Conservative Conversations: Vivek Debates a Trump Supporter (featuring Edmund Kozak)

· Political


Forward by Vivek:

The unofficial mission statement of V for Verbatim this year was to restore some dignity in discourse and respect among peers that has been lost in the fog of political war (repenting as well, for my own contribution to it), and to carve on a slab of internet tube stone for time immemorial a vehement conservative opposition to Donald Trump. It began with my lament for discourse following Justice Scalia’s passing. Along similar lines, it continued with my forthright defiance against Trump and the horse of tribalistic thumos his movement rode in on, followed then by my reprinting of Mr. Vollmer’s most excellent conservative testimonial against the Donald himself.

But more is needed. Sadly, the decline of discourse I spoke of has not slowed. Republican principles and ordered liberty do not survive such an unsettling, tumultuous state of nonstop rancor. People, including many of my conservative peers, are burning bridges with one another over their seemingly irreconcilable differences and bragging about it with the full force of intellectual dishonesty.

So I was delighted when my friend Edmund Kozak, who has been an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump since at least as early as February, 2016, approached me with the idea of co-authoring a spirited exchange between us as conservatives. I have known Ed for about five years. A learned man with an intellect rooted in the Tory tradition, he is something of a papist firebrand. He writes for LifeZette and has contributed to, The Commentator, and various other outlets. He has also recently gained the attention of some of the heavies on National Review for taking an axe to their #NeverTrump orthodoxy. Needless to say, he and I have much to disagree about at this time, to say nothing of our football rivalry (Go Pats!). But I respect his perspective and relish the opportunity to lead by example in correcting the course of our nation’s civic downfall. The floor is yours, Mr. Kozak.

– Vivek

[Mr. Kozak]

As I understand it, there are four basic reasons why those such as Mr. Subramanyam and Mr. Vollmer are opposed so adamantly to the notion of voting for Donald Trump.

The first is his history of holding liberal positions and donating to liberal causes, and his obvious lack of any grasp of conservatism as historical or intellectual movement. His faux-conservative positions, untethered to principle, only serve to highlight this and are in and of themselves themselves a central of objection for many.

The second is his moral character. Unscrupulous, vain, egotistical, boorish, adulterous, the list of unpleasant adjectives is nearly endless.

The third, tied closely to the previous objection, is his temperament. Having someone like that responsible for defense and diplomacy seems to terrify some American conservatives.

The fourth is his open and eager embrace of populism and penchant for uncouth, un-PC language. More specifically, the charge is that Trump’s politically-incorrect discourse and populist dog whistles go well beyond the boundaries of civilized discourse and are simply rude and, as Mr. Subramanyam wrote, display a “moral corruption”.

I must confess that I find it difficult to find fault with some of this reasoning. However, I take issue with the fact that most, if not all, of those employing these arguments against Trump have supported in the past candidates to whom one or more of these criticisms could apply. For that I have yet to be presented a satisfactory explanation.

I also find much of the supposed evidence of these charges is weak, and in many of the specific criticisms levied at Trump from conservatives, I have come to sense an inherent acquiescence to some of the central tenets of liberalism, leftism, and modernism, which I find deeply troubling. Indeed it suggests that for many years the so-called conservative movement in America has been populated largely by legions of Vizzinis.

Take the first criticism, a history of liberal positions. Mitt Romney had liberal baggage, and George W. Bush promised a sort of progressive conservatism. Neither displayed a particular knowledge of the intellectual history of conservatism, and even held some positions downright antithetical to conservatism of the Burkean tradition — such as favorable views towards globalization and nation-building.

As for the second criticism, Trump is surely vulgar and boorish, and has some shady dealings in his past. But first of all, other more respected GOP candidates had rumours and records of moral failings — i.e. Marco Rubio. Second of all, their is a fundamental hypocrisy somewhere in conservatives assuming that those who are part of the system they constantly rail against are better suited to fix it than someone from the outside. Indeed, there is something quite twisted about attacking Trump’s morals whilst defending the morals of those who happily partake in a corrupt government system in which laws are literally passed to please the highest bidder.

As to his temperament, and specifically how that would affect foreign affairs, it this argument is one that may indeed bother me the most. Presidents Bush and Obama spent their time in office quietly preparing for a war with Russia. Trump wants to work with Russia to kill militant Muslims. A fact admitted by everyone from Julian Assange to the New York Times is that Hillary is herself more hawkish than Trump. And indeed given Obama’s authorization of America’s largest increase in nuclear weaponry spending in its history, and the United States and NATO’s continued provocation of Russia in Eastern Europe, Trump may very well be the last best hope of avoiding an actual world war. The fact that so many people don’t see this terrifies me.

The fourth criticism. I would caution those elitist conservatives that not only is there is an inherent and authentic conservatism reflected in most populist movements, and the one surrounding Trump is no different, but also that the elite of the day is largely if not entirely hostile to conservative values.

If one truly has no problem with continued free trade and globalization that destroys American working communities, some of which are as old as the country itself, if one truly has no problem with the continued demographic changes in America that threaten to permanently tip the political balance against the ethno-cultural group that created the country, and are the inheritors of — and, as polls and voting trends consistently suggest, the only ones who value — Western civilization, if one is truly willing to bend and brake on radical social issue after social issue just to please the angry mobs of quarter-educated millennial morons, then I can only wonder what in heaven’s name one thinks one is trying to conserve?

And just to point out, Trump may be vulgar and rude, but the Democrats are radical and racist. This year’s DNC was a week-long anti-white Woodstock that explicitly celebrated and honored lawlessness. And I suppose if nothing else I feel that is the best argument for supporting Trump — the alternative. The same argument that these so-called principled conservatives have employed for years to defend candidates who were not ideologically “pure” — Hillary Rodham Clinton. Eight years of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Eight years of Hillary Rodham Clinton which could see three to four empty seats appearing in the Supreme Court.

Finally, a note on just one of the many conservative criticisms of one of Trump’s “gaffes” I find particularly underwhelming. Many so-called conservatives attacked Trump for his abortion comments re: legal punishment for women who seek them out. Surely that is logically consistent. If we hold an unborn child to be a child — a human being — then surely a woman who willingly gets an abortion is willingly responsible for the death of a human being and complicit in some way of murder. Indeed, in English common law, women were traditionally held responsible for the murder of their child if they willingly induced an abortion after “the quickening.”

[Mr. Subramanyam]

In responding, I begin at the end – largely because I think it necessary to clarify the spectrum of conservative positions on abortion. I do not think the belief that women should be punished for acquiring an abortion is intrinsic to conservative orthodoxy. That position runs headlong into the thorny issue of whether to criminalize or make actionable the failure to perform an affirmative duty – which is something that is just as circularly self-justified as the morally abominable position that an abortion does not constitute murder. But that theoretical point aside, abortions are commonly understood to be medical procedures, and that’s where I suspect pro-life conservatives today would allow states to impose sanctions and other such punitive actions. To punish individual women for aborting their children is certainly something you could argue states are constitutionally allowed to do but it does not follow that it is an imperative. And I, for one, do not think it wise.

The first criticism – that his past support of leftist causes and candidates, and adoption of their positions on major issues close to heart for many in the nation reveal Trump to be devoid of conservatism – should not be understood as a purity test. One need not be studious or even reverent of the writings of Edmund Burke or Bill Buckley to call himself conservative, and your conservatism is not altogether nullified if you fail to adhere to a particular position. If abortion is the go-to, it should be more than troubling that Trump supported and donated to the “pro-choice” lobby (as well as Ed Rendell’s 2002 primary challenge to Bob Casey in Pennsylvania). It should otherwise be unsettling that Trump supported Harry Reid and the DSCC all the way up through 2010. Six years of peddling Republican attention after a lifetime’s worth of being on the other side far surpasses any ideological transgression George W. Bush or Mitt Romney ever committed. Neither of them did anything remotely like that. The former ran a socially conservative campaign in 2000 and denounced Bill Clinton’s nation building in Somalia, and his tune changing as president – while mistaken in hindsight – was born from the exigencies caused by 9/11, not some hidden Progressivism in his politic. The latter reformed healthcare in Massachusetts – a state with 2% of the nation’s population. Governors boast executive experience in tackling similar problems; they do not always showcase their solutions as models for the nation. And as Avik Roy has pointed out for years, President Obama’s bastard hell spawn of a healthcare law bears the creative DNA of Deval Patrick’s expansions of RomneyCare at least as much as Romney’s original design.

But Trump affords himself nothing even remotely close to these explanations. Bush and Romney adopted many positions that were wrong in the sense that a conservative would be wrong. Trump has a half-century’s worth of rejecting conservatism in its entirety. In excusing himself, he can only cry business pragmatism. Fair enough, but that is no assurance to conservatives.

Speaking of flawed conservatives that many swallowed their pride to support, that brings me to your response to the other three criticisms, which I address together. Yes, many conservatives are terrible moral hypocrites, but that does not give cause to overlook Trump’s dogged parading of his infidelities or cease concern of how it would further indict the character of the party whose core constituency, for the past few decades, had at least given the impression of caring about integrity in leaders. If Barack was caught cheating on Michelle, I’d like to think that the conservative outcry against him would not have simply come from a place of contempt for his presidency. Thanks to Trump’s ascendance, we can’t know that now. It is, in that way, far worse than the DNC’s #ShoutYourAbortion repugnance because the Left cast off its pretense of caring long ago.

Conservatism demands better from its leaders; you seem to agree that Trump’s behavior has been atrocious but are willing to excuse it because he is apparently an outsider. I share your concerns about the dank sausage-making of laws in the corrupt factory that is Congress, but in your argument I smell the same leftist acquiescence you charge conservative opponents of Trump with partaking in. Is this not the case leftists make for dismissing degenerate and even criminal behavior by their own leaders so long as they’re voting the right way?

I am also unsure as to just how Marco Rubio managed to become a core insider in only four years of Senate service after being the best face of the 2010 Tea Party Revolution. Apart from his Gang of Eight bill, what seems to have tethered Rubio to the cronies’ bed in the eyes of Trump supporters is his temperament. Rubio’s voice is a little high pitched, but his demeanor is otherwise steady if a little over prepared. Trump, often to the glee of his supporters, retches fire and brimstone upon pure impulse. He is easily provoked into petty high-profile feuds with people he needn’t bother with (not to mention a Gold Star family) where he then assigns his adversaries childish nicknames, and makes insinuations about them and their families that would be unbecoming even of kids in high school detention.

It is not only in foreign policy where conservatives should fear this lack of temperament. It would affect his ordinary Chief Executive duties from public speeches to interactions with advisors and members of Congress to his treatment of peaceful dissent. Trump throwing a tantrum over, say, the defiance of the Senate would no doubt be juicy for the Press, but if the last seven years have taught us anything it’s that the seeds of social and political division sowed by a demagogue in the White House will not slow or cease in their growth by his replacement with a different demagogue.

As for foreign policy, we admittedly have little more than speculation and I cannot pretend myself an expert, but let’s assume the truth of your premise. Let’s say Trump plays nice with Putin, continues his flippancy towards NATO, and even goes so far as to legitimize the Crimean annexations in order to avoid war. And let’s say it works. How long can that last? Putting aside the fact that ceding to Russia more reigns of power is always an exercise of playing with fire, this will further destabilize Europe as America continues to ignore the picture. As Europe looks inward, its attention towards the stability of the Middle East begins to wane. How then does Israel alone hold back the tide of ISIS and a nuclear Iran? Furthermore, as a friend pointed out to me, in the wake of an empowered Russia, what possible incentive would China have to not increase its territorial expansions in Southeast Asia and naval presence in the South China Sea? And what if all that (or something else) is a catalyst for the newly-minted militant Japanese regime to get aggressive in the Pacific again? And then how long can America keep out of the inevitable skirmishes before it finds itself embroiled in larger conflicts on the global stage, but this time with significantly less assistance from allies who would be understandably upset at us for our abdication?

These are the risks that Trump’s America, inevitably lacking in resolve and real leadership, would take. Clinton and Obama may have continued President Bush’s fine work of making incorrigible messes in Middle Eastern nations by ousting dictators, and thereby opening up power vacuums that lead to sectarian violence and radicalized reactions, but even by your appraisal of his potential to be cool headed with Russia, Trump would have our nation do far more than simply not repeat those mistakes. It is one thing to denounce globalization and to not have one arm so entangled in foreign affairs that it cannot shield itself from hostile cultural encroachment. It is quite another to pretend that the rest of the world spins normally without us at this point. Trump cannot pretend to know how to deal with any of this, and his temperament would leave a trail of sparks where he travels, any of which could inadvertently blow the powder kegs of turmoil.

Are we truly prepared to take that risk? Perhaps a better question: are we really willing to say that all of this may be worth it because of the chance that Trump will appoint better Supreme Court justices than Hillary Clinton?

On the subject of the Supreme Court, the interest of brevity compels me to limit my response to two points. First: Justices of the Supreme Court, though far from apolitical, are not quite the partisan agenda-driven animals they appear to be. Second: The Supreme Court is not as important to the political war as we make it out to be, and it likes to keep it that way.

For every high-profile, predictably-aligned 5-4 opinion on the myopic matters, there are dozens of cases, most of which involve dense federal law (Internal Revenue Code, Bankruptcy Code, ERISA, Telecommunications Act, etc.) as well as principles of interpretation and scope of jurisdiction. This is the real work of the Court – uncontroversial law-developing jurisprudence that doesn’t involve spicy dissents, oral argument soundbites, or adversity that our sycophantic society secretly craves.

The Court, as the Chief Justice Rehnquist observed in his book The Supreme Court, is “dominated by centrifugal forces, pushing toward individuality and independence, than it is by centripetal forces pulling for hierarchical ordering and institutional unity.”[1] Justices preside over an institution that is fundamentally different from the policy-oriented branches, and they learn quickly to appreciate that. Unlike rising political tides, justices come one (at most two) at a time and bring no cohorts with them, and whose reputation depends largely on skill and consistency.

Institutional concerns constrain their agendas further. Chief Justice Roberts cares about the Court’s autonomy and cleanliness more than anyone else, and it’s those cases that tell you more about who these people really are. The practice of deference to states and legislatures often means upholding market-constricting policies that conservatives otherwise hate. Even a Court full of leftists, emboldened towards their lawless policy-guru inclinations, will find themselves constrained by these forces, for their belief in a ready and robust judiciary to offer rectitude for wronged individuals compels a fairly strict control of its limits.

Look no further than Hugo Black. A Progressive Democrat by every metric, in the Senate he sponsored a more extreme version of the Fair Labor Standards Act, supported nearly every New Deal initiative, denounced the Court’s conservative “horsemen” as legal usurpers, and was the most outspoken advocate of Court Packing. As Franklin Roosevelt’s first Justice he couldn’t have been a more Perfect New Deal advocate. And while Black initially stayed loyal to Roosevelt, in part due to the needs of the war effort, a decade on the Court made him something of a textual absolutist. His opinion in Youngstown, stopping President Truman from seizing the steel mills during wartime, reads like it could’ve been written by Rand Paul. Black was one of the First Amendment’s most consistent champions, despised substantive due process, favored hard rules over malleable standards, and rejected the idiocy of the “living Constitution.” He was in many ways, Scalia before Scalia, and in many ways Black was the stricter constructionist.

If that doesn’t give you pause, consider how tightly Black’s teachings on free speech grip all sides of the modern Court. The Court’s leftists protected the expression of dissidents of abortion, Westboro Baptists, and even cross burners.[2] The same applies to criminal statutes. Justice Ginsburg once wrote a textualist and 2A-conscious dissent against an opinion that interpreted the word “carry” to encompass the act of storing a firearm in the trunk of a car for purposes of a criminal law against firearms in drug crimes.[3]

But how often do we get those “landmarks” that rattle the public? Not often, because apart from the dwindling handful of today’s and tomorrow’s unanswered constitutional questions, the Court is not actually that important. Its members like to keep it that way, because they rely on the rest of the country willingly abiding by its decisions under the Rule of Law. Even its leftists weren’t ready to recognize same-sex marriage until the nation at large was ready for it. As such, the better question is, how often do we get judicial overhauls that no one can circumvent? Even fewer. Its upholding of Obamacare will not prevent conservatives from overturning it, or forcing the Federal government to waste more resources to keep it alive by refusing to run state exchanges or expand Medicaid. States protected themselves from abominations like Kelo by enacting stricter laws against the taking of property. States and federal agencies enjoy a wide birth of deference from the courts on economic regulations and other mercantile laws. That’s most things.

The point of all this is that your Supreme Court trump card for the Donald rests entirely on (valid) concerns for only a miniscule number of issues that burn hot only from the passion that engulfs their advocacy. None of those issues by themselves (no, not even a reversal of Heller/McDonald) or even altogether would topple our Republic. Our nation is built on stronger bones than that.

What we cannot survive, however, is the continued breakdown of public discourse that seeps the slow poison of dysfunction to our lawmaking institutions, or presidents who would steamroll the law and show contempt for all things that could curb their power. Donald Trump is the embodiment of today’s common citizen’s sickening penchant for suppressing the greater principles of order in the heat of gut fury.

As such, I think it is the moral imperative of all true conservatives to stand against him.

[Mr. Kozak]

I have decided against offering a final general defense of voting for Trump, as I believe that in the last week or so, multiple authors have put forth perhaps better and more thorough entreaties than anything I would have produced. The best of these is the now viral “Flight 93 Election” essay which has made the rounds and then some, and if there is anyone with an interest in this election who still has not read it I suggest that they do so.

Rather, I wish to begin by commenting individually on some specific ideas/statements contained in parts of your response, which I hope will serve as notes to an implicit text.


You claim that one’s “conservatism is not altogether nullified if you fail to adhere to a particular position.” I’m afraid I must disagree thoroughly. As you well know, one of my favorite maxims of all time is that “ideas have consequences.” I truly believe that in this degenerate modern age there are certain positions one cannot hold and still claim to be a conservative.

Indeed, these instances are much the same as those harebrained cretinous pseudo-Catholics who say things like “I’m Catholic, but I support gay marriage” or “I’m Catholic, but I support a woman’s right to chose.” No. One is by definition not a bloody Catholic if one supports those things. 

Now, I understand this is not strictly the same as there is literally a list of rules for being Catholic, whereas conservatism is more of a mindset. Having said that, there are indeed certain positions that identify a true conservative mind (see Kirk, Nisbet’s intro to de Maistre etc) and positions which are fundamentally at odds with those positions inherent to a conservative mind.

The main immediately disqualifying positions which seem to be held by a worrying number of self-proclaimed conservatives are, in my humble opinion, favorable or neutral views towards secularism, globalization, corporate capitalism, mass migration, feminism, sexual degeneracy, and of course, infanticide.

The plain fact is that practically everything that conservatives profess to wish to conserve is a product of Christian and European civilization. Anything that undermines the mores, morals, and traditions of Christian and European civilization cannot be conservative.

This of course immediately disqualifies pretty much every GOP candidate we’ve had this side of 1945, but that’s sort of my whole central point, and one I feel you still haven’t adequately addressed. But I digress.


On foreign policy:

Let’s say Trump plays nice with Putin, continues his flippancy towards NATO, and even goes so far as to legitimize the Crimean annexations in order to avoid war. And let’s say it works. How long can that last?

I honestly believe that a true alliance with Russia formed in good faith could indeed last decades and decades and decades, if not longer.

Putting aside the fact that ceding to Russia more reigns of power is always an exercise of playing with fire, this will further destabilize Europe as America continues to ignore the picture.

The only ones destabilizing Europe at present are Americans. When we pay attention to the picture, Europeans die. The CIA has treated Eastern Europe as a playground since 1991. If I was Russian I’d be pissed off too.

How then does Israel alone hold back the tide of ISIS and a nuclear Iran? Furthermore, as a friend pointed out to me, in the wake of an empowered Russia, what possible incentive would China have to not increase its territorial expansions in Southeast Asia and naval presence in the South China Sea?

The Israeli intelligence and military establishments have made it perfectly clear that they have no desire to hold back the tide of ISIS, as they see it as a valuable tool to keep the Iranians and their allies in line. Israel is not our friend. They never were, they never will be. It is a quasi theocratic ethno-state founded by socialists. And until about 1980 this is something every American conservative instinctively knew.

As for China, do you honestly believe the Russians like the Chinese? The Russians are some of the most racist people on the planet, and they covet parts of Chinese territory as much as they covet parts of EU territory. The Russians would happily carve up China between us if they believed we were serious partners in the endeavor.

It is one thing to denounce globalization and to not have one arm so entangled in foreign affairs that it cannot shield itself from hostile cultural encroachment. It is quite another to pretend that the rest of the world spins normally without us at this point.

Yes, but one must consider in what direction *we* are spinning it. The US have become the new Soviet Union. We are the evil empire imposing degenerate ways on traditional societies against their will.

Trump cannot pretend to know how to deal with any of this, and his temperament would leave a trail of sparks where he travels, any of which could inadvertently blow the powder kegs of turmoil. Are we truly prepared to take that risk?

The only risk with Trump is peace. Clinton guarantees war.


Basically, I think what all this really comes down to is the question I posed in my initial post. What, pray tell, are you trying to conserve? I feel your writings would make more sense were this 1956 and not 2016. The simple, horrifying fact is that there is little to nothing left to conserve.

“None of those issues by themselves (no, not even a reversal of Heller/McDonald) or even altogether would topple our Republic. Our nation is built on stronger bones than that.”

Our Republic is already toppled. Hell, I would argue it was toppled by 1850. What on earth is to be gained by falling on the sword of principle when a battle for the very survival of our civilization rages around us?

And perhaps that is my conclusion. I believe in this degenerate day and age any authentic conservative must also by definition be a reactionary too.

– Ed

[Mr. Subramanyam]

If our Republic is already toppled, then this is no Flight 93 Election. That said, I shall let your response stand as the last word, and close this with the pithy and useless shoulder-shrug comment of, “we’ll see.” Here’s to hoping debates like this resonate years from now.

– Vivek


[1] William H. Rehnquist, The Supreme Court 222 (First Vintage ed., Random House 2002) (1987).

[2] See McCullen v. Coakley, 134 S. Ct. 2518 (2014); Snyder v. Phelps, 131 S. Ct. 1207 (2011); Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003).

[3] See Muscarello v. United States, 524 U.S. 125 (1998) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting).

1 Comment

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  1. Ed

    Great debate especially the gracious closings. This election doesn’t give us much hope but a Hillary vote is just another (final) nail in our coffin.

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