What Exactly Is Trumpism?

Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, January 10, 2017

Donald Trump is hated by liberal Democrats because, among other things, he is likely to reverse the entire Obama project. And, far worse, he probably will seek fundamental ways of obstructing its future resurgence — even perhaps by peeling off traditional Democratic constituencies.

The proverbial mainstream media despise Trump. Culturally, he has become a totem of their fears: coarseness, ostentatiousness, flamboyance, and the equation of big money with taste and success. His new approach to the media may make them irrelevant, and they fear their downfall could be well earned.

The Republican Washington–to–New York establishment is alienated by Trump. It finds his behavior reckless and his ideology unpredictable — especially given his cruel destruction of in-house Republican candidates in the primaries and his past flirtations with liberal ideas and politicians. That he has now brought them more opportunity for conservative political change than any Republican candidate in a century only adds insult to their sense of injury.

Note the common denominator to the all these hostile groups: It is Trump the man, not Trump the avatar of some political movement that they detest. After all, there are no Trump political philosophers. There is no slate of down-ballot Trump ideologues. If Trump were to start a third party, what would be its chief tenets? There is as yet neither a Trump “Contract for America” nor a Trump “First Principles” manifesto.

Nonetheless, from the 2016 campaign and from President-elect Trump’s slated appointments, past interviews, and tweets, we can see a coherent worldview emerging, something different from both orthodox conservativism and liberalism, though certainly Trumpism is far closer to the former than to the latter. Here may be a few outlines of Trumpist thought.
Tradition

Trumpism promotes traditionalism. Trump showcases “Merry Christmas!” because his parents did. He believes in dressing formally and being addressed as Mr. Trump. And he insists that his children be well-behaved and polite.

You might object that Trump is thrice-married, Petronian in his tastes, and ethically sloppy or worse in his own business dealings. No matter: Trump seeks a return to normalcy all the more. His personal excesses apparently spur his impulses for traditional norms.

Perhaps Trump is like many Baby Boomers as they enter their final decades: They look back at their parents and grandparents, and wonder how they put up with their offspring — and see how far this generation has fallen short of their forebears’ ideals, which in turn sparks a desire for a return to normalcy in the wayward. Deists were believers in the abstract who otherwise shunned a living Christianity yet thought that active religion had social value for others. Similarly, Trump is a non-practicing moralist who believes traditional morality can restore structure and guidance to society.

So Trump is foul-mouthed but wants a return of decorum; he has been conniving but thinks his own recklessness is not necessarily a model for the nation.
Populism vs. Elitism

The billionaire Trump won by going after elites of both parties —attacking the protected classes of the Left as politically correct snobs, and those of the Right as crony capitalists (Trump confessed that it took one to spot one) or as uppity no-fun scolds and professional Washington hacks and political handlers.

By “elites,” Trump certainly did not mean plutocrats like himself or the various grandees he has appointed to his cabinet.

How does he square that circle? For Trump, there are apparently good elites like himself and then the rest, the bad elites. The dividing line is not income, status, or lifestyle per se, but whether one advocates one thing for others and quite another for oneself. Trump is rich and unabashedly likes what riches can bring, and he claims that he wants average Americans to have their own version of a Trump Tower existence.

He is not Al Gore urging Middle Americans to drive less while he flies on his Gulfstream private jets, or Barack Obama who loves exclusive, expensive Sidwell Friends prep school for his own children but opposes charter-school choices for the less fortunate, or a Senator Barbara Boxer who lives in an irrigated desert oasis but seeks to stop contracted water transfers for those who grow food rather than lawn turf.

In the next four years, expect a continual war on intellectuals and academics (who, not surprisingly, are almost absent from the Trump cabinet), the media, the political establishment, and the progressive class in general, whose lavish lifestyle and preachy rhetoric are irreconcilable.

So it is not privilege that Trumpism targets, but rather the hypocrisies of privilege, of those who seek to avoid the natural consequences of their own ideology. He is no friend to the exalted who virtue-signal, at the expense of others, in order to assuage the guilt for the own rarified existence. When Trump put on his red cap and too-long tie — with his orange skin, yellow comb-over, and Queens accent — and bragged about his tremendous wealth, awesome companies, and huge successes, he came across to millions as authentic and unapologetic about his own success. Trump can be outrageous, but his tweets and invective seem less outrageous than Obama’s combo of Ivy League smugness and too-cool-for-school interviews with GloZell, and Obama’s infatuation with rapper Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
National Greatness

Nationalism is another Trump axiom — the deliberate antithesis to the progressive and Socratic idea of being “a citizen of the world.” In Trump’s mind, the U.S. is a paradise thanks to its exceptional values and the hard work of past generations; the mess elsewhere (to the degree Trump worries about it) is due to human failing that is not America’s fault. Trump laments self-inflicted misery abroad but feels that he and his country are not culpable for it, and, other than Good Samarian disaster or famine relief, we cannot do too much about it in the long term.

If Mexico wants good jobs or Europe seeks to re-arm, then they can first make their own necessary adjustments to give them what they need without necessarily involving the U.S., whose first obligation is to make sure that its own citizens are well, secure, and employed. It seems that in Trump’s view, America’s poor and forgotten have claims on this country’s attention that far outweigh those of the illegal immigrant or the globe-trotting internationalist; the lathe worker in Des Moines and the real estate broker in Manhattan, by virtue of being American, deserve more of Washington’s attention than international bureaucrats or foreign royals. The least American is preferable to the greatest foreigner.

{snip}

So what is Trumpism thus far, based on campaign rhetoric and campaigning?

In sum, it’s an America that emulates (even if hypocritically so) the lost culture of the 1950s; exploits fossil fuels; is run by deal makers who make money ostensibly to achieve a GDP that can fund the niceties of American civilization; opposes unfettered free trade and is united by race and class through shared material success; assesses winning as what’s workable rather than what’s politically correct or doctrinaire; makes “tremendous” cars, air-conditioners, and planes; has the largest and most powerful and least-used military; and is loyal to our allies and considerably scary to our enemies. All that seems to be Trumpism (at least for now).

When Trump has a record as president, one can add to or subtract from the list.

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.