Sunday, January 06, 2019

conservative infighting

It's Roger Kimball versus Never Trumper Jonah Goldberg:

The Character That Matters

I apologize for my lack of clarity. Let me rectify that by stating baldly that I do believe Donald Trump is, in the ways that matter for a president, a man of good character.

I hasten to acknowledge that Jonah takes me and other supporters of the president to task for qualifications like “in the ways that matter for a president.” He thinks that all such admissions are obfuscating rhetorical window dressing designed to conceal “a new and wholly instrumental definition of good character. Not only is Trump doing things conservatives want, but because Trump is doing what conservatives want, he clears a definition of good character.”

I would answer that, first, the idea of character I have in mind is not a new one. One might trace it back to James Madison’s thoughts, in Federalist 51, about the relationship between private imperfection and the public good. Indeed, one might trace it back to Aristotle’s discussion of the good at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics.

I think it is also worth pondering the work that Jonah wants the adverb “wholly” to do in the deflationary phrase “wholly instrumental.” Any meaningful definition of good character has to involve an instrumental element. Otherwise the character in question would be impotent. This is part of what Aristotle meant, I think, when he observed that “it is our choice of good or evil that determines our character, not our opinion about good or evil.” In dismissing the connection between character and potency as “wholly instrumental” Jonah flirts with an idea of character that is unanchored to the realities of life.


Many people were surprised when Peter Thiel declared his support for Donald Trump. He was just about the only Silicon Valley entrepreneur who did. One interlocutor, citing something unpalatable that Trump had done or said, asked Thiel how he could support Trump given his outré behavior. I don’t support him because of the things he does that I don’t like, Thiel said, but because of things that he does that I do like.

I think that is a mature and politically enlightened attitude.

There's more. Do read this, even if you're a Trump-hater. I'm certainly not a Trump-liker, and I might quibble with the operational definition of "character" that Kimball is using here (a definition that strikes me as lawyerly), but as in my previous post quoting Kimball (whom I should be reading more often), I agree with the general tenor and substance of his argument.

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