Trump and Intellectualism

Posted: Nov 05, 2016 12:01 AM
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Trump and Intellectualism

In a recent interview, conservative personality Ben Shapiro slammed Trump for – among other things – lacking a firm intellectual basis for his beliefs.  “Trump’s nationalism isn’t rooted in American philosophy,” he said. “It’s more of a gut-level kind of patriotism.”

I agree.  But so what?  What’s wrong with “gut-level” patriotism?  Most American soldiers who fight and die for this country are motivated by “gut-level” patriotism.

And it’s this kind of patriotism that animates most Republican voters as well.  Their vote is instinctual, not intellectual.  They want less government regulation, not because they believe it philosophically illegitimate, but because they consider it a pain in the neck.  They favor lower taxes, not because they understand trickle-down economics, but because they like keeping the money they earn.  They want to crush ISIS, not because they necessarily appreciate the ideological threat of radical Islam but because they grew up knowing that if someone punches you, you punch back twice as hard.

Do we really wish to write these voters out of the conservative camp?  Is it now our position that only intellectuals – not taxi drivers – are welcome?

Moreover, intellectualism itself is a mixed bag.  There’s a reason, after all, why William Buckley famously said he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard University.  It’s because common sense and innate morality often steer people better than intellectualism.  Jean Jacques Rousseau well-encapsulated the dangers of intellectualism when he wrote that

A murder may with impunity be committed under [a philosopher’s] window; he has only to put his hands to his ears and argue a little with himself to prevent nature, which is shocked within him, from identifying itself with the unfortunate sufferer.  Uncivilized man has not this admirable talent and, for want of reason and wisdom, is always foolishly ready to obey the first promptings of humanity.  It is the populace that flocks together at riots and street brawls while the wise man prudently makes off.  It is the mob and the market women who part the combatants and hinder gentle folks from cutting one another’s throats.

Intellectualism has its place.  I personally love the ideology that undergirds our country and find the Declaration of Independence’s first few sentences, and the political philosophy it represents, inordinately inspiring.  I also wish public schools taught children the philosophical basis of our form of government and the difference between legitimate and illegitimate power.

But should expertise in the writings of John Locke or Milton Friedman be a sine qua non for supporting a Republican nominee?  Did Bush, McCain, or Romney possess such expertise?  And isn’t it rather foolish to write people out of our movement who share our beliefs for the “wrong” reasons.

Moreover, Trump’s “gut-level” patriotism, along with his neophyte political status, might actually work to the benefit of the conservative agenda.  As a New York Times reporter recently wrote, “[G]etting in on the ground floor of a Trump administration that is short on policy ideas and disdainful of old Washington hands amounts to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity [for conservatives].”  I couldn’t agree more.

Trump, we shouldn’t forget, is also a “people person.”  He listens to those he trusts.  And right now his closest allies – allies with whom he has aligned to a far greater degree than did previous Republican nominees – are groups like the NRA and conservative heroes like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Larry Elder, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani.  Grassroots conservatives have arguably never had greater access to a Republican presidential candidate.  And never have they had an opportunity to work with someone so open to new ideas and so willing to buck the establishment – both Democrat and Republican.

So is Trump an intellectual?  No.  But if elected president, he just might be the conservative movement’s greatest blessing.