Opinion

Paul Ryan had a very civilized response to Donald Trump. He should have been uncivilized.

The hour is much too late for tsk-tsks

Paul Ryan is the best speaker of the House in a generation. When he speaks, we should listen.

Before Wednesday, the last noteworthy speech Ryan gave set a very smart agenda for fixing the Republican Party. But on Wednesday, he tackled an even bigger task: making our political discourse more civilized.

In a way, the entire speech was a long subtweet of Donald Trump. Ryan bashed politicians who use divisive and inflammatory rhetoric and pander to identity politics. Gee, who could he have had in mind? Instead, Ryan insisted, we need a battle of ideas. Politicians need to have greater self-respect and higher standards.

But the speech was about more than that. The most widely-noted part was his critique of himself for using the rhetoric of "makers" and "takers" when it comes to job creators and recipients of government assistance. Not only was that unnecessarily harmful to the body politic, it was wrong on the merits, Ryan said he learned. Indeed, one of Ryan's biggest pushes has been on poverty and criminal justice reform, concerns that by all accounts are genuine and deeply felt.

Ryan's points are true. They were also important to say, now more than ever. But he didn't go far enough.

The first reason is because his criticism of Trump's tone is one thing, but Trump is about much more than tone. Trump is about identity politics. He's about terrorism, economic desperation, and social insecurity. As Ryan ought to know better than anyone, responses to such problems don't just call for better messaging. They call for better policy. My colleague Paul Waldman thinks the only plausible answer to this dilemma is simply to copy the policies of the left. Paul Ryan would strongly disagree, and so would I.

But while we may believe conservative policy can address the problems that Trump points to, the time to put some meat on those bones is soon. Now, Ryan is still working on an ambitious policy agenda he wants to put forward, and he is decentralizing this process in the House, so he can't preempt his own process. But he can at least point to the depth of the problem. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

But the second reason he didn't go far enough was because his criticism of Trump was implicit. The hour is much too late for passive-aggressive tsk-tsks. As Ross Douthat pointed out, many GOP establishment figures are afraid to call Trump out and are instead trying to undermine him behind the scenes, but this approach is doomed to failure. Trump is too far along and the phenomenon much too big. It's put up or shut up time. It's important to call for civility and high-mindedness, but this is a blitzkrieg. While it's important to note that Nazis were bad people, moral proclamations alone can't stop a Panzer division.

In response to Ryan's speech, The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost tweeted a quote from Thomas Jefferson which seems perfectly apposite:

It's too late, too Trump for niceties.

More From...

Picture of Pascal-Emmanuel GobryPascal-Emmanuel Gobry
Read All
Liberals' Medicaid hypocrisy
The Democratic caucus.
Opinion

Liberals' Medicaid hypocrisy

The quiet intellectual push behind conservatives' court coup
If a conservative justice joins the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia would be proud.
Opinion

The quiet intellectual push behind conservatives' court coup

What the Bible really says about government
A Bible and the Capitol Building.
Analysis

What the Bible really says about government

Vladimir Putin's own goal
Vladimir Putin.
Opinion

Vladimir Putin's own goal

Recommended

Lev Parnas, a former Giuliani ally, convicted on campaign finance charges
Lev Parnas.
convicted

Lev Parnas, a former Giuliani ally, convicted on campaign finance charges

As prices rise, so do risks for Biden
President Biden.
Feature

As prices rise, so do risks for Biden

J.D. Vance's race tests 2 theories of Trumpism
JD Vance.
Picture of W. James Antle IIIW. James Antle III

J.D. Vance's race tests 2 theories of Trumpism

Trump wouldn't be quiet. Biden should be.
President Biden.
Picture of Joel MathisJoel Mathis

Trump wouldn't be quiet. Biden should be.

Most Popular

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers
Help wanted sign
Help Wanted

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers

House votes 229-202 to hold Steve Bannon in contempt
Steve Bannon.
Capitol riot aftermath

House votes 229-202 to hold Steve Bannon in contempt

Manchin clarifies he offered to become an independent if it helped Democrats
Joe Manchin.
he said, he said

Manchin clarifies he offered to become an independent if it helped Democrats