Being a conservative political writer has always been an interesting experience, but over the past two years, it’s been particularly so. Prior to that, most of the negative feedback I’d received came from people on the Left, and it was usually pretty predictable. My columns that were critical of Obama, the Democratic party, or even mainstream-media journalists were often met with charges that I was a racist homophobe who oppresses women, loves Wall Street, wants to start wars in the Middle East, and would rather throw old people out into the street than let them collect Social Security.
Ah, the Internet. Always a beacon of civility and intelligent discourse.
One eventually grows accustomed to the ugliness of primal partisan backlash, and does their best to rise above it (not always succeeding). But things got infinitely more complicated when a man named Donald Trump arrived on the political scene back in 2015. It caused a huge rift in the conservative movement, pitting principled conservatives against political opportunists and regular folks who were seduced by Trump’s charisma, celebrity, and anti-establishment rhetoric. These people became known as the Trump Train.
We all know how things ended. Trump won the Republican primary, became the party’s new standard-bearer, and enough of the Right rallied behind him to hand him the presidency. Some of us supported Trump. Some of us didn’t. But the Trump Train has remained a passionate, persistent, and vocal force that doesn’t take too kindly to criticism of their guy…especially when it comes from their side of the political aisle.
For conservative writers like me, who were (and remain) openly critical and skeptical of Mr. Trump, the situation has made for some very odd and aggravating experiences. Here are some that top the list:
1. Being called a liberal
It used to be that the word “liberal” was used to describe people who subscribe to principles or views that happen to be…well, liberal. While that definition is certainly still accepted, it was broadened by the Trump Train in late summer of 2015 to include literally anyone who offers any kind of criticism of Donald Trump. They jettisoned the term’s ideological significance in favor of using it as a simple pejorative. It’s hard to say whether this syntactic perversion was committed willfully or haplessly, but it seems to be here to stay.
So, whenever a conservative guy like me (who’s to the right of our president, politically) writes a piece on Trump’s resistance to free market principles, it’s only a matter of time before the Trump Train rolls into the comment-section depot to brand me as—you guessed it—a liberal. If I criticize Trump’s infrastructure-spending ideas, or his vow not to reform entitlements, as fiscally irresponsible, that makes me a safe-space seeking progressive. Oh, and if I blast Trump for singing the praises of universal healthcare and single-payer, I’m likened to a pony-tailed college professor teaching Feminism 101 at Berkeley.
It doesn’t make any sense, of course, being that the positions I’m taking are decidedly conservative. But in the collective mind of a political tribe, denying their leader’s infallibility puts you in ideological alignment with their sworn enemies—in this case, the liberal movement.
2. Hypocrisy deflection
One of the many reasons I didn’t support Donald Trump in either the primary or the general election was because doing so would require me to demonstrate an enormous amount of hypocrisy.
I started writing national political commentary in 2011. Since then, I’ve dished out a lot of criticism of the Left. Still, my work has never been comprised of red-meat click-bait designed to appeal to angry hyper-partisans and conservatives. I’m not that kind of writer, nor that kind of person. I put a lot of thought into my commentary, and I always make a genuine effort to be fair.
Some of the things that truly bothered me during the Obama era were the huge expansion of government, the incoherent foreign policy, the blatant dishonesty (on Obamacare, Benghazi, etc.), the fawning media that rarely challenged the administration, the willful rhetorical divisiveness, and the incessant Bush-blaming. I wrote for countless hours on these topics.
So, when Trump ran on a big-government platform, constantly making dishonest and needlessly divisive statements, while the conservative media promoted and ran interference for him, I had a problem with it. When Candidate Trump demonstrated less foreign policy knowledge than the average basement blogger, and would throw out incomprehensible and conflicting positions on the Middle East, I had a problem with it. And as president, when I listen to Trump (who opposed intervention in Syria) blame Obama for not intervening in Syria, I have a problem with it.
But when I translate such criticisms into a written piece, the reflexive responses I often get from people on my side of the aisle look something like this: “Funny, I don’t recall you having a problem with Obama doing the same thing.”
This happens a lot, and it’s enough to make me want to pull out what’s left of my hair.
Now, I can forgive someone for either not reading or not remembering what I wrote about such topics under Obama, but to snarkily assume (without spending five seconds on Google) that a conservative guy like me, who writes primarily for conservative websites, used to be fine with these things (when no one on the Right was fine with them at the time), is painfully absurd.
I was griping about this particular annoyance the other day on Twitter, and one of my followers suggested that these are “people who are trying to avoid their own hypocrisy by inventing it in others.”
She nailed it. The truth is that the Right was virtually unanimous in their criticism of Obama on these same issues. And making allowances for it, in the case of Trump, is the real hypocrisy. I’ve argued this point with Trump fans a number of times. Their popular response, of course, has been to call me a liberal.
3. Plausible deniability
Over the past two years, Donald Trump has undeniably made a lot of crazy and ridiculously egregious statements—statements that are truly indefensible. Time after time, this has put Trump loyalists (who are always ready and willing to help bail their guy out of tough spots) in a pretty difficult position.
At some point, attempts to normalize his rhetoric got too exhausting for them, so they employed a new strategy: plausible deniability. You see, if they refuse to acknowledge that Trump said or did something objectionable in the first place, they don’t have to defend it.
There have been occasions, when trying to make a particular point in a column, that I’ve listed some of Mr. Trump’s most notable offenses:
— Mocking American POWs for their capture
— Lampooning Serge Kovaleski’s disability
— Suggesting that Megyn Kelly was on her period (and harassing her on Twitter for nine months), because she asked a tough debate question
— Comparing Ben Carson to a child molester
— Branding President Bush a war criminal
— Trashing the looks of Ted Cruz’s wife, and linking his Cruz’s father to the JFK assassination
— Calling on Judge Curiel should recuse himself because of his Mexican heritage
— Taking personal shots at a Gold Star family
It’s pretty clear-cut stuff. Yet, you’d be amazed at how often the indictment draws responses like “None of these things happened,” and “Who told you these things, the lame-stream media?”
Sometimes, the Trump Train offers alternate-reality explanations—a popular one being that, because Trump has been captured on video waving his arms and making funny voices on separate occasions, he wasn’t really mocking Kovaleski that day. But often, they just deny the entire premise of these various incidents, claiming that Trump was either misquoted or taken out of context by the “fake news” media. Additionally, they tell me that I was duped, and that I should know better…being that I’m a conservative.
Not unlike with our president on numerous occasions, it’s unclear whether or not they’ve actually managed to convince themselves that what they’re saying is true.
4. Give him a chance
When a corporation hires a new CEO to deal with company-wide problems, no one expects that CEO to turn things around within just a few months. Such an individual must be given time to make important calls, enact new policies, and demonstrate effective leadership. Over time, their overall effectiveness can then be used to determine whether or not their tenure was a success or a failure.
The same goes for U.S. presidents. It’s unfair for someone to say, a few months into a presidency, that the administration has failed. Even if all the right decisions have been made, and all the right policies have been put into place, the fruits of those directives won’t be fully recognized for some time. So, anyone declaring President Trump’s first term in office to have burned to the ground in resounding defeat (as some on the Left have) isn’t being reasonable. And those who respond to those people by saying that Trump needs to be given a chance to succeed have a valid point.
Now, let’s say that new CEO has been displaying some concerning behavior in the role. Let’s say he’s been going on Twitter to make dishonest statements about the company, including the spreading of false gossip about his predecessor. Let’s say he’s been responding to people’s questions by telling them they are “fake.” Let’s say that some of his hand-picked advisors have had to leave the company or be demoted, due to unethical conduct. Let’s say that he hasn’t been able to convince the company’s board members to support the most crucial components of his corporate plan.
Would the company’s owners and shareholders be out of line to voice concerns over such things, and worry about the potential damage it could cause to the company? Would it be unfair of them to suggest that the there’s a problem, and that some operational changes may be in order? Or should they all just shut their pie-holes, no matter how weird, counterproductive, or alarming things get, on the grounds that the CEO deserves a chance?
Many on the Right believe it’s the obligation of conservative commentators to keep their concerns about Trump silent, and I hear from those people often. If you praise the president, they’ll salute you. If you point out flaws and express concerns, they’ll complain that you’re not giving him a chance.
The notion that escapes far too many people is that one can grant a leader the opportunity to succeed, without closing one’s eyes, ears, and mouth to how that leader conducts himself in the job.
5. You’re just jealous
As previously mentioned, I’ve written a lot of columns over the years that are critical of public figures. This includes people who are more popular than me, are more accomplished than me, are better looking than me, drive better cars than me, are wealthier than me, etc. You get the picture.
But not until I started writing critiques about Donald Trump did readers start accusing me of being motivated by jealousy.
“It must kill you that Mr. Trump has created an empire in his name.”
“Don’t hate Mr. Trump because he rides around in private jets, and has dinner with important people.”
“You pray every day that you could be half the man that Mr. Trump is, don’t you?”
And for the Internet troll on the go, there are down and dirty digs like, “Jealous much?”
I used to find it kind of amusing. After all, it’s a five-year-old’s argument. That’s not to say that I’ve never been jealous of anyone in my adult life. But if I were to write from a position of envy, I’d be going after select vinyl record collectors, people who got to see James Brown in concert, and owners of Laurent Durieux’s most distinguished artwork. But Donald Trump?
To be honest, I can’t remember ever being jealous of any politician, or business mogul, or—as surprising as it might sound—celebrity. Well, maybe Matthew McConaughey back in the 90s…after I heard he was dating Ashley Judd. I used to have a thing for her. Plus, Matthew was one handsome dude.
But the repeated charge of holding a negative view of President Trump, out of a secret desire to be him, gets pretty annoying after a while. Even more troubling is the incessant hero-worship that allows for such an accusation to seem reasonable to these people in the first place.
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of being a conservative writer in the era of Trump is coming to realize that principles and intellectual consistency aren’t valued nearly as much, on my side of the political spectrum, than I had long thought.