No. Conservatives should not stand with Donald Trump. In fact, Trump’s presidency and the wave of right-wing populism that has come with it is an insult to the tradition of conservatism.
Like many, I was surprised when Donald Trump won the Republican Primary in 2016. Never did I imagine such a man could lead the free world, especially in the name of a party which largely appeals to conservative voters. And unsurprisingly, in more ways than not, the presidency of Donald Trump has been antithetical to the core of conservatism.
Burkean ideals of small government, constitutional protections and due process have been undermined by chaotic executive overreach and a childish protest toward the transfer of power to the incoming President Joe Biden.
Roger Scruton, the great modern Conservative philosopher once said, “Conservatism starts from a sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created”. This is plainly true for our social institutions, steeped in centuries worth of tradition and heritage.
Conservatism is based on these traditions, rooted in the customs of the constitution. The very same institutions and customs which make us a civil society, not human animals.
Yet over the past 3 months, President Trump has acted in complete contrary to these ideals. By undermining the vote of the American people, immaturely clinging to conspiracies of ‘election theft’ and enacting clear executive overreach onto the Supreme Court to “Stop the Steal” – Trump erodes the very idea upon which conservatism is based on. Democracy.
Our society’s functioning mechanism relies on liberty, founded on personal responsibility and a respect for others and due process. It’s about accepting that sometimes, things don’t go to plan. Yet as Trump has made clear on countless occasions, he is prepared to abandon any of this duty as the ‘leader of the free world’ in pursuit of his own ego.
But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just a theme of the past 3 months – it’s been an underlying tone of Trump’s entire presidency.
Take one of the key issues Trump campaigned on in 2016 – the need to protect American jobs, specifically in industries where the country was becoming more and more uncompetitive.
In one of conservatism’s founding documents, “The Wealth of Nations”, Scottish Economist Adam Smith argued that protecting dying industries with trade barriers will hurt a country in the long term. In fact, he argued, protectionism would simply create an unproductive economy that would fall behind globally under surging competition.
Yet Trump’s protectionist policies seem more like those of 20th century socialist governments, insulated degenerating sectors from competition and bringing in economic stagnation.
Would Trump have followed a conservative approach to revitalising the American economy, his presidency would’ve focused on embracing the strengths of the rapidly growing Asian continent. Instead of trying to revive dying manufacturing industries, he would have bolstered America’s clear comparative advantage in being a global leader in technological innovation and high-quality services – targeting Asia’s rising middle class to fortify his nation’s economy.
Edmund Burke once noted that conservatism rests upon the assumption that society consists of the “partnership of the dead, the living and the unborn”. Naturally, this leads into a conservative obligation to care and protect the environment as stewards. Conservation is inherently a conservative principle.
As Roger Scruton once wrote, “To be a conservative is to value the cultural and political traditions we have inherited from the past, to hold them in trust, and to pass them along undiminished to our descendants. To be a conservationist is to value our ecological heritage and to pass it along undiminished to our descendants. By this telling, environmentalism ought not to have a leftish slant at all.”
Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, has manifested these conservative ideals over the past 12 months, utilising the COVID-19 crisis to catalyse a “green recovery”. His ’10-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ provides many initiatives to innovate cutting-edge technologies needed to reach new energy ambitions including carbon capturing, electric vehicles and hydrogen production. Clearly, Johnson recognises that conservation continues to be a pillar in Conservative policy moving forward.
Trump, on the other hand, swiftly left the Paris Agreement in 2017 as one of his first major acts as President – claiming it would needlessly, “undermine [the US] economy”. He also criticised and substantially cut the United States’ commitment to the Green Climate Fund, an international framework devised to assist developing countries adapt to climate change and greener economic practices. Quite simply, Trump’s presidency has not shown a skerrick of concern for the preservation of our environment.
To lump all people with political leanings right of centre is a clear mistake. Conservative philosophy champions constitutional protections and small government. Trump displays executive overreach in overturning the democratic vote. Conservative philosophy champions competition and free trade. Trump champions narrow-minded protectionism and restrictive trade policies. Conservative philosophy champions the preservation and beauty of the environment. Trump recklessly forgoes any responsibility to care for future generations with his reluctance to commit to any kind of Environmental policy. Trump is simply not a conservative.
Rohan Bhatia is the Vice President of the Sydney University Conservative Club