The talk-radio host, writer, and speaker Dennis Prager has spent most of his career as an unapologetic public moralist who champions Judeo-Christian values in American life. He believes that it is important for public figures to be good role models. And he wants Donald J. Trump to win the upcoming presidential election. Can his principles be reconciled with supporting that man, however reluctantly?As Friedersdorf explains, the positions Prager has taken over the years add up to a comprehensive denunciation of Trump: Prager hates profanity, despises adultery and divorce, strongly opposes torture, wants people to take responsibility for their actions and statements, thinks our public life needs more religion, and so on. One of his most distinctive pleas has been for an end to character assassination in our public life, which he calls "the rape of a name" and thinks may sometimes be worse than physical rape.
So how does he defend himself against the charge that by supporting Trump he has abandoned his principles? In a piece in the National Review, he wrote
We hold that defeating Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, and the Left is also a principle. And that it is the greater principle.Whoa. And what is it about liberals that make defeating them so important?
One side seeks to undo just about every founding principle that made America exceptional. Examples include small and limited government; preservation of the power of the states to serve as political and social laboratories; a belief in individual responsibility; a society rooted in Judeo-Christian morality—meaning a society composed of people most of whom affirm God and Bible-based moral teachings; and a deep sense of a unifying national American identity and destiny.So, let me get this straight. To defend God and Bible-based moral teachings, we need to vote for the man who is probably the least religious major party nominee of my lifetime, over a lifelong, committed Christian? Defending small government is so important that we should vote for a man who has no interest in small government at all, and has in fact promised to expand it in every direction?
It seems to me that all of his talk about small government and religious values are just a smokescreen for Prager, what a Marxist would call superstructure. His bedrock belief is the one he concludes with: American nationalism. What he really cares about is "a unifying national American identity and destiny," with lots of flag-waving and saluting. Trump has done us the service of exposing how many so-called conservatives really don't care about the "conservative values" they like to preach about. What they want is to celebrate and defend America as the best country in the world, with or without God and the Constitution.
It can't be said enough: politics is not mainly about policy. It is about identity, and the emotions that surround it. People defend particular policies because they fit the political identities they have chosen, not the other way around.