Understanding the Conservative Debate Over Trump, Part 1

Setting expectations

In this first post I’m going to present the argument for Trump. These aren’t going to be deep dives or particularly well developed posts. Rather, these are going to be quick and dirty attempts to outline the debate as I understand it. I haven’t planned any future posts or how many there will be, I just know right now that there will be more than one.

Rationale for the series

In fact, the simplicity of these posts may give the impression of not saying anything significant. Doesn’t your average conservative pundit already dive deeper into the debate in nearly every podcast or article? Whether or not that’s an accurate understanding of daily or weekly punditry, part of the problem is that such arguments rarely take a step back and consider the more fundamental or basic premises of the debate. What premise or premises are being defended and what premise or premises are being objected to?

Losing sight of the more basic premises makes it easier to talk past one another. We may end up wasting time defending a premise that isn’t in dispute while ignoring our opponent’s objection. Or the entire case may never actually be clearly formed in our mind and so we have a hard time seeing why someone else doesn’t agree with us. This can make us think that our case is more obvious and easier to agree with than it might be and cause frustration with those who don’t see it. Or maybe our case *is* as obvious and easy as we think it is, but our opponent can’t see it not because he or she is morally or intellectually deficient, but because they’ve never considered the broader layout of the argument and how the claims relate to one another, such that they build a reasonable, if not compelling, case.

(So, that’s my public reason for this series of posts that may seem overly simplistic. On a personal level, I’m trying to go back to the basics myself and make sure I understand the debate. I was “#NeverTrump” in 2016, but I’ve always thought that being a reluctant Trump voter is within the range of permissible options. I think I can fairly say that I put some effort into understanding why many of my fellow evangelicals and family members were making a choice that I wasn’t. But over the last four years, most of my fellow NeverTrumpers seem to be more convinced than ever that they made the right choice and, what’s more, that it’s the only morally and intellectually respectable choice in 2020. I haven’t moved with them in that regard and my thought is that maybe this exercise will help me understand their position.)

The argument for Trump

A few quick points on how I’ve presented the argument. First, I’ve designated 1A-b and 2A-a as empirical claims, but obviously 1A-b is not purely an empirical claim in the same way as 2A-a. Its truth relies upon a value judgment in a way that 2A-a doesn’t. (And if a reader thinks all moral judgments are empirical judgments then at least that reader might agree that 2A-a is a more direct empirical inference?) Maybe I should relabel it.

Second, I don’t want to give the impression that this is “the” case for Trump, as though there are no other arguments that Trump voters have offered. But, my initial thought at least, is that most of the other arguments can be framed within this basic structure or that framing under this basic structure would make them stronger.

Third, and related to the above, I’ve intentionally went with a claim that’s easier to defend (permissible rather than obligatory). I know that often the Trump voter makes stronger claims and many of them may never even think to make this claim. I simply think that, for many of them, something like this argument lurks in the back of their minds even if they don’t articulate it and, if I were to personally try to justify a vote for Trump, this is the one I would use because I think it is the strongest.

Fourth, I’ve tried to be as abstract as possible at the level of 2A because otherwise 1A-a might seem like the premise in dispute when it isn’t. This isn’t to say that 1A-a is never legitimately in dispute, but only that, in my experience, people are inclined to make it seem as if they are rejecting that premise when actually they aren’t. Perhaps this is a good place to leave off and I’ll pick up that topic in the next post. (Update: follow-up post here.)

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