Trump and the trouble with labels

By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]

Donald Trump’s sustained momentum in the Republican primary race for president brings with it criticism from some conservatives – the ones who feel ownership of such definitions – that Trump is not really a conservative.

Certainly, Trump’s personal politics have run the gamut through the years, but have largely been based on what has been best for his various business enterprises. It is most believable that The Donald is a true free-market economic conservative, and ambivalent on social issues.

Our society loves labels, but more important than a blind allegiance to any political ideology is the importance of living life with eyes wide open. The beliefs held at one point in our lives should in no way entrap us at another point, after more life experiences and changing circumstances have continued to inform us.

Many adherents to conservatism and liberalism employ litmus tests on issues like gay rights, abortion, guns, immigration, taxes, welfare, health care, education, the military, etc., and determine both their presidential preference and their definition of “true conservatives” or “true liberals” through such tests. Failing even one item can mean exclusion from the club, in their minds.

I am probably among the excluded, because I do not feel obliged to believe all the same things at the age of 59 that I believed at the ages of 19 or 29 or 39 or even 49. I have remained constant on many issues, but have revised my thinking on others.

Most of us are blessed with free will and reasonably intelligent minds, and it makes sense to use both to regularly consider and reconsider what we believe to be true or right as events unfold.

To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, using our brains in the pursuit of truth is no vice. Like trying to cram a square peg into a round hole, too many people try to force circumstances or events into their own stubborn worldview, rather than allow themselves the freedom to adjust that worldview.

It’s unfortunate when others label us politically. It’s even worse when we label ourselves and then feel obliged to wear it forever like a tattoo. It would be better not to limit our own freedom or restrict our own rights or constrain our own free will than to feel required to defend what we believed a decade or more ago in the name of political consistency.

No one else can write or create a party platform or political manifesto that can entirely speak for me, nor can I do so for anyone else, because we are each so unique in our experiences, influences and conclusions.

So now comes Donald Trump, who is invading the Republican Party and upsetting the conservative applecart, causing much handwringing among many party leaders and more than a few of the faithful congregants. They ask, how can we stop him? He’s not really one of us, they say.

That he is not “one of us” actually explains his current appeal to the plurality, if not yet the majority, of Republican poll respondents. An ever-increasing number of people, even party members, are growing weary of the standard, repetitive platitudes and bromides regularly offered by the establishment candidates, and even by the self-labeled conservatives.

People simply want someone who can lead. Trump, whatever his faults, is most definitely a leader, never a follower.

Those who try to banish him by simply accusing him of insincerity or carpet-bagging will soon find that effort insufficient. Too many people today don’t care. They want a can-do attitude and a commitment to achievement, almost by whatever means are necessary. People are tired of talk without action.

Just where Trump is leading is not yet clearly defined, and it still remains to be seen whether his bluster is backed up with enough substance for sufficient numbers to follow him. But the very fact of his current standing is evidence of an electorate less interested in debating the old arguments and more devoted to moving past them.

Trump shoots from the hip, cares nothing about being politically correct, and annoys the traditional power players and the entrenched status quo (reminding me of a certain local mayor).

But the average voter cares about few of the things that party leaders or the status quo care about, and they like the fact that Trump doesn’t seem to care, either. In today’s environment, action and accomplishment are much preferred over etiquette, caution and political polish.

We are at a stage of our great American experiment in democracy where liberal or conservative triumph is no longer the definition of victory in the minds of most voters.

In a world where politicians often confuse talk with leadership – “We need to have a national conversation about this” is an eye-rolling platitude – most Americans are tired of debate and are instead begging for action.

Is Donald Trump a “true conservative?” Among voters in general, and even among many conservatives, the most popular answer to that question is, who cares?

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]