The baton was passed from former president Barak Obama to President Donald Trump after a contentious 2016 election season.
Both political parties seem to be obsessed with the issue of loyalty. Parties and pundits across the political spectrum — those who are supposed to support and encourage dialogue in the marketplace of ideas — regularly charge those who question current thinking or criticize their leadership with being disloyal.
What loyalty means, why it matters — and what to do with those pesky people who put their loyalty to principles ahead of loyalty to party and political leaders — are questions the political elite and everyday citizens are grappling with.
Dennis Prager is a powerful conservative voice, and his Prager University delivers up great principles in an inviting and easy-to-understand format. However, in a recent column for National Review, the talk show host took “Never Trump” conservatives to task for their failure to, in his words, “report for duty.” He speculated that conservatives who have not yet boarded the Trump Train have done so out of pettiness, pride, or sheer ignorance.
Prager urged his conservative compatriots to join the fight, saying, “They can accept an imperfect reality and acknowledge that we are in a civil war, and that [President Donald] Trump, with all his flaws, is our general. If this general is going to win, he needs the best fighters. But too many of them, some of the best minds of the conservative movement, are AWOL.”
Prager’s military analogy is unfortunate. Conservatism has never been about unquestioning loyalty to a single person or political party just because they are in power. We are not “fighters” going to battle for a “general.” Conservatism promotes and defends timeless principles that lead to human flourishing — the loyalty is to the ideas and the principles, not a person.
Progressive liberals have also journeyed down the same fatally flawed “loyalty” road, particularly during the Obama administration. Those who dared to question the validity of a certain policy or action taken by then-President Barack Obama drew the ire and outrage of political elites and party bosses. The left regularly called for lockstep loyalty just because their leader was in control of the levers of power.
Because the framework of our nation is built on principles — not people or political parties — a baseball-umpire analogy would be more apt than a military comparison. The duty of the umpire is to call balls and strikes. Regardless of whether the fans are cheering or jeering, no matter the complaints from the players and coaches of either team — an umpire must be loyal to the rules of the game and the principle of fair play. That is the kind of loyalty we need from every American.
We shouldn’t have the left applauding the Obama administration for hitting a home run even though it hadn’t even stepped into the batter’s box. And we shouldn’t have the right declaring big league (or bigly) victory before a pitch to the Trump administration had even been thrown. Loyalty to the rules of the Constitution and the principles of democracy and decency demand that we watch, observe and then declare what the resulting pitch produced.
If Trump (or Congress, or the Supreme Court, or the Utah Legislature, or the governor) promotes a principle or a policy that will strengthen free markets or bolster civil society, we should voice support for it. If a bad idea or lousy piece of legislation is offered up, regardless of its source — we should resoundingly reject it.
We need more informed citizens who, like a good umpire, are simply willing to call balls and strikes based on reality, not a false sense of loyalty. We don’t pledge our loyalty to a person, including the president of the United States. Broad, unquestioned loyalty to the person in the Oval Office is both foolish and fleeting.
So, yes, conservatives will report for duty. That duty is to promote, preserve and protect the timeless principles found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the free enterprise system. Loyalty to these values, principles and policies promotes American freedom in our homes and houses of worship, in our businesses and backyards, and in our clubs and charitable organizations.
By being loyal to principles we can call the balls and strikes as we see them, supporting our elected officials when we believe they throw strikes, and calling them out when they don’t. After all, we are free-thinking Americans, not foot soldiers, and it is time to play ball for loyalty to the principles of freedom.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.