What are we to think and do about misbehaving public figures? Peggy Noonan’s Dec. 7 must-read column delved into this question, addressing the Al Franken affair and his half-hearted Senate farewell address. The punchline arrived near the end of her piece, when Noonan quoted approvingly conservative writer Sohrab Ahmari's condemnation of social conservatives who excuse “vulgar populists” because of their right-leaning policy positions.
The latter context was devoted to Alabama’s now-defeated Senate candidate Roy Moore – and the omnipresent President Trump.
In truth, the entire column spoke to the Trump era and can be summed up in one question: Are the Reaganesque policy successes and judicial nominations of the Trump administration worth three (or seven) additional years of small-minded Twitter wars, off-the-cuff policy pronouncements, and occasional bad taste one-liners?
Ahmari's (and it appears, Noonan’s) conclusion seems to be this: No amount of good news is worth abetting an “insufficient” and “inadequate” leader’s refusal to abide by behavioral norms (“standards”) expected of our commander in chief.
Noonan concludes with a sound admonition: “Don’t let your fears – even wholly legitimate ones – drive you.” Certainly good advice, but other compelling notions could have been added to her disquieting analysis.
Here are three for your consideration.
The first hearkens back to the romantic notion of the “will of the people,” in this case, a free people who had a full opportunity to weigh Trump’s personal and professional shortcomings and nevertheless voted him into office. Here, nullification is not an option. Free and fair elections must never be discounted in a democracy.
A second (indelicate) notion is more of a reality check on what giving up the ship would produce. Indeed, a hint of what could be in store for the country under Democratic control is supplied by “resistance” behavior over the past few months: 58 House votes for a groundless impeachment, embarrassing amnesia regarding past pronouncements in support of moving our embassy to Jerusalem, and over-the-top-reactions to a tax bill that returns billions of dollars to American taxpayers.
It is accordingly easy to see how Trump's abdication would empower really bad behavior by those who desire a return to former President Barack Obama’s slow economic growth, timid foreign policy, and open-borders regime. Alas, many of us are unwilling to pay such an exorbitant price simply because we are at times uncomfortable with this president’s disquieting behavior.
The third consideration is Washington’s continuing astonishment at Trump’s unapologetic jettisoning of principles that have guided presidents in recent years — especially the Obama years. To wit, Trump expects our NATO allies to pay their dues, in full and on time. He has (successfully) pressured the United Nations to cut spending. He will no longer inform our enemies of arrival and departure times for U.S. troops on the battlefield. He will support democratic uprisings against autocratic, anti-American regimes. He does not believe “Gitmo” merely fuels the fire of those who have hated us for decades. And he does not feel an obligation to accede to multilateral agreements (e.g. Iran, Paris) that do not benefit the domestic or foreign policy interests of the U.S.
Some may recall a guy named Reagan issued similar challenges to a resistant establishment. His tenure worked out pretty well.
I understand Ms. Noonan’s high-ground disregard for a “win at any cost” rationalization of the Trump presidency. But periodic discomfort and sometimes frustration with the egocentric ways of this president does not compel me to indulge a “give it up in order to start anew” mindset.
The Obama-era damage to our economy and culture still burns too brightly. And Trump's administration holds forth great promise on issues such as taxes, education reform, foreign policy, Internet deregulation, and a number of other areas whose importance people underestimate.
Obama’s disregard for the rule of law and enthusiastic fomenting of identity politics are things I do not miss and do not wish to revisit. So, with due respect to one of the country’s most thoughtful writers, I’ll put up with the tweets. I’ll countenance the over-the-top salesmanship. I’ll pray for more decorum and less vitriol.
But I’ll pass on unilateral disarmament. The stakes are far too high to give people who are presently going about the business of giving socialism another test run the keys to the car yet again.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich is a Washington Examiner columnist, partner at King & Spalding, and author of three books, including the recently released Turning Point. He was governor of Maryland from 2003-2007.