Peter Wehner: ‘I Am Critical of Trump Because I Am a Conservative’
In Conversation with Andrew Keen on
the Keen On Podcast
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On today’s episode, Peter Wehner, New York Times contributing op-ed writer and author of the upcoming book The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump, discusses the moral issue with Donald Trump’s presidency.
From the episode:
Peter Wehner: Donald Trump is not just a liar, but he’s engaged in an all-out assault on truth, an effort to annihilate truth, categories of truth and falsity, and to try and overwhelm people with misinformation and disinformation. That is not conservatism, certainly, as I had come to understand it. Indeed, if you go back to the 1980s, which were formative years for me, I was in a sense a child of the Reagan revolution.
One of the most important books of that decade for conservatives was The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. He was a University of Chicago professor, scholar of Plato, disciple of Leo Strauss, and he argued about this danger of relativism in this assault on truth in the academy.
Now it’s not simply been confined to the academy, but in politics itself, and that has huge radiating effects on the transgression of norms and the rule of law, which conservatives once stood for proudly and strongly. The tremendous damage that I think Trump is doing to our political and civic culture, and I’m sure this is not confined to conservatives, but he is just psychologically and emotionally deeply unwell. I’ve worked in three administrations. I’ve worked in the White House for seven years. I think I have some appreciation for the power of the presidency and the importance. As I’ve gotten older and been more involved in politics, politicians checking the box on issues has become somewhat less important and their character, temperament, judgment, and their wisdom has become more important. I don’t mean to play down how important politics is. I spent most of my life in it, but there are so many decisions in life, especially for a president and in a presidency, that you can’t anticipate, and you have to depend on the wisdom, judgment, and temperament of the person you elect.
Not only do I think that Donald Trump is bad in that regard, I don’t think that anyone has ever come close to being as bad. Last thing I’ll say is I don’t consider Trump to be a conservative and I don’t consider his supporters to be conservative. I consider them to be angry populists and ethnic nationalists. If you go through the pedigree, the history of conservatism, there was a deep concern for mob mentality and stoking up the passions of the people. That’s why we have this system of government. We do with checks and balances, separation of powers, and all the rest, and Trump is the antithesis of that. He is constantly stoking up mob mentality and passions. So those are some of the reasons why I am a conservative. It’s not that I’m simply a conservative who is critical of Trump. I’m critical of Trump in large part because I am a conservative.
Andrew Keen: Is your critique than a moral one?
Peter Wehner: It is moral. I don’t think it’s confined to being just moral, but I would say fundamentally, at its core, it is moral because I think politics is at its core moral. I think politics, which is about a lot of things, is finally fundamentally about justice. In the Federalist Papers, Madison talks about that the end of government is justice, and I think justice is a moral concept. Donald Trump-ism is a moral offense, and I use that term broadly. I don’t just mean his crudity or his infidelity, but I mean, beyond that, I think that he is is a person who engages often in wicked acts and is a spear at the heart of a lot of moral concepts that are important to to this country.
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Peter Wehner is a New York Times contributing Op-Ed writer covering American politics and conservative thought and a popular media commentator on politics. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and veteran of three White House administrations.