Liberals despise Trump because of his perceived intent, despite his realized outcomes. There can be no other explanation for leftists’ inveterate rejection of accomplishments they would have lauded had they been Obama’s. Liberals’ reaction goes beyond being a partisan filter; it suggests that current liberalism is a secular religion.
Every president reshapes his party. Reagan’s party was neither Bush I’s nor Bush II’s; Carter’s party was neither Clinton’s nor Obama’s. Trump’s reshaping of the Republican party is nothing new; his reshaping of conservatism, however, is.
Much of Trump’s alteration of conservatism is in a populist direction. Populism has a history on the right, but it has an even stronger one on the left.
As a result, some of Trump’s policies have formerly had prominent places on the Left’s agenda — notably in immigration and trade. Equally, liberals should welcome some of Trump’s accomplishments — notably economic growth and military restraint. Yet regardless of their past subjective acceptance of particular policies or the objective success of certain outcomes, liberals have unequivocally rejected Trump’s accomplishments.
The Left should be experiencing some cognitive dissonance here that, if not giving them pause, would at least give Trump a pass in these areas. If anything, though, liberals appear to be working even harder to discredit Trump in these areas than they do generally.
It is enticing to attribute the Left’s behavior to hypocrisy. But this would be a mistake that substitutes a simple answer for a more profound truth. Liberals’ inveterate opposition to what should be shared similarities and priorities lies in the fact that modern liberalism is the Left’s secular religion. Simply put, for them, Trump is a heretic and, as with any heresy, the faithful’s animosity runs deepest not where similarity is least, but where it is greatest.
The Left has a history of opposing immigration. The roots of this opposition lie in the Left’s attachment to organized labor (unions) or in seeking to organize it (the proletariat). The Left has seen immigrants as threatening both groups.
In the American context, unions must constrict the supply of labor to succeed in driving up demand. They do so by unionizing workers and requiring those employing such workers to negotiate with them. This allows them to obtain higher wages for their members in the constricted labor market.
The Left has accepted the same approach more broadly, on a societal level. Immigrants increase the labor supply, in turn decreasing wages.
Trump’s stance on unchecked illegal immigration — a subset of the Left’s past positions — is historically nothing new to the Left. Only today’s opposition to it is.
The same liberal divergence between its past and current stance is also true when it comes to Trump and trade. At best, Trump is a skeptic of America’s past trade policy, in which impact was measured only in foreign imports’ cost, not in their broader effects. The Left has long been more than simply skeptical.
Again, the same dynamic prevailed in the Left’s mindset. Increasing the supply of goods — particularly at lower cost — drove down demand for workers producing such goods domestically. Trump’s position on trade — and his notably friendly position on union workers here — are far closer to the former positions of the Left. But yet again the Left has taken him to task for his approach.
Even on Trump’s favorable outcomes — not just pursued policies but also realized accomplishments — the Left has not relented.
The economy is strong and stronger than it has been in years. Unemployment is down, and economic growth, labor force participation, and wages are up. Still, liberals search for the dark cloud within this silver lining. Militarily, few presidents have been more restrained in their use of force — to the point many neutral observers have been concerned Trump is too eager to disengage.
The Left, with its claimed attachment to workers and its seemingly clear aversion to all American military action, could be expected to find no logical fault here. Once again, the Left has been as strident in its criticism of Trump’s economic performance as it has been silent on his military restraint.
If commendation is too much to be expected from the Left, cognitive dissonance is not. Confronted with policies that have, and in many cases still do, reside or resonate with liberals and with outcomes that in any other circumstances they would have to admit are clearly positive, they should be at least display some hesitation — a difficulty in processing condemnation over commendation. The Left has shown no such pauses.
The reason for the Left’s opposition and its lack of cognitive dissonance in doing so goes beyond mere political opportunism. It is real, not simply feigned. If it seems to take on the semblance of a religious fervor, it is because that is precisely what it is: The religion of modern liberalism.
Liberals see Trump’s intent as not just different from theirs but also diametrically opposed to it. They therefore are able instantly to dismiss acceptable outcomes as unacceptable. To understand the critically important role intent plays for liberals here, it is necessary to understand it in a wholly nonpolitical context.
Almost two millennia ago, St. Paul distinguished between this world’s judgment of outcomes and that of “God who judges our hearts.” In relation to God, intent was everything. It makes complete sense. Humanity is God’s creation, and the creation cannot ever equal the Creator.
As a result, humanity’s efforts must always fall short if judged by outcomes alone. Humanity’s only hope in our relationship to God is that our faltering efforts be judged on intentions, not results. The only true transgression, or sin, in religion is therefore that of our intention.
So it is with liberals’ view of Trump. They judge him not by his policies or even his outcomes; instead, they judge him on their perception of his intent versus that of their modern liberal belief system. As such, Trump can never win with liberals, and they need not hesitate in condemning his actions — regardless of favorable results.
To liberals, Trump is not simply a sinner. He is nothing short of a heretic. It is in the very similarities and successes that — as with all heretics — he antagonizes the liberal faithful the most. As a result, it is not simply a metaphor to say that Trump does not have a prayer with America’s Left.