraggled line of Patriot soldiers in the Revolutionary War, preparing to meet the enemy’s volley. You have the sense that many won’t survive, but for Pyle they were all nation builders.
My mind turns to the painting when conservative friends ask me whether I think Donald Trump will drop out of the race. Or when I read that a NeverTrumper urges the Republican Party to somehow take the nomination away from him. He won it fair and square in democratic primaries, but then the Republican Establishment never cared much about their base.
And I think: these aren’t people I’d want to see in a battle line with me, either in victory or defeat. It’s August. Polls don’t count yet. But it’s evidently not too early for them to wave the white flag.
They’ve been good at that. Remember 2012, and Romney’s fade? Or simply recall the sixteen other people on the stage with Trump a year ago, at the first debate. The NeverTrumper says that we’re throwing away the election with Trump. As if one of the other sixteen would be doing better. The lackluster Jeb Bush? The unamiable Ted Cruz? We’ve gone down that road before, and we know how it ends.
Faced with a Democratic candidate who is the most corrupt candidate for the presidency since Aaron Burr, the NeverTrumper prefers to attack the candidate of his own Party. They’re giving us new lessons in cravenness, in how to lose gracelessly.
The other day Trump came out with a tax plan that featured bigger tax cuts than any candidate has hitherto promised, a plan that would jump-start the economy. And what did National Review say about it? It found one instance where taxes on billionaires might rise, as a matter of economic justice, and that’s all that interested them.
A Hillary presidency would do more than cement the transformation that began with Obama in 2009. It would take it a stage further, taking power from the states to Washington, and within Washington to the White House. And from the White House we’d see judicial nominations, appointments and directives from which there’d be no going back. We’d see attacks on religious liberty, on business, on the police from a person who calls Republicans “the enemy.” We’ll see a progressive agenda embraced through and through and absolutely, with the IRS and every branch of the government enlisted against ideological foes. And yet we’re supposed to worry that billionaires might have to pay the same tax rates as their secretaries?
I have to hand it to the Left. Hillary might have sold out our foreign policy for personal profit, she might look as if she’s on the verge of physical collapse and only propped up for battle like the Cid, but I’ve not heard one suggestion from their side that she should drop out. How did it happen that they’ve bred courage and we pusillanimity?
Did we become so nice, so worried about what others might think, that nothing else mattered? Harvey Mansfield writes that Trump isn’t a gentleman. Coming from the author of Machiavelli’s Virtue, I wasn’t sure if that was meant as praise or blame. Quite possibly both. That’s how Straussians write, after all. But if it was blame, I don’t recall that shrinking from a fight was part of the code of gentlemanly behavior. There were a good many gentlemen who fought for the flag, or for King and Country, in times past. They fought joyously, they fought with the grim desperation of Pyle’s Nation Builders. But they didn’t give up. Had they done so, I’d have thought less of them, as gentlemen.
One doesn’t know how the battle will turn out. Neither did the Patriots in Pyle’s painting. I do know that it’s not a matter of life and death for us, as it was for them, which makes the desire to throw in the towel all the more timorous. What is needed is a little less niceness, a little more grit.
Perhaps the Republicans might also reflect on just what has happened to their Party, how its comfortable losers have been repudiated in the primaries. Whatever the result in November, there’ll be no going back to the 47 percent of takers from Mitt Romney and the American Enterprise Institute. We’ll not hear arguments that free trade in the abstract is always good, however it might affect the bottom 90 percent of us. The open borders crowd is going to have to go elsewhere for a Party. We’ll not be listening to the Milquetoasts who tell us that mediocrity is the new normal. We’ll be nation building, all right. But only in America.
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