Our Country Split Apart

Peter Augustine Lawler

Winter 2017

Throughout the 2016 general-election campaign, just as throughout the year's Republican primaries, most of the people who follow politics for a living spent their time thinking about how things would be after Donald Trump lost. Politicians and strategists tried to position themselves just right for a post-Trump world. Journalists wondered how Republicans would come back. And conservative writers and thinkers, especially those who were implacably opposed to Trump, sought the best ways to learn lessons from his failure.

But Trump won. And he won as a Republican. Roughly 90% of self-identified Republicans voted for him, and there was considerably less ticket-splitting than usual. In fact, it is probably fair to say that Trump won because he was a little more, rather than less, than a conservative Republican. His appeal was broader than Mitt Romney's was, especially in key swing states, and surely broader than, say, that of Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would have been in the Rust Belt states. Trump won — unlike Republicans recently — in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, because a significant number of voters (mainly from union households) who had voted for Obama flipped. They were perfectly fine with voting for the African-American president who had their back against the oligarchic, union-busting, entitlement-trimming Romney Republicans. But this time — tutored by Bernie Sanders, in part — they thought Hillary Clinton was the more oligarchic candidate, the one taking orders from Wall Street, and she didn't waste any of her campaign on the Rust Belt voters and their concerns. Trump, meanwhile, spent lots of time speaking directly to them at his huge rallies, promising to protect what they have — their industrial jobs, their unions, even their Social Security and Medicare — while restoring at least some of what they've lost.

This is not to say that Trump ultimately proved exceptionally popular. He enters office as the least-popular elected president since the invention of polling — and he actually lost the popular vote. But the huge number of voters repulsed by both Clinton and Trump ended up breaking in the direction of change where it mattered.

So what was the status quo the Trump voters opposed? Until just over a year ago, many of the experts were writing about a convergence of our two political parties. The Democrats were getting more comfortable with the free market and less devoted to resisting the dynamic of the 21st-century global competitive marketplace. And the Republicans were obsessing less about the "social issues," accepting, for example, their inevitable defeat on same-sex marriage and adjusting themselves to various demands for personal autonomy. The convergence was around a kind of soft libertarianism found among our elites and in our multinational corporations — one that, on balance, benefited the Democrats more than the Republicans, insofar as our "cognitive" elite now places itself complacently among the more sophisticated Democrats.

We now know that this convergence among "the masters of the universe" was simply too "liberal" — too indifferent to the relational dignity of ordinary Americans left behind by history — to prevail in our (or any) democracy. The "populist" insurgency occurred in both parties. The socialist Sanders (who isn't about the workers of the world but the workers of America) was barely defeated by Clinton, and he won in most of what turned out to be the key states in the general election. And the nationalist Donald Trump actually captured the Republican nomination with surprising (if not embarrassing) ease. Despite — not because of — his low character and degrading words, he was the change half of the country wanted in November. This was the year of the populist rebellion against liberalism, understood as liberated — or displaced, and so unencumbered — individualism.

Both parties, it goes without saying, have to accommodate these legitimate populist — or democratic — claims to have a future, even as they work to resist less legitimate demands. And both parties have been pretty much in denial. Many Republicans, both conservatives and establishment figures, assumed throughout 2016 that Trump's vulgarity and unfitness would lead to his landslide defeat against the obviously competent Clinton, and their conservative party could be scrubbed free of all traces of that alien interloper. And the Democratic party of Hillary Clinton assumed that the election could be won with appeals to sophisticated identity politics alone, forgetting, for example, that women who vote as women are a pretty elite category, given that so many ordinary women and men aren't flourishing these days on the "right side" of cultural or economic history.

The election, in this sense, ought to be an occasion for both parties to learn lessons. But the lessons are far from obvious, and they point more to problems than solutions.


The greatest obstacle to learning from the election may be the danger of over-learning. The election was basically a tie. What it revealed is a country equally divided into two unusually antagonistic "bubbles." It goes without saying that "populist" versus "elitist" is too simple a division, and we should hope that we don't have a realignment even remotely reflecting it. We shouldn't have to choose between liberty and democracy. The party with a future, we should hope, is the one that best builds a coalition that preserves its principled devotion to liberty while acknowledging and accommodating the reasonable claims — both for economic security and personal dignity — of the populists.

Both parties are destined to suffer defeat if they slight our new populism or have nothing but contempt for it. There's a lot to be learned from Trump's success about the true relationship between liberty and equality in our country, and about the threats to both that come from our complacency in the face of the coming apart of our middle-class country, as it diverges into two increasingly distant classes.

The relationship between liberty and democracy in our country right now remains confused, among both most liberals and most conservatives, because we think about them both too abstractly. The libertarian Randy Barnett, of Georgetown law school, for one, has been optimistic that a new birth of liberty can emerge through judicial engagement. And many libertarians are convinced that the road-to-serfdom narrative has been decisively disrupted by the globalizing imperatives of the 21st-century global competitive marketplace. We can add that it has also been disrupted by tough demographic realities that make our relatively minimalist entitlement regime unsustainable over the long run.

Still, some libertarians, such as George Mason University's Tyler Cowen, have been mugged by the reality of the support gathered by the collectivist Sanders and especially of the triumph of Trump. Cowen has been distinguished by the candor of his acknowledgement that the progress of the division of labor in our time has reduced the size of the securely careerist middle class. Our increasingly productive cognitive elite is growing. But so too is the class of Americans who are marginally productive.

The latter class, Cowen predicts, won't excite the compassion of a meritocracy based on productivity, of people who really believe — with reasons after all — that they deserve what they have. The elites won't have to worry about revolution. Very few will be reduced to nothing in the Marxian mode. Thanks to beneficent technological progress, everyone has equal access, for example, to all the pleasures and diversions available on the screen. We all play the same games, have access to all the wonders of all the cultures of the world, and can view the same porn. It really is true that the unimpeded progress of technology has both egalitarian and inegalitarian effects.

Cowen admitted, even a couple of years ago, that a permissive immigration policy that floods the country with low-skilled labor might cost ordinary Americans jobs, but he complacently added that immigration was not an issue that concerned most Americans. And he predicted that most of the marginally productive would continue to be among our most conservative voters, citing the evidence from the white South. The Republicans — the party of economic progress — could count on them without having to cater to them. We can, after all, call attention to the Tea Party movement to support his complacency. It is (or was?) basically a bourgeois movement, hostile to welfare-state dependency and eager to restore the lost Constitution in the way Barnett recommends. Cowen also knew, of course, that many or most Reagan Democrats weren't Tea Partiers, and that the newly libertarian or more intensely oligarchic Republicans weren't really addressing their dignified relational concerns. He assumed that parasitical relationship — rooted in a kind of tribalism hostile to the unpatriotic elitism of the Democrats — could continue indefinitely.

But now Cowen has been forced to come to grips with the thuggish reality of our populism. He doesn't see the fundamental division in the country now as liberal versus conservative, or statist and collectivist versus libertarian, but the brutish versus the nice. The truth, as libertarians see it, is that the world has been getting nicer. Cruelty has been reduced, work has been getting less physical and more mental, and the globalized workforce has been led to accept more sensitively diverse or nicely inclusive manners. Technology in general has made life easier, and more people than ever have been liberated for abstract role-playing, now freed from the narrow tribalism of the local community. Rural idiocy, as a great man once said, continues to be on the run.

It turns out, Cowen readily concedes, that a nice world doesn't benefit everyone equally. It's particularly good for women and some men. But other men are left behind. The kind of work they prefer — which involves dangerous manual labor and a kind of manly discipline — is getting less lucrative and harder to come by. And spirited men don't want to be scripted by some elite in an undisclosed location, for the same reasons that some choose the tribalism of Rust Belt communities over following economic opportunity wherever it may lead them. Our schools and colleges, the evidence shows, are unwelcoming environments for spirited men, and it turns out that the virtues required to flourish in our service economy — being conscientious and being compliant — are characteristic more of women than men on the whole.

And our competitive marketplace has been hard on men attempting to live dignified relational lives; it's harder than ever to get a job that gives one the wherewithal to actually live out one's conservative family values. For almost every single mom, after all, there's a deadbeat dad, a man withdrawn from the relational life of his family and community, often losing himself in the process in the ambiguous techno-gift that is the screen, in games and porn and other forms of enjoyment that detach physical pleasure from the hard realities of birth and death, and from the love and work that make life worth living.

Now, what perplexes Cowen most is that anyone would choose to be brutish rather than be nice. The arc of liberal history is moving us all from the nasty, brutish, and short natural life described by Thomas Hobbes toward hard-won technological freedom from natural determination. One reason for his perplexity may be that Cowen is tone-deaf to the downsides of a nice world, from even the point of view of the genuine liberation of moral and intellectual freedom. In a nice world, as Hobbes explains, words still have a purpose. But that purpose is not to boldly tell the truth as you see it, even if that means starting a fight. A nice person doesn't think of the truth as a point of honor; he sacrifices controversy to public relations, thinking of manners as weapons to manipulate customers and dressing for success. The bottom line is the problem isn't so much "political correctness" but a kind of "commercial correctness"; it's more the corporations than the government (although it's true they're working in tandem) that clamp down on those who don't share the most inclusive available view of marriage or bathroom selection. It's the corporations more even than the courts that privilege "nondiscrimination" over individual or religious liberty, compelling individuals to satisfy all the preferences of customers at the expense of their personal convictions. It wouldn't be nice to let moral judgmentalism trump "the customer is always right."

The key objection to niceness amounts to the fact that it's not really a virtue. You can't rely upon it as the foundation for the duties required of friends, family members, or fellow citizens. A nice person won't fight for you; a nice person wouldn't even lie for you, unless there's something in it for him. A nice person wouldn't be a Good Samaritan, if it required genuine risk or an undue deployment of time and treasure. A nice person isn't animated by love or honor or God. Niceness, if you think about it, is the most selfish of virtues, one, as Tocqueville noticed, rooted in a deep indifference to the well-being of others. It's more selfish than open selfishness, because the latter accords people the respect of letting them know where you stand. I let you do — and even affirm — whatever you do, because I don't care what you do as long as it doesn't bother me. Niceness, as Allan Bloom noticed, is the quality connected with flatness of soul, with being unmoved by the relational imperatives grounded in love and death.

The division of the population into the nice and the brutish corresponds, to a point, to the elitist distinction between cosmopolitan humanitarians and xenophobic racists: In our country, the libertarians and the liberals stand united against the reactionary social conservatives with their love of their God and their guns. But that distinction, of course, can't account for the citizen and civic virtue. It can't account for what motivates the citizen-soldier. Cowen, like most of the nice progressivists, thinks in terms of a world where the need for military service will wither away, and his thought concerning military discipline is that some men still seem to benefit from having their heads knocked together.

But the truth is that, in a nice world, the virtue of the soldier (or the police officer) is more countercultural than ever. And nice people become more ungrateful than ever for the protection they couldn't possibly provide for themselves. Rights might be "human," and citizenship, as some libertarians say, may be nothing but another form of rent-seeking, but rights, in fact, are only effectively secured by nations that back up the rule of law with law enforcement that has teeth. The nice are polite enough to the police, but their lives are distant and abstracted from that brutish, earthy, politically incorrect way of life. The point of Clint Eastwood's instant classic American Sniper is our failure to properly respect our guardians, who put their lives on the line for their own. It's also about the increasing distance between the relatively honorable, violent, and God-fearing South and the rest of the country.

Cowen's perception that we Americans — and not only the Americans — are divided into the nice and the brutish, to get a bit more abstract, is, in some measure, a product of the modern progress of the division of labor. According to one of the great founders of modern thought, Rene Descartes, the "I" that is each of us — our consciousness — is located in a body, which is basically a machine. And according to Karl Marx, the division of the modern world into the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is increasingly between those who do purely mental labor and those who do purely physical labor. Average, Marx said a long time ago, is over; the middle class withers away as mental labor is centralized and most people's labor is as scripted as that of a machine.

The progress of capitalism is — to a point — the division of society into those who are pure consciousness and those who are pure machine. The mixed being who is both withers away, the victim, in a way, of technology's conquest of nature. Part of that conquest is the destruction of the illusions that made the human being understand himself as basically a relational being ennobled by love, honor, and intrinsically significant work. Personal connections are exposed as veils that have hidden manipulation. One lesson of capitalism is that relying on love is for suckers.


From this view, shared, after all, by so many of our techno-libertarians, human history is the freeing of consciousness from the constraints of the uncontrollable or alien machine. Machines, all of nature, become increasingly subject to conscious manipulation. Life, as a result, gets longer, more comfortable, and more about choice and less about chance. Life also gets less cruel. Nature itself is, from the point of view of the free human person, a cruel and random mother, with no respect for particular human lives. The liberation from nature also causes human beings to surrender their own cruel impulses, most of which can be rooted in revenge against a nature that does not, in fact, provide what we most need. People, for example, get less religious, and their religions become less a source of violence over nothing. People become more cosmopolitan, liberated from the tribalism that inspires wars rooted in monstrous combinations of love and hate. The global marketplace, as Marx predicted, tears down the walls that separated one people from another, creating a world without borders.

The obvious objection to calling these advances genuinely human progress, Marx tells us, is that the many are reduced to machines manipulated by the infinitely productive few. It is true, after all, that the coming apart of the classes means that one thinks of the other less in terms of relational responsibility and more in terms of scripting and nudging — gentle but increasingly intrusive modes of controlling. Alexis de Tocqueville cautioned us that if aristocracy were to return to the world in democratic times, it would be a cold or unfeeling class that gets smarter as those it manipulates get stupider. This new aristocracy, unlike the old ones, wouldn't connect its privileges to responsibilities, because its members would be convinced that they deserved what they have. We can't help but think here, of course, of the technocracy emerging from Silicon Valley, just as we can't help but think of the British elite's confidence that it could use big data to convince the people that the developing European Union — even with the surrender of political sovereignty and any meaningful sense of the consent of the governed — was in their economic self-interest.

Now Marx was wrong to think that the great mass of people could be reduced to machines devoid of all human content. They would revolt, Marx predicted, because for them freedom would be just another word for nothing left to lose. The complaint about ordinary Americans today is that they're increasingly incompetent. Families are pathological, schools are worthless, and, in sum, we no longer have the social capital required to produce reliable cogs.

Marx also didn't predict that the mechanized members of the proletariat would actually be replaced by machines — by robots and so forth. And, as Tocqueville predicted, the new aristocracy have deployed government entitlements to keep those who have become, at best, marginally productive from revolution, assisted, as Cowen adds, by all the enjoyments to which all Americans — from billionaires to the chronically unemployed — have equal access through the screen. No one really fears a revolutionary uprising today, and critics such as Joel Kotkin exaggerate (but only exaggerate) when they write about the proletarianization of the middle class.

Still, it's the libertarian (or classical liberal) social critic Charles Murray who has most ably chronicled the "coming apart" of Americans into a cognitive elite living in its bubble and a class that lacks the wherewithal — productive and relational — to live a dignified life. What's fading away are the intermediary institutions shared by all Americans, from the church to citizenship to the public schools to the workplace. One way of thinking of the "middle" is the mixture of mind and body that produces the relational person, the person able to think in terms of his responsibilities not only to those in his immediate circle but to all his fellow citizens and creatures.

As Murray points out, both of our classes are now irresponsible. The members of our cognitive elite, it's true, have deployed their resources to live sensible lives in child-centered marriages that produce stable families. Their irresponsibility is their indifference to the lives of their fellow citizens. That includes, in Murray's eyes, their condescending conclusion that they have no right to expect all Americans to share middle-class values — those of the self-sufficient being who works to take care of his own. It also includes their abandonment of those values in their liberationist promotion of non-judgmental autonomy. Their Sixties talk is contradicted, in effect, by their Fifties lives (with fewer children, to be sure). But what the intellectual class says, after all, does still often set the tone for society as a whole. It is certainly setting the tone for what is taught in our schools, which has little to do with the rights and duties shared by American citizens and all free beings who work, much less all children of God.

This elitist irresponsibility Tocqueville called individualism. Individualism, for Tocqueville, is a kind of "heart disease" or an emotional deficit. The individual is locked up in a bubble or gated community of his immediate family and friends, and he is indifferent to or experiences no real connection with the larger world of citizens and creatures. For the individualist, religion, for example, becomes a kind of non-judgmental spirituality that detaches "me" from real concern with particular people; the duties of personal charity are dissolved into an amorphous empathy. For our cognitive elite, individualism might be best explained as generated by the complacent thought that earned privileges — those of the hugely productive — don't generate corresponding responsibilities.

The aristocrats of old, by contrast, were "paternalistically" oriented toward those over whom they assumed responsibility; that relationship veiled exploitation in some large measure, of course, but it also meant that human beings were linked together in more than a contractual or "cash nexus" way. Our elitist indifference, we might also say, is rooted in part in a failure of higher education to be about more than competency and diversity, and in the replacement of virtue with niceness.

Still, those Americans living less than middle-class lives are also irresponsible. There are way too many single moms and deadbeat dads, as way too many young men are lost to the virtual world of the screen. There are too many who have concluded that the jobs available to them aren't worth their effort. Murray's thought is that the way to restore responsibility in the country is to replace our complex system of entitlements with a guaranteed minimum income. The goal is to allow people to live as they please, but fully accepting the consequences of their fecklessness and personal failures.

One problem with this conclusion is that it really is true that many jobs available to ordinary Americans don't pay enough to make dignified relational life possible. It really is true that the withering away of unions, the disappearance of employer and employee loyalty, the meticulous scripting of ordinary tasks with the values of conscientiousness and compliance in mind, and, more generally, the centralization of intellectual labor has stagnated wages, reduced the number of jobs available, and made work both less lucrative and more repulsive.

Doubtless this trend, as the libertarian Brink Lindsey contends, can be countered to some extent with job training that makes employees more techno-competent and with "diversity" training that makes people less tribal and better at being abstracted role players. But it is also true that making work less "brutal" in one way makes it, in a more subtle sense, more brutal in another, or more suited to what C.S. Lewis called "men without chests." Many employees, after all, now are required to be nicer than ever. They can't say, for example, the edgy "no problem" when confronted with an unreasonable request of a client or customer; they're scripted to say the more masochistic "my pleasure." And it just might be that one reason most Trump voters are men is that men suffer disproportionally in a world where the faking of pleasure is a condition of employment.

All in all, the proper correction to Murray's analysis is that it's the techno-progress of the division of labor as much as the culture of dependency that's responsible for the coming apart of Americans. And for many people, the progress of the global marketplace in our time produces experiences of loss. I've already mentioned de-unionization and employer disloyalty, but it's easy to go on to talk about the atrophying of all the "safety nets" — both governmental and relational — that have cushioned lives from the unmediated rigors of the marketplace.

There's the movement, for example, from "defined benefits" to "defined contributions" when it comes to both pensions and entitlements, a prelude, it's easy to suspect, to the disappearance of both altogether. And our churches are doing increasingly less well in ministering unto relationally displaced persons — such as the chronically unemployed, the divorced, and especially the allegedly deadbeat dads (who, after all, remain children of God and sinners like us all).


Let us return, then, to the most recent movement in American politics that has disoriented so many libertarians and conservatives: the one from the basically bourgeois Tea Party to the populist Trump voters. The Tea Party is or was all about rolling back the welfare state to protect the relational lives of ordinary Americans. It was about deploying libertarian means to protect the right of families, Christians, and so forth to live as they please as dignified relational beings.

Many libertarians, like Randy Barnett, are themselves more radically individualistic, and so they don't agree with the Tea Partiers that Roe v. Wade and so forth should be rolled back. But there was a clear overlapping consensus on restoring the lost Constitution obliterated by the progressives and the administrative state. Barnett in his new book and George Will in a recent essay in these pages both prudently avoid talking about Roe and the other autonomy cases having to do with abortion, marriage, and so forth. Still, the conservative coalition they are trying to build just isn't there right now, and surely for good reason. In a country split apart, their consistent ethic of liberty doesn't have much of a constituency. And even Ted Cruz's version, which explicitly combined welfare-state rollback constitutionalism with religious identity politics, was based upon very unrealistic assumptions about even the Republican electorate considered alone.

There is no denying that the Tea Party has been overwhelmed by the populism of Trump. Trump has no interest in rolling back entitlements, and he feeds into the perception that "the new birth of freedom" generated by the competitive marketplace has been at the expense of the greatness of Americans as citizens, creatures, and family members. His is a different view about how to protect the embattled relational lives of ordinary Americans, one that has a huge role for government and its capacity to provide security and make good deals for Americans.

And Trump is, as Harvard political philosopher Harvey Mansfield says, "not a gentleman." His brand is being a brutally honest reaction to the scripting of political and commercial correctness. But, we have to add, Trump's brutality may actually be the best stimulus package compliant niceness has ever had. He causes us to confuse "being nice" with common decency and even being a lady or gentleman, and Trump's alleged "brutal honesty" is often just random brutality.

Still, the fear Cowen experiences in the face of all those Trump and Sanders voters hasn't been misplaced and might even be salutary. For one thing, if Trump were better at being "not a gentleman" — or being a really effective demagogue on behalf of America and Americans — he would have won more easily. And if his message were a little less tribal and more about an edifying civic identity, he might have attracted even more Sanders voters. For another thing, Cowen should have learned an indispensable lesson about the limits of the cognitive elite's form of popular manipulation, and, to be fair, he was attentive to that lesson in his limited appreciation of (if disagreement with) the vote for Brexit as an affirmation of the identity of the historic England.

Rethinking conservatism begins with revising Barnett's view that the American Constitution is all about protecting individual rights from majoritarian collectivism. The place between individualism and collectivism is the relational world in which people find the significance that makes life worth living. And majority rule doesn't have to mean some kind of mob rule. It was the view of our framers, in fact, that Americans would have majority rule, but the majority would be formed by a process of deliberation and compromise. The American majority, as the Federalist Papers explain, would not be a majority faction — a unified collectivity all about violating the rights of others — but a reasonable majority coalition of diverse interests and inclinations.

Restoring the world of egalitarian citizenship, which Americans enter with their relational concerns and competing and inevitably controversial opinions, is the indispensable beginning for ameliorating or, better, mediating the "world split apart" (to borrow Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's terms) that our country has increasingly become. Liberty means, in part, the freedom of the people to choose, not simply freedom from our common life to live however you please as an unencumbered (and implicitly disembodied) individual. Consent of the governed means, in part, not having elitist institutions tell us what our rights are from some detached perspective or undisclosed location. It doesn't mean "pure consciousness" dictating to free persons as if they were mere machines.

Neither being nice nor being brutal is being virtuous. And moral virtue is, after all, the foundation of the common life shared by all political beings inhabiting a particular part of the world. Both niceness and brutality are forms of domination and control. Both work against the consent of the governed who rule and are ruled in turn. We should, in fact, expect all Americans to be ladies and gentlemen, and to treat each other with equal dignity, free from condescension and contempt.

That means, if you think about it, that our courts and our bureaucrats should do less, and our legislatures should do more. The schoolmarmish soft despotism promoted by the experts driving our administrative state can be checked most effectively, of course, by majority vote. And the majority — in the name of virtue and dignified relational life — should be about resisting the experts both public and private who think of ordinary people as less than they really are. The idea that the nice should rule over the brutish is what, in fact, links together too much libertarian and progressivist thought about being on the "right side" of history and all that. That form of manipulation, thank God, is bound to fail them in the end.

It's true enough that we have, in our country, those who think of themselves as more cosmopolitan and those who are more nationalist, and those who think of themselves more as free individuals and those who think of themselves more as observant creatures of God. The consent of the governed means trying to discover the truth in each point of view, truth which is neither nice nor brutish. We're not going back to the Fifties and Sixties, and so to our country's dominance of the global economy that made strong unions possible. And thank God we're not going to dispense with the progress we've made on behalf of women, blacks, gays, and so forth as free and equal individuals and citizens in both the marketplace and the political arena. We're not really moving to a world without borders, and we're stuck, more than ever, with being a morally and intellectually diverse country — differences we should cherish rather than aim to obliterate in the service of a uniformly degrading niceness.

Technological progress almost always has relational costs, and, these days, economic growth by itself is not going to eradicate the disparate impact of those costs on the diverse forms of American life. So, as the reform conservatives say, government needs sometimes to think of people as more than free individuals and members of historically marginalized groups, but as parents and children and citizens and creatures. Religious freedom, both our liberals and libertarians often don't understand, is freedom for the mediating relational institution often called the church. It's not quite the same as freedom of conscience or intellectual freedom, although it flourishes with the latter in communities often called colleges, which inevitably have diverse missions that aim higher than niceness and mere competency.

It is, after all, easy to understand why evangelical voters — especially those concerned with preserving the integrity of their institutions — were attracted to Trump as the guy strong enough to protect them from our courts, bureaucrats, and foundations. (He may or not be that guy, of course.) It's easy to understand, in particular, why they don't want to trust the courts. Contrary to Barnett and Will, it's easy to see that our conservative future depends on trusting the people more and all our elitist institutions, including the courts, less. Trusting the people means restoring the place of dialogue to our political life, over, for example, perplexing relational issues that are the collateral damage of the progress of the 21st-century global competitive marketplace.


There is much more to say in the wake of this surprising election year. But one clear takeaway is that we conservatives should learn from Trump — and from the populism which has always, in some measure, been a part of our governing coalition. If it's the spirited people versus the administrative experts, then we're with the people, at least in some measure. And we always say that the human experience of universal truth — which is the truth, among other things, about each of us as a relational person — always occurs within the context of a particular community. True cosmopolitanism isn't abstract cosmopolitanism. Even Socrates didn't think he could understand himself or do his life's work without his indebtedness to a particular political community.

A country split apart, as I write, seems to be disintegrating into a kind of civil unrest being engineered by those who think the president-elect is "not their president." What could Trump do to make our country less divided?

There is one area, at least, he could be well-positioned to address. Just a couple of years ago, I remember taking a short-cut home from Atlanta by driving through the heavily gay midtown area on the Sunday after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision proclaiming a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Everywhere the gay flag was flying next to the American flag, and I couldn't help but be touched. Gays and lesbians were proud and happy to have been fully accepted by their country.

At the same time, however, observant religious believers in many places suddenly felt homeless in America. The dissents in Obergefell all warned of the new threat to the free exercise of religion. And given the hostility to authoritative religious teachings not on the right side of history from both our courts and government administrators, some religious leaders warned of a coming wave of persecution.

Now those gays and lesbians are protesting the unexpected triumph of forces — beginning with a president — that could undo the gains they've achieved in securely living as they please in our country. Some of them have hustled to get married immediately, fearing that their window of opportunity will soon close. And they really believe they're threatened by dark and deplorable mobs who have no respect for who they are. Contrary to what they've hoped and thought, the wrong side of history has won, and our country's journey to greater liberty every generation has been derailed. The observantly religious, meanwhile, are relieved that the threats to free exercise have been pushed back for the time being.

Donald Trump himself, a rich Manhattan businessman, has no interest in revisiting the emergence of the right to same-sex marriage, and he waved the gay flag to thunderous applause at a rally. He is also serious enough, I think, about keeping his campaign promise to protect the right of evangelicals and other observant believers to be who they are. He might even find himself well-situated to announce the historic compromise we need: Same-sex marriage is here to stay, but Americans also have the right to determine what marriage is within the context of their religious communities without being cut off or ostracized by government agencies — without being marginalized as citizens. Trump could trim his populism with the humane intention of preserving the true moral and religious diversity that is one saving grace of our country. He could tutor Americans angrily stuck on both sides of our national divide.

I could go on to hope that Trump will also give us a foreign policy graced with humane intentions. There's something to be said for making sure our "deals" benefit American citizens, and there's plenty of room for correction after the administration of "Obama, citizen of the world." America first is sometimes appropriate, but so is leadership in defense of the rights all human beings share.

Maybe Trump will receive the grace to be better than he's ever been before. There is surely room to hope along those lines, though to expect lots of change we can believe in might be too much. I will stop here by keeping hope alive that he will find the mean between nationalism and cosmopolitanism that keeps "Americanism" from degenerating into tribalism. And if he does not find that mean, then let us hope the country as a whole finds it for itself in time.

Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College and executive editor of Perspectives on Political Science.


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