The Two Sides of “NeverTrump”

Two of the standard smears Donald Trump’s apologists apply to denigrate Trump’s conservative critics are the term “NeverTrump” used as a pejorative (as in, “Why should I listen to you NeverTrumpers?”), and the related accusation that those who oppose Trump are driven by “hate.”

The first of these, the “NeverTrump” label, is typically used with the intention of associating Trump’s critics with the Washington establishment, in formulations such as, “The Bill Kristol NeverTrump types have lost their minds.”

To state what should be obvious, even to people lost in Trump idolatry, not all so-called “NeverTrumpers” are equivalent to the neoconservative Bill Kristol. Kristol, that is to say, is not representative of the only type of person who might be categorized as NeverTrump.

Recall that this category, insofar as it means anything, was invented as a label for people who disapprove of Trump so strongly that they do not wish to support a party (even one of which they are registered members) that chooses to identify itself with him. The reasons someone might take that general position, however, are as varied as can be.

Some “NeverTrumpers” really are against Trump because they prefer the status quo establishment. (That’s Kristol, George Will, and the like.) Hence, these people will go so far as to switch their support to the neo-Marxist Democrats in a desperate attempt to protect their status quo.

Others, however, are “NeverTrump” because they see Trump as nothing but a particularly ugly tool of the very establishment that the first group of “NeverTrumpers” wishes to protect. These people oppose Trump because they know him to be a very effective weapon against conservative or constitutionalist principles. This group would never vote Democrat, because their goal is to undermine and dismantle the entire progressive establishment (both sides of the fallacious “binary choice”); they just don’t believe that Trump represents that goal at all. And they are right.

The second smear, namely that Trump’s consistent and unbending critics or resisters are “haters,” is equally disingenuous.

It is not hatred or “negativity” to be consistently opposed to a politician on principle, in such a way as not to be seeking opportunities to “praise him a little” — such as by playing the phony “Good Trump, Bad Trump” game invented by former public critics of Trump who were afraid of losing a big chunk of their audiences, and decided to ride the fence in an attempt to please everyone — if one’s honest overall judgment of him is that he is harmful.

The faulty premise that allows this “hater” smear to survive is the assumption that since Trump is a Republican, and more so a Republican who actually won the U.S. presidency “for the Republican Party,” any conservative who fails to support him, at least in most things, is violating an obligation to support “the most conservative alternative.”

But no conservative is obliged to support a Republican president (even on an ad hoc basis) merely because he is a Republican — especially if that conservative already believes the GOP itself has proven to be a hopeless vehicle for promoting conservative principles. And frankly, I don’t see how any conservative could fail to have arrived at that conclusion by now.

Refusing to make excuses for a fatally corrupt man and incompetent president — excuses of the “but he’s done some things I like” variety — is not being a “hater” or excessively “negative.” It is simply choosing not to be cynically pragmatic on matters of fundamental belief, and refusing to play tribal politics when one’s supposed tribe is actually working for the other side. Even more importantly, it is refusing to sacrifice one’s honor and sense of individual dignity — one’s independent mind — for the sake of preserving comforting (but delusional) alliances.

It is tiring for principled American conservatives, who truly believe Trump represents nothing they believe in, and even stands for much that they oppose, to be smeared as “haters” all the time. One can dislike what Trump represents, and the uses to which the GOP establishment is putting his populist appeal, without “hating” anyone.

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