Many regard the United States Constitution as one of the greatest documents in the history of political thought. Indeed, it has a lot going for it. Not least of which the brilliant separation of powers, checks and balances, the Bill of Rights, and the insurance of popular sovereignty. Continuing to this day, they have rendered America the oldest existing Republic in the world.
Shiam Kannan | United States
President Donald Trump has never been a steadfast proponent of Constitutional conservatism, but on Friday, February 15th, 2019, he issued a full-fledged assault on American constitutional principles, declaring a National Emergency at the southern border in order to gain access to billions of dollars for the construction of a border barrier. While a strong case can be made on the merits of a border wall, the issue at hand goes further: our nation is at a Constitutional crossroads, and at this moment, we must decide whether the President has the power to spend money without Congressional consent.
The Constitution clearly addresses this issue, and the answer, according to the document, is a firm “no.” Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution states that “[n]o Money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” In other words, if there is no appropriations bill passed by Congress delegating money for a specific purpose, then money cannot be spent on that purpose. This means that Trump does not have any authority under the Constitution to unilaterally fund his border wall, or anything else, for that matter, using taxpayer dollars, unless Congress passes a funding bill which explicitly authorizes it.
By Shiam Kannan | United States
Since his inauguration in 2016, President Donald Trump has governed rather conservatively with bona fides such as last year’s tax bill and the nomination of two originalist justices to the Supreme Court. This has proven popular with conservative voters, and has brought previously skeptical conservative politicians, such as conservative Senator Mike Lee, to see the President in a much more favorable light. Nonetheless, the cold, hard truth remains: Trump cannot be the future of the conservative movement, and American conservatism must move beyond him in order to preserve the values upon which the ideology rests. This may be shocking to hear for many conservatives, given Trump’s record of governance so far. However, when analyzing his effect on conservatism, we cannot only look at his actions as President; rather, we must also take into account his effect on the movement as a whole.
The Redefining of Conservatism
Perhaps the biggest danger Trump poses to American conservatism is the fact that he seeks to redefine it. Conservatism, in the American sense, is built around a core of classical liberalism in the Lockean tradition. It emphasizes natural rights, limited government, and exalts individual liberty above all, while simultaneously recognizing that liberty without moral order is not liberty at all. Put simply, conservatism is merely libertarianism augmented with social traditionalism. Promulgated by such prominent figures as William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, Russell Kirk, and eventually Ronald Reagan, this marriage of social conservatism and libertarian governance, known as “fusionism,” has been the dominant strain of conservative belief in the United States—until now.
In the Trump era, the American right has been taken in a much different direction, embracing populism over ideology and abandoning many of its libertarian roots. Trump’s demagoguery, vitriolic attacks on the American media, troubled relationship with the truth, lack of humility or restraint, and blustering rhetoric all point towards the same conclusion: Trump is no conservative. He is merely the face of a tumor on American conservatism which has managed to hijack the movement, one which values style over substance and has no philosophy, no ideology, and no guiding worldview whatsoever.
The Lack of a Conservative Foreign Policy
Nowhere is Trump’s lack of a conservative worldview more clearly seen than in foreign policy. The most prominent issue that comes to mind is his trade policy. Trump has openly embraced protectionism, which is antithetical to the conservative belief in limited government and free markets. His misguided belief that trade is a zero-sum game is more in line with the beliefs of Bernie Sanders than those of, say, Ronald Reagan. His trade wars, not only with China but also with allies such as Canada, are an affront to the conservative philosophy, which embraces strong alliances and open trade with allies.
However, it is not only in trade policy where Trump flouts conservative orthodoxy. For all his talk of nationalism and his attacks on kneeling NFL players, Trump himself doesn’t seem like he believes in American exceptionalism. Indeed, he has no problem morally equating America with de-facto dictatorships such as Russia. For example, when asked by Bill O’Reilly why he supported Putin despite him being a “killer,” Trump’s reply was shocking: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” Clearly, these don’t seem like the words of someone who believes that America is a shining city upon a hill, a cornerstone of conservative philosophy.
Trump also rejects conservative principles when it comes to international relations, embracing isolationism over principled leadership. A healthy nationalism, which inspires the people to take pride in their nation, is a good thing and is something conservatives should strive to promote. On the other hand, Trump’s brand of neo-isolationism, masquerading as nationalism, is un-conservative, as it denies a role for American leadership in the world. Instead of affirming America’s unique status as leader of the free world, Trump has turned his back on our allies, even going so far as threatening to pull out of NATO. Trump’s strained relationships with Western leaders, such as Angela Merkel, Theresa May, and Emmanuel Macron, only further emphasize how he is contributing to the estrangement of the United States from the world around it.
This is not to say that Trump should embrace liberal internationalism, give up on his support for American sovereignty, and promote an interventionist foreign policy. But foreign policy isn’t a binary choice. A conservative foreign policy would assert American leadership on the world stage, strengthening bonds with Western powers and maintaining the trust of our allies, while at the same time being skeptical of unnecessary intervention and defending American sovereignty from entities such as the UN. After all, conservatism is the politics of realism, whereas both unbridled interventionism and isolationism are utopian ideologies: the former in its belief that American militarism can solve all the problems in the world, and the latter in its belief that the world can maintain order, stability, and a balance of power without American leadership.
The Lack of a Conservative Domestic Policy
On the domestic front, Trump has fared rather well on policy, but yet again, has failed on principle. While Trump is responsible for many conservative victories, like the tax cuts passed back in 2017, the way he has gone about pursuing other policy objectives, especially regarding immigration, are not conservative in the least. A conservative President would recognize his Constitutional limitations and defer to the Constitution’s mandate of separation of powers. Trump, however, does the opposite. For example, despite lambasting former President Obama for his liberal use of executive orders to circumvent Congress, Trump has had no qualms about using executive power to advance his own goals. Recently, Trump attempted to unilaterally change the rules for obtaining asylum in the United States, barring illegal immigrants from making asylum claims. While it is certainly both reasonable and conservative to ensure that people seeking asylum enter properly at ports of entry, we cannot forget that Trump is not king, and thus does not have unchecked power to make the law whatever he wants it to be. It is the job of Congress, as per Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization,” and if Trump were truly a conservative, he would respect Congress’s authority as America’s sole legislative body, and pressure them to pass the immigration laws he supports, instead of abusing the powers of his office.
If Trumpism cannot be the guiding philosophy of the future of American conservatism, then what can? Who will the torch-bearer be? We have many options. It could be Rand Paul, the stalwart defender of the Bill of Rights and unwavering fiscal hawk. It could be Ben Sasse, one of the few Republican Senators who are willing to stand up to Donald Trump. It could even be figures such as Ben Shapiro, who are spreading principled conservatism to a millennial audience. There are many principled Republicans who could run for President in 2024, or even 2020 (if we’re lucky), who could take the mantle of the GOP and restore it to being the party of individual freedom, American exceptionalism, constitutionalism, limited government, free markets, and personal responsibility which it has been for most of its history. However, Donald Trump is not one of them, and if we want conservatism to remain a prominent force in American politics, we must reject him as its standard-bearer.
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Shiam Kannan | United States
The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is only one more entry in a long list of human rights abuses by the Saudi Arabian Government, which also includes their suppression of religious freedom, sponsorship of terrorism, and complicity in the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. However, Khashoggi’s murder is significant because it has brought mass attention to Saudi Arabia’s actions, and has given the United States a window through which to exit its relationship with them. Now is the time to utilize this window and end our partnership with the Saudis. Due to the Saudi Government’s involvement in some of the most abhorrent human rights violations present in the modern era, it is imperative that the United States terminate its friendship with Saudi Arabia if it wants to remain a nation looked up to by the rest of the free world.
Unfortunately, President Trump has refused to censure the Saudi government for its actions and has seemingly taken it for its word that the Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, had nothing to do with the assassination, despite the fact that the CIA has concluded that Salman had indeed ordered the killing. Essentially, Trump’s utilitarian view on foreign affairs has led to his favoring a foreign regime over our own intelligence agencies. President Trump’s cozying up to Saudi Royalty merely punctuates his view of foreign relations as business deals, rather than interactions with moral implications.
However, regardless of the Khashoggi assassination, there are many, many, other reasons why America ought to terminate its alliance with the Saudis, not least of which is the Yemeni Civil War. Over half of all the civilian deaths in Yemen have been due to Saudi airstrikes, and a recent UN report has concluded that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has been responsible for recruiting child soldiers, some as young as 8 years old, and even raping civilians. Saudi Arabia indiscriminately conducts bombings throughout Yemen, which have hit targets such as hospitals, funerals, and even refugee camps. And worst of all, Yemen is on its way to experiencing the “world’s worst famine in 100 years” if the Civil War continues. Saudi Arabia, in coordination with the US, is engaging in a blockade of food and supplies to Yemeni civilians. Approximately 12 to 13 million people are at risk of famine in Yemen right now, which could begin as soon as 2 to 3 months from now if the war does not end.
The airstrikes in Yemen are, for the most part, conducted using weapons purchased from the United States. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is America’s number one arms customer, as they give the US billions of dollars in exchange for laser-guided missiles and other destructive technologies. American-made bombs utilized by the Saudis have led to the deaths of many innocent people in Yemen, such as the 40 students on a school bus in Yemen which was bombed by the Saudis earlier this year. Essentially, this means that by selling the Saudis the weapons they want, which they subsequently use to murder Yemeni civilians, the US is just as complicit in their slaughter as the Saudi pilots dropping the armaments. The blood is not merely on Mohammed Bin Salman’s hands, but America’s as well unless it stops providing the Saudi Government with the tools they seek to massacre civilians in Yemen.
Despite all this, then, why is Trump so ardently supportive of the Saudis? One claim he frequently makes is that arms sales to Saudi Arabia boost American jobs in the defense industry. However the American private defense industry, which only accounts for 0.5% of the American labor force, does not rely on Saudi money; rather, its main client is the American military. Only approximately 8,000 workers in the United States make bombs, including the ones sold to Saudi Arabia, and it does not seem like their jobs are dependent on Saudi sales. Nonetheless, even if arms sales to Saudi Arabia are economically beneficial, the benefits are not worth the lives of innocent women and children on America’s conscience.
Another explanation for Trump’s warm relationship with Mohammed Bin Salman is merely the reason why America has been a Saudi ally for over 80 years: oil. Saudi Arabia has a great influence on global oil prices and thus is of great significance to American foreign policy and the US economy. But our addiction to foreign oil has clouded our moral judgment. Khashoggi’s murder should spark a moment of self-reflection at the very least: we should ask ourselves if cheaper gasoline is truly worth the betrayal of every single one of the values we seemingly espouse. We should ask ourselves if cheaper gasoline is worth the assassination of a journalist for exercising his right to a free press. We should ask ourselves if cheaper gasoline is worth the 7,000 civilians killed in Yemen since 2015. And if we reflect deeply enough, we should all be able to realize that the answer is “no.”
America has been regarded as the leader of the free world for the last century for only one reason: our values of liberty, equality, and democracy make us uniquely morally qualified to lead. We cannot maintain this moral authority so long as we remain allies with a government which openly and brazenly shows contempt for the very ideals we stand for. America’s soul should not be sold in exchange for cheap oil. Our ideals are worth more than the extra dollar at the pump, or the extra workers employed at Lockheed Martin. It’s time that we sent a loud-and-clear message to the Saudi Government that its egregious assaults on human rights, dignity, and equality will not be tolerated by the United States. Khashoggi’s murder has given us the perfect opportunity to end this relationship. It is now up to the President and Congress to do it. Let us all hope they make the moral choice.
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