It’s been three months since I left my job as Rep. Justin Amash’s Communications Director. Part of the reason I moved on was to start publishing under my own name again as I did for years before the transition to Capitol Hill. But I’m stuck. It’s not just writer’s block, although I think that’s part of it. As I’ve told a few people, I’m still trying to find my voice.
The fact is, I spent the better part of a decade as a mouthpiece for liberty Republicans predicated on the notion that the GOP was improving and had a more libertarian future ahead of it. I naively believed this like gospel for a long time. I
Longtime followers of my work will recall how I watched in horror as Trump rolled over an impressive lineup of Republican presidential candidates in 2016, including my first choice Rand Paul, and ultimately my second choice, Ted Cruz. (I miss that version of Cruz, by the way.) Back
To give a sense of my timeline, Trump became the GOP nominee just weeks before I started in Justin’s office during August of 2016. The Republican National Convention occurred between the time Justin offered me the job and my start date. In fact, live tweeting that clown show was my last hurrah speaking only for myself and not representing a politician, albeit an unconventional one who restricted me less than more traditional congressmen would, but a politician nonetheless. I could no longer criticize or offer up snark without it being tied to Justin. It took time to adjust my habits, but I finally learned what the parameters were and, measured by my prior standards, shut up.
Back when I started with Justin, Trump was still considered by the vast majority of people to be an unfortunate but temporary aberration. Everything I had published up to the point when I stopped writing for myself assumed that Hillary would crush Trump and the conservative movement could laugh away that awkward time a profoundly ignorant New York wannabe authoritarian won the GOP nomination because he’s famous for the fact that he’s been trolling everyone since the 80s. The world I expected to enter when I started writing again simply doesn’t exist.
Where do I go in a conservative movement that has either embraced Trump wholeheartedly or resigned itself to him? It seems to me that nearly everyone has decided character doesn’t matter, you know, as long as we’ve got our judges and our tax cuts ($21 trillion in debt be damned, too). Publications I would’ve wanted to write for in the past, people I would’ve happily worked with, organizations or politicians I would’ve consulted for … I simply don’t trust them anymore.
I realize that this metaphor is dramatic, but the situation contains many of the emotions endemic to a breakup. Like someone I had faith in betrayed me. On the one hand, sure, if you work in this industry, you’re going to become jaded. But I honestly thought the conservative movement as a whole, with all of its preexisting flaws and strange bedfellows, was better than this. To see wholesale political tribalism trump any semblance of principle, decency, and quite frankly sanity, is disturbing. Yes, pun intended.
Plenty of folks I respected—and many randos on the internet—think I’m a loser for feeling this way. For not cheering Trump on when he acts like an insane person. For criticizing him when he doubles down on policies the same people hated from Obama. For refusing to believe that the wholesale degradation of conservatism that comes with allowing Trump, who is anything but genuinely conservative, define the term in the eyes of the public is worth it for a couple of temporary policy wins (which also ignores the bad policies, as Trump’s defenders are wont to do).
There’s a part of me that knows this too shall pass and everyone will start hero worshipping the new kid in town when he or she arrives on the scene. But this is the current landscape, and I fear that Trump will leave a stain on the conservative movement that won’t be easily erased. Perhaps I’m wrong about this like I, and nearly everyone else, was wrong about Hillary losing to him, but I don’t see how conservatives who have embraced President Grab ‘Em By The You-Know-What can ever claim a moral high ground again.
So here I am, wondering if the conservative movement still has space for a libertarian former Republican who refuses to play the hero worship flattery games necessary to make it in Trump’s warped, ego-driven world. There’s also a part of me that wonders if I even want to make it in this particular world at all, which has been part of the rut I find myself in.
Why try to associate with people who don’t want me around? Do I even want to bother attempting to persuade those who tell me I suffer from derangement syndrome because I haven’t engaged in the mental gymnastics necessary to convince myself that Donald Trump, whose active disdain for free speech, constitutional restraint, fiscal discipline, and the vast majority of beliefs considered to be conservative prior to 2016 is our de facto conservative standard bearer?
I go back and forth on this question. We do need dissenting voices. And of course, not everything is about Trump. There are millions of worthy topics to write about, and one of my goals is to expand beyond the pigeonhole of politics. But it’s still jarring to navigate a landscape that not long ago felt like home to me yet looks unrecognizable now.
So there it is. My first attempt to articulate this dilemma in writing. To be fair, the trouble is also that I’ve been telling myself the first piece I publish post-Capitol Hill has to be a Big Thing at a Big Outlet. But no, it really doesn’t. I’ve been allowing that expectation to hold me back as I ghostwrite for others. As it turns out, a stream of consciousness rant on my blog is a perfectly acceptable alternative.