Pragmatism is not Conservatism, or “Not So Fast on this Carrier Deal”


President-elect Trump, as we all know by now, cut a deal with Carrier to keep roughly 1000 jobs in the U.S. that had been scheduled to move to Mexico. First things first: no one with a heart can help but be happy for the families directly affected by this deal, those who stood to lose their jobs if Carrier…carried through…with their plan. A thousand families will experience a more Merry Christmas in a few weeks because of this news.

But the question is, was this the right thing to do? Was this good? And the answer is, at the very least, “not so fast”. Full disclosure: I am a Madison constitutionalist conservative with a mean libertarian streak. As such, heralding the Carrier deal as a good one is premature at best, and very possibly wrong. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board came out against it. As the Board observed, “staying in the United States when it would operate more competitively in Mexico will only undercut the company’s profitability and its ability to manufacture other goods in the U.S. to export”, and it added, “Mr. Trump’s Carrier squeeze might even cost more U.S. jobs if it makes CEOs more reluctant to build plants in the U.S. because it would be politically difficult to close them.” Even Sarah Palin weighed in, saying, “When government steps in arbitrarily with individual subsidies, favoring one business over others, it sets inconsistent, unfair, illogical precedent.” Aside to Sarah: sorry; you bought this pig, so pucker up and smooch, dontchaknow.

Trump approached the Carrier situation in a manner consistent with his background: he “cut a deal”. This is pragmatism, pure and simple, and in some situations–like this one may well prove to be–pragmatism is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Further, those swayed by the pragmatistic impulse will tend to evaluate the worthiness of a course of action by its effects, and while at times, pragmatism is just fine (those times principally involve situations where no particular principle is at stake), it can dangerously miss the forest for the sake of a tree or two. In moral situations, pragmatism would say that the end justifies the means; maybe “outcome-based decision-making” is a way to look at it.

I had long associated pragmatism with the more “progressive” elements of our society; the Democrat Party, for instance, largely approaches the Constitution as a set of nice suggestions to be ignored when it stands in the way of its definition of “social progress”. What discouraged me, perhaps more than anything else in this election (yes, even more than the putrid choice offered by the two major parties) was how easily the Republican Party dispatched principle for pragmatism. Time and again in this election, Trump was touted as a man who would “fix it”, a businessman who “knows how to get things done”. Principle was ignored by some and mocked by many, including some whom I had long–wrongly, as it turns out–assumed to be “playing on my team.” Nothing Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and a host of others will ever say again hold any interest of mine; we’re not singing off the same sheet of music, as it sadly turns out.

So now, I fear we enter into this experiment of a Republican administration brazenly leading, not from any professed set of principles, but rather from a seat-of-the-pants, what’ll-it-take-to-get-a-deal-done kind of approach. The optimist in me hopes against hope that the people with whom Trump is surrounding himself, some of whom at least seem to hold conservative principles (nothing is sure anymore; everything is up for grabs) will help to sway him toward a more principled approach than the Carrier deal displays. I guess time will tell…

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