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By Emmett McGroarty, J.D., IHE Director of the Program on the Constitution and Catholic Social Doctrine
On October 19th — a week ago as I write this piece — the IHE had a great event entitled The 2020 Election and the Future of the Right. Ross Douthat, our Media Fellow and a New York Times columnist, moderated the discussion with panelists Samuel Goldman (The George Washington University), Dan McCarthy (Modern Age), and Ramesh Ponnuru (National Review), all of whom provided thought-provoking insight. In this column, I provide my views on the over-riding focus of the discussion — the state of the post-Trump right-of-center political movement (which I’ll abbreviate as the “Right” for purposes of this piece).
I am submitting this piece prior to the election. Regardless of the election results, I believe Trump’s presidency will profoundly affect the Right for the reasons outlined below.
Prolife. By the 1990s, the prolife grassroots movement had made it very difficult for GOP politicians to be pro-abortion. Trump has raised the bar by proactively discussing the issue in general audience fora and unabashedly advocating for life. This will be the standard for GOP presidential candidates moving forward.
The American Experiment vs. Progressivism and Socialism. In his inaugural address, President Trump declared, “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.” Since then, President Trump has prominently contrasted the big-government ideologies of progressivism and socialism with liberty, the free market, and government controlled by the people. With regard to tax policy and appropriations, he has railed against using the federal government as an enabler of profligate state spending. Looking forward as to both foreign and domestic affairs, the Trump shift more explicitly exposes socialism as a denigration of freedom and human dignity. As to domestic policy discussions, the shift is towards a reconsideration of the authorities of government, the distribution of power, and political accountability in the bureaucracy.
Military and Defense Policy. Trump’s policy is to have a powerful military but to be wary of interventions leading to long on-the-ground commitments in foreign lands. This draws the ire of neocons as well as those who want a smaller, less-expensive force. Nonetheless, under Trump’s leadership we are extricating ourselves from “endless wars” while still taking a firm stand against foreign aggressors. Trump’s approach, I believe, will be the dominant policy position on the Right for the foreseeable future.
African-American Outreach by the Right. For decades, conservatives in general — and the GOP specifically — have lamented that the party of Lincoln no longer has widespread support among African-Americans. Going against that grain, multiple surveys (see here and here) suggest that the president is polling significantly better among African-Americans than past GOP candidates. Is he showing the Right how to cure its deficiencies?
President Trump can rightly claim credit for the First Step Act, which among other things reformed draconian criminal sentencing rules that disproportionately harmed African-Americans. He also touts passage of the Future Act, which provided meaningful long-term and temporary funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). And, he argues that his economic policies have resulted in record employment for African-Americans.
Will part of President Trump’s legacy be a more robust substantive outreach from the right? Are the president’s legislative initiatives and his message of prosperity having a positive effect? Win or lose, if the actual election results show a significant increase in support among African-Americans, then this will also be a component of his lasting effect on the Right.
Certainly, the future of the Right needs to be evaluated with regard to a host of other issue sectors — international trade agreements, public confidence in the media, the effect of the various peace agreements brokered by the Trump administration, and relations with China, to name a few. But, more importantly, the overall Trump effect on the Right is a prominent discussion and defense of the fundamental tenets of Western civilization and the American Experiment.