Toward a Sensible, Coherent Trumpism – Publius Decius Mus/The Unz Review
At the time of this writing, Donald Trump is in a commanding position to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Naturally, Trump’s legions of enemies in what used to be called the “conservative movement” are flailing and despondent. They should be. Trump has, for now, more than revived his momentarily flagging campaign. And even if he is eventually defeated at the polls, this win boosts the chances that his ideas—if we may use such a lofty term for Trump’s as-yet unformed and instinct-driven platform—will outlive his candidacy. Trump’s run has opened the way, for the first time in more than a generation, toward progress and return—progress beyond ossified ideologies, and return to a superior understanding of man, politics, America and the West itself.
Trump is, in the decisive sense, more conservative than the entire conservative establishment. Unlike them, he is actually trying to conserve something bigger than his job and status: namely, the American nation. Yet “Trumpism” needs something Trump himself cannot provide. John Derbyshire praises Trump’s “gut conservatism” as a welcome relief from the failures of the intellectual class. One can sympathize with his point without finding it altogether satisfying. “Gut conservatism” after all still depends on some definition of what conservatism is. Which requires thinking and writing, i.e., intellectualism, and perhaps even philosophy. The gut may be right more often than a broken clock, but—as Trump’s contradictory pronouncements over the years illustrate—it is unreliable and so must be ruled by the brain, which nature generously provides for the purpose. Derbyshire is thus too quick to dismiss conservative intellectualizing as irrelevant. Forging a fresh definition of conservatism, or of reinterpreting the old one to meet the necessities of the times, is not merely relevant but necessary.
Yet it is unquestionably true that to this task, our current crop of mainstream conservative intellectuals is not merely unsuited but wholly useless. National Review’s anti-Trump symposium reads as if it were written to make the point undeniable. Trump supports ethanol! Burn the heretic! At least listing the “conservative” boxes that Trump fails to check can be considered substantive. The rest of the symposium—like nearly all other conservative anti-Trump broadsides—consists merely of personal attacks. Many of which, to be fair, Trump has coming. But all this hardly amounts to a conservative refutation of, or counterproposal to, Trump’s program. The most they could say on that score was to paraphrase, probably subconsciously, Lionel Trilling’s dismissal of 20th century conservatism as “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas” and apply it to Trump.
But Trumpism, while not yet a coherent body of thought, points the way to one. Trump himself—no man of ideas, to say the least—is unsuited to the task of thinking through what his popularity means or how to build on it. Others will have to do the real work. Herewith, an attempt to get started.
Trump’s two slogans—“Make America Great Again” and “Take Our Country Back”—point to the heart of Trumpism: “America First.” Some will no doubt flinch at being reminded of an alleged stain on America’s past. This is not the place to explain or defend 1940-41’s (unfairly maligned) America First Committee. It’s just that those two words capture the essence and appeal of Trumpism as no others do or could.
Trump seems to grasp intuitively something our elites have forgotten or smugly deny: politics is by nature particular. However arbitrary at the highest level of philosophical speculation, here on the ground, the distinctions between citizen and foreigner, compatriot and outsider, friend and enemy never go away. Even the ancient Greek philosophers—the greatest abstractionists of all time—understood the necessity of borders and the permanence of national distinctions. Socrates’ “city in speech”—the greatest political abstraction of all time—is closed to outsiders.
It’s not hard to understand why globalized elites—including the Republican billionaire donor class—favor the erasure of borders: they get, and stay, rich from it. More curious is why conservative intellectuals go along. No doubt some of their own funding comes from those same donors. Many of them also manifestly enjoy the preening that being on the side of enlightened opinion enables. In their hearts, nearly all “conservatives” long for absolution on the charge of “racism”. Like the atheist caricature of the devout husband guilt-wracked for coveting his own wife, the modern conservative believes the leftist lie that his natural affinity for people who look, think and speak like himself is shameful and illegitimate, to be internally repressed and publicly denied.
In this, the only difference between our “conservatives” and the liberals they claim to oppose is that the latter aren’t conflicted. Both groups have after all been educated at the same schools and steeped in the same post-American, far-left ideology. Thomas Sowell once eviscerated Rawls’ “difference principle”—the insistence that no policy, however beneficial to the common good, should be enacted if doesn’t help the lowest of the low—as the “wino’s veto.” Elite conservatives embrace it fully, not so much as an idea, but rather from the gut realization that privilege requires self-justification. Always taking the side of “the other”—the more alien and distant, the better—over and against their own people and country is a high-octane way to display high-mindedness. Speaking up for one’s own is the ultimate sign of a rube—or worse.
This yearning to appear high-minded has caused conservatives to equate principle with abstraction. They take the philosophic argument that “love of one’s own” is ultimately an insufficient basis for goodness to be reason’s last word and thus assume that anything particular—including their own country—must be, in and of itself, low and unworthy of their unalloyed allegiance: the high qua high always has some admixture of the abstract. Hence the continued insistence that, for America to be good, it must be conflated with its principles. Against any common-sense resistance to the latest righteous, destructive fad, conservatives and liberals alike scold from the same hymnal: “That’s not who we are.” To which Trump supporters instinctively respond: speak for yourselves. Maybe that’s not who you are, but it’s who we are, and we’re fed up with your sanctimony.
Paleo-conservatives are the notable hold-outs to this trend, but they embrace unreason in a different way. In their reverence for tradition, they must—if only implicitly—hold that tradition is good, or at the very least that their tradition is good for them. But for even that narrow formula to work, the good must have some content that transcends particulars. Those Greek philosophers—indispensable founders of “our tradition”—understood this clearly. But paleos are more hostile to abstraction than neocons are enamored of it, and insist that any theoretical investigation of the good or assertion of principle leads in a straight line to universalism, utopianism, quotas and open borders.
Both sects could learn something from their common inheritance. The American Founders managed to be principled and particularist, abstract and grounded, broad-minded and loyal, all at the same time. The Preamble to the United States Constitution pledges its purpose to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Note that there is no mention of tradition, culture or heritage. Not that the Founders dismissed or opposed these things, but they evidently—and wisely—concluded that unity, justice, tranquility, defense, welfare and liberty are all higher goods. And not merely our goods or good for us (though of course they are) but above all good simply.
Yet, as the Preamble’s final five words make abundantly clear, there are practical limits to how much good, and for whom, politics can accomplish. The Constitution and the social compact it enshrines are for us—the American people—and not for foreigners, immigrants (except those we choose to welcome), or anyone else. The original state constitutions of Massachusetts and Virginia—twin cradles of the American Revolution—state much the same: “The end of … government is to secure the existence of the body-politic; to protect it; and to furnish the individuals who compose it”; and “government is … instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community.” The same men who declared that “all men are created equal” also, and in virtually the same breath, excluded “all men” from de facto or implicit membership in the American nation.
The American people—like every people—have always felt in their bones their particularity, their uniqueness, their status as a people distinct from other peoples. Elites—donors and intellectuals alike, on both the left and the “right”—scoff at this natural, healthy and true belief as “nativism.” Is it then any wonder that the first presidential candidate in a generation to speak of America as something more than just a “shining city on a hill”—as an actual country, to be loved for what it is and not merely for what it represents or could become—has found enormous appeal?
Truth at Last!
The other, related source of Trump’s appeal is his willingness—eagerness—gleefulness!—to mock the ridiculous lies we’ve been incessantly force-fed for the past 15 years (at least) and tell the truth. “Diversity” is not “our strength”; it’s a source of weakness, tension and disunion. America is not a “nation of immigrants”; we are originally a nation of settlers, who later chose to admit immigrants, and later still not to, and who may justly open or close our doors solely at our own discretion, without deference to forced pieties. Immigration today is not “good for the economy”; it undercuts American wages, costs Americans jobs, and reduces Americans’ standard of living. Islam is not a “religion of peace”; it’s a militant faith that exalts conversion by the sword and inspires thousands to acts of terror—and millions more to support and sympathize with terror. “American exceptionalism” does not require, or even encourage, us to democratize the world—a task of which we are in any case incapable. The Iraq War was a strategic and tactical blunder that destroyed a country (however badly governed), destabilized a region, and harmed American interests. The benefits of free trade concentrate at the top (outsize profits) and bottom (cheap panem et circenses); the middle, and especially the working, classes have been hurt by globalization.
When one hears words coming out of a politician’s mouth finally reflect—rather than diametrically oppose—what one can see with one’s own eyes, the effect, we’ve (re)discovered, can be exhilarating.
All of which is to say, the root cause of Trumpism is the spectacular failure of our elites to serve the people they ostensibly lead. Those howling the loudest about Trump—the Davos overclass, establishment Republicans, and American “conservative” intellectuals—are in Stage 4C denial that their obliviousness, coupled with their ability (ante Trump) to silence and marginalize all opposition, are the principal causes of his rise. Whether their failures stem from cynicism, venality, greed, rationalization, delusion or honest disagreement (I think it’s all of the above) will need to be thought through by later historians. For now, it’s enough finally to see clearly their errors and—to revive and rehabilitate a Clinton-era phrase—“move on.”
Nationhood, Sovereignty and Immigration
The first task is a simple reassertion of American nationhood and sovereignty. Which begins, yes, with regaining control over our borders and dismantling our insane immigration policies, both formal (e.g., the idiotic visa lottery) and informal (the bipartisan consensus not to enforce any law that results in less immigration—at least from non-European sources).
Let the full enormity of the crisis we face finally be realized. The left supports mass immigration and the Davos economy—top plus bottom against the middle—for obvious reasons. Republicans support it in fealty to their true masters (their donor class) and in the vain hope that they will get credit from the left for not being “racist.” More mysterious is why conservative intellectuals, whom one would think should know better, use abstractions to happy-talk themselves into believing all will turn out for the best, despite all observable evidence showing the contrary.
Here I address my neoconservative friends specifically, and also those Trump supporters who are either hostile to or try to wave away America’s founding creed. Yes, it is true that “all men are created equal.” But Lincoln adds the crucial caveat: all men are not “equal in all respects” (emphasis in the original). They are not “equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments or social capacity.” People from different nations with different circumstances, histories, beliefs and traditions will—by definition—hold very different conceptions of good government, some irreconcilably opposed to our own. It has been said that a principal cause of Rome’s fall was that “many men who never knew republican life and did not care for it … became Roman citizens.” Why then do we Americans continue to import millions upon millions who have never known republican life and do not care for it? In doing so, we do not uphold our Founding creed; we hasten and enable its oblivion.
This fact—and it is a fact, observable in every corner of this country where mass immigration has overwhelmed, eroded, and de-Americanized formerly American communities—must be faced squarely. To my philosophic friends, I acknowledge that to most of you, this truth seems to go against the grain of everything you think you believe and everything you think we’ve been taught. But it is, on reflection, perfectly in keeping with what we learned. Politics, as noted, is always particular: we learn that from observation and confirm it through theoretical investigation. Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon (and so many others) are, not surprisingly, wiser than the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Machiavelli and Montesquieu (and so many others) further teach us that differing histories, laws, religions, habits, and even climates differentiate the peoples of the world in ways that are not so easy to change—and accustom to liberty some better than others. Our Founders and Lincoln recognized, and warned about, this fact as well. The “abstract truth” of equality is “applicable to all men and all times,” but often in an abstract way. Equality means that we may not rule another without his consent. It does not mean that you can take anyone from anywhere and make him, overnight, a good American simply on the basis of his natural right not to be ruled without his consent.
Limited Government—If You Can Keep It
Yuval Levin, in his contribution to the National Review symposium, says that “we need limited government.” Not quite. Limited government is not a need but an aspiration that in rare cases becomes an achievement which is experienced as a blessing. It is but one form—a modern form—of republicanism, which is the superior form of government for a people fit for liberty, which not all peoples in all times and places are. Limited government is therefore, in practice, of limited application. The ceaseless importation of people unaccustomed to liberty, coupled with the continued hollowing out of the American middle class, makes the American people less fit for liberty every day.
It would have been more precise for Levin to say that he “wants” limited government—I do, too!—but one must wonder if he understands the El Niño scale of the currents tugging this hope out to sea. A limited government is one whose powers are limited to securing the rights, plus the moral and material conditions necessary to the exercise of those rights, of its own people. That job is plenty hard enough for even the best government with the best people. The more tasks government assigns to itself, and the more incompatible people it takes in, the less limited it will become, until it is perforce unlimited. If so-called “conservatives” cannot understand that mass Third World immigration poses an existential threat not merely to the limited government they profess to cherish, but to the nation that limited government is supposed to conserve, then they have no right to that name. For the one thing American conservatism has most definitely not conserved, in the face of unrelenting onslaught, is the American nation.
Some will no doubt object to this characterization and point to a policy paper or editorial that questions the wisdom of the visa lottery or the carried interest loophole. Fine, let us stipulate to that. You’re agin’ it! Though it’s only fair to note that this newfound conviction has the appearance of a deathbed conversion. Trump’s success with the immigration issue has terrified much of the right into switching sides while pretending they were with him all along. Fairness also requires acknowledging that the paleos figured all this out 25 years ago, if not before, and tried to warn us. Instead they watched as “conservatives” who proselytized for open borders were showered with honors while their own careers ebbed away or were actively sabotaged. The paleos can be forgiven for feeling that these born-again immigration hawks owe them an apology. But if it’s just too hard to say “I’m sorry I used to denounce you for a view that I now claim to hold,” the new converts could at least strive for greater intellectual integrity than the Communists who condemned, praised, and then again condemned fascism—all within less than two years.
Even if one accepts that this conservative Great Awakening is genuine, one must still ask: what has conservatism accomplished in the way of slowing or stopping mass immigration or any other policies that favor foreign and elite interests over American—and especially those of the American middle class? And what is this same bunch likely to achieve if we allow them to remain our leaders? One can concede that conservatives occasionally write against these things, but judging by what economists call “revealed preference,” one senses that their hearts aren’t really in it. One observes very little conservative agitation against the great erosionary trends of our time but rather complacency coupled with a hair-trigger quickness to denounce as “nativist,” “xenophobic,” and the small-t trump card, “racist” anyone to their right who writes about immigration in the wrong way. For there is a right way and wrong way. The right way is either to support open borders or to gingerly check the box of having voiced some mild reservations while indicating that you’re against “illegal”—but all for “legal”—immigration, are “not a racist” or an “Islamophobe,” that building a wall is impossible and won’t work, that the topic is really of interest only to obsessive loons, and that there are much more important things to worry about anyway, such as the capital gains tax or Medicare reform. The wrong way is to be opposed in earnest, to point out in detail and specificity immigration’s costs and drawbacks, and to try to do something about it.
That alone explains most of the conservative anger at Trump. His position paper on immigration is wholly sound, as are most of his statements. Though it’s probably impossible to force Mexico to pay for a wall and in any case unnecessary. Most Americans would gladly fund it ourselves anyway. What’s a few more billion added to the national debt? Well spent if it helps preserve the nation. Trump may also have gone too far in his call to ban entry to all Muslims for an indefinite period, except for accredited diplomats. Really? Even business travelers from Dubai? The real issue is permanent resettlement, not travel—assuming a Trump administration would resume enforcing visa law. As is by now completely obvious to all but blinkered ideologues, Islam and the modern West are incompatible. That may not be a permanent fact, but it holds true for now and for the foreseeable future. If it’s ever to change, change will have to come from within Islam. As the experience of Europe has decisively shown, we in the West don’t have the power to change Muslims. But the reverse is true: when we welcome them en masse into our countries, they change us—and not for the better.
Only an insane society, or one desperate to prove its fidelity to some chimerical “virtue,” would have increased Muslim immigration after the September 11th attacks. Yet that is exactly what the United States did. Trump has, for the first time, finally forced the questions: Why? And can we stop now? Yes, of course, not all Muslims are terrorists, blah, blah, blah, etc. Even so, what good has Muslim immigration done for the United States and the American people? If we truly needed more labor—a claim that is manifestly false—what made it necessary to import any of that labor from the Muslim world? From a region and a faith that is at best ambivalent about the societies that welcome them and at worst murderously hostile? This question has, until now, been ruled wholly out of bounds—illegitimate even to raise. Immigration to the United States—by Muslims or anyone else—is presented as a civil right for foreigners: the burden is forced on Americans to prove that Muhammed is a terrorist or Jose is a criminal, and if we can’t, we must let them in. Trump alone among major political figures has stood up to say this is nonsense.
But does Trump believe in, or will he enact, any of the policies he’s promoted? He has given reasons to doubt. His statements on this, his signature issue, are inconsistent. Should he manage to get elected and not move forward aggressively to control immigration, his support will evaporate more quickly than a raindrop in the hot sun. It’s not clear that Trump understands this. Also unclear is how he will build a governing party that can take over the executive branch to implement, and enforce, his vision. But all these are just more reasons why Trumpism is too important to be left to Trump.
It’s Not “the Economy,” Stupid
Let us turn to the two other core pillars of Trumpism: economics and foreign policy. These again are areas where the conservative establishment and the Republican Party have spectacularly failed their supporters and voters.
Regarding the former, orthodox conservatism holds there is but one correct doctrine: the free market über alles! If that means offshoring the last job from the last factory on America soil so that productivity can tick up, and the CPI down, one-tenth of one basis point, then so be it. The numbers never lie and their movement in the “right” direction proves that outsourcing is the right thing to do and all the laid off workers back home are just losers or whiners. Winners go back to school and upgrade their skills.
Plato and Aristotle teach that in a healthy political community, the richest citizen ought to have no more than five times the property of the poorest. Perhaps that formula is inapt to a modern commercial republic. And without question, the Aristotelian virtue of magnificence—through which accumulated wealth has created so much beauty and splendor in the world—depends on great fortunes. But is it necessary—or healthy—for our richest citizen to hold literally one million times the wealth, not of our poorest citizen, but of the median income? A fortune he is spending, I need hardly add, not on magnificent bequeaths to his own country or civilization, but on social engineering the Third World. Even if this disparity were morally and politically defensible, is there any sane reason to favor policies that widen it—both by pushing the incomes of the lowest down, and those of the richest up? Conservative politicians and intellectuals alike have helped create, and continue to help maintain, a new class of tax-exempt aristocrats, well beyond ducally rich, who are not loyal to the American people, American interests, or America itself. Perversely, yet fittingly, the more conservatives have bent over backwards to kiss the arse of this class, the more its members and the big businesses they run have turned left to openly despise and mock conservatism and conservatives. Seeing conservatives court billionaires—which I have had occasion to do dozens, if not hundreds, of times—is like watching dorks tell cheerleaders how pretty they are: the more their lips move, the more the girls’ mouths pucker in contempt.
National Review—and many others on the econo-right—are deeply outraged that Trump came out for ethanol. But why? The policy may be economically indefensible, but far less defensible is conservatism’s fetishization of “the economy” as the highest good. To paraphrase James Carville’s famous 1992 self-rebuke, what’s “the economy” for, stupid? Is it to produce pretty numbers in Labor Department and Heritage Foundation reports? Or is it to serve human welfare? More specifically, what is the American economy for? Is it to raise standards of living for the Third World poor while enriching transnational billionaires at the expense of the American middle and working classes? Or to serve the interests of the American people?
Ethanol is but one case in point. The policy is, as noted, economically illiterate. It violates every tenet of the Austrian and Chicago SchooIs. It’s a subsidy, pure and simple, to a special and sectional interest, in this case corn farmers. But that subsidy is both an economic and a political act, and more fundamentally the latter than the former. It’s a way of transferring wealth to, and thus conserving a people (middle American farmers) and an endeavor (farming) that we, the American people in toto, find important. To Davos Man and the economy-fetishizing “conservative” intellectual, farming is considered irrelevant to a developed market and we can always import food more cheaply from somewhere else. Comparative advantage! By all means, let’s attack and alienate American corn farmers in order to save a buck or two and prove our conservative bona fides! To those with a better grounding in political fundamentals, farming is understood to be the backbone of any political community and helping one’s fellow citizens takes precedence over trimming the price of an ear corn by ten cents. If and when the whole rotten system that conservatism helped the Davos class to build (and still helps prop up) finally collapses, we are going to need those corn farmers and their corn and perhaps then the intellectuals will see that the subsidy served some purpose after all. In his contribution to the National Review symposium, William Kristol quotes Leo Strauss’s letter to Willmoore Kendall on Israel (which, I note in passing, the late Lawrence Auster once cited approvingly as evidence that Strauss was far from the utopian “naïvecon” his enemies on the right made him out to be), to accuse Trump of vulgarity. But elsewhere in that same letter, Strauss defends Israel against conservative complaints that “Israel is run by labor unions”: “a conservative, I take it, is a man who knows that the same arrangement may have very different meanings in different circumstances.”
Even if this argument is wrong—that is, the argument about some higher purpose for the ethanol subsidy; the point about paying slightly more for vegetables in order to help one’s fellow countrymen stands either way—even if the higher argument is wrong, it is still absolutely true that inequality has been rising since the beginning of the Wall Street boom in 1982; that real wages have stagnated or even fallen for everyone below the blue city financial, technological and managerial classes; that finance—once a vital service to the real economy that makes things and enriches human lives—has morphed into “the economy’s” summum bonum; and that the Republican-conservative response has been and remains to invoke Hayek and call for tax cuts, deregulation, freer trade and “enterprise zones.” This is not merely an electoral death-wish; it’s also morally obtuse.
Tariffs, Trade—Why Not Both?
It’s ironic that it took a dissident billionaire to wake us up to the fact that America has decayed into an oligarchy. It’s probably also not incidental that Trump’s wealth is tied to the soil—American soil—rather than derived from the eminently exploitable vagaries of international finance. Yet Trump’s actual program is, to put it mildly, scattershot. He simultaneously calls for massive tax cuts and massive tariffs (and then denies both in the next breath). Personally, I concede up front that I don’t know the answer. But I know that the debate will have to change, fundamentally, and that old taboos will need to be transgressed.
What, for instance, is so sacred about free trade? And what so evil about tariffs? Tariffs were the central pillar of Lincoln’s economic policy, and of the Republican dynasty that industrialized the nation in the generation after the Civil War. Maybe they are the wrong answer for our times. But can we at least talk about it? Not under the terms of the debate today. Even raising the question will get you sneeringly mocked as an ignoramus.
But how about replacing rigid ideology with Aristotelian prudence? Trade policy, like all economic policy, should serve American interests, not “the economy.” When and where free trade serves American interests, let’s trade freely. When it doesn’t, let’s try something else. Maybe even sometimes a combination of the two. Ronald Reagan required Japanese auto makers to build plants on American soil, and thus hire American workers and pay American taxes, as a price of admission to our market. For this heresy against free trade, will National Review expel him from the conservative pantheon?
The argument that consumer prices will rise, and this alone is reason enough to keep trade as open as possible, falls flat in and of itself. Time and again, people have proven themselves willing to pay more for certain goods. How many reading this live in the cheapest home in the cheapest neighborhood they could, so long as their minimal rent pays for a door, four walls, a Pullman kitchen, Murphy bed and a bathroom? Are the same people willing to pay higher prices for their homes eager to despoil their fellow citizens and sacrifice their country in exchange for lower prices on their iPhones? Maybe. But can’t we ask them?
To repeat: I don’t know that protectionism is the answer. I don’t know what the answer is. I’m pretty sure it isn’t economic and tax policy that treats hedge fund managers as the republic’s only indispensable men. And I know that not only are we currently asking the wrong questions, we’re not asking any questions at all. Conservative economic doctrine is every bit as rigid as campus P.C. dogma, and apostasy punished every bit as swiftly and mercilessly. It’s well past time to overthrow the enforcers.
Neither “Naïvecon” nor Paelo-Isolationist
On foreign policy, Trump is superior to the naïvecons in that he understands the difficulty—one might even say impossibility—of American power (hard and soft) to transform backward, alien, non-Western, non-democratic societies into paragons of Americanism, and also grasps the America people’s complete disgust and exhaustion with such futile efforts. In keeping with our national creed, let us have no wish to rule the peoples of other nations without their consent—and also feel no obligation to drag, pressure, cajole, force or “help” such nations achieve what we insist is the only just form of government. Ours may well be the only just form of government, or the only one that gets the foundation right. But the ancients also teach us that all actual governments fall short of perfect justice in some way, that rectifying this is one iota shy of impossible, and that attempts to do so tend to backfire spectacularly. The flaws and injustices of other nations are not ours to redress, even if we could—which recent experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere conclusively shows that we can’t.
Trump is also superior to the paleos, defeatists and isolationists in that he recognizes that America still faces dangerous enemies and is willing to use American power to defend American interests. Moreover, as a commercial republic, America’s interests do not end at our borders. The nature and purpose of our alliance structure and global responsibilities are widely misunderstood by paleos and neo-isolationists, whose hearts may be in the right place—waste no more American blood and treasure in futile, grandiose adventures—but who equate every movement of the American military beyond American soil as such an adventure.
It is true that America was able to become a great economic power in the three-quarters of a century between the Civil War and World War II without fielding a large military. But that’s because the Royal Navy did the necessary work of keeping the sea lanes open, maintaining a balance of power favorable to Western interests, and deterring—and when necessary policing—the most menacing challengers to this pro-Western order. The United States took up this mantle because in 1945 our statesmen judged we had to, not because they wanted to. Perhaps our overseas posture is more fit for that time that our own and is now too extensive for current needs. Perhaps if the American economy were to retrench away from a near total reliance on foreign trade and finance and toward more domestic production, savings and investment, that posture could be scaled back while still protecting our commercial interests. By all means, let’s have that debate. But the only way it will be productive is if the “scale back” side does not insist that the conversation begin from the knee-jerk stridency of the Pauls, pere et fis.
Chapter 11 for Conservatism, Inc.?
This is hardly an exhaustive platform, much less a fully-formed political philosophy, to fulfill and supersede a Trumpism that remains inchoate and incomplete. These remarks will have served their purpose if they provide an initial foundation for a detailed exploration of what Trumpism could and should be.
That work won’t be easy and there will be resistance. The leading lights of what Paul Gottfried has termed “Conservatism, Inc.” know that Trump and Trumpism represent existential threats to their relevance and livelihoods. That’s why they’re working to crush both with a fervor they’ve not been able to muster against any enemy, foreign or domestic, since the demise of the Soviet Union.
When one turns from conservative intellectuals to Republican politicians, one observes a situation disastrously worse. The digits of one hand suffice to count all of the truly committed defenders of American sovereignty, liberty, and nationhood in Congress or running for president. The rest are bystanders or cowards or Quislings. “Conservative” hero (“nobody’s better on entitlements!”) Paul Ryan—when not caving to every line item on the Obama wish list and lecturing the right wing of his party that their resistance is disloyal and paranoid—spends his time conspiring once again to sneak through “comprehensive immigration reform” in the teeth of stern opposition from his party’s voters.
To the Republicans I can say only this: your dogged adherence to the Davos agenda is suicidal lunacy. I understand how necessary it appears to you in the short term, as you vacuum up cash to ensure reelection. But one does not need a PhD in math to understand that importing millions upon millions who vote for you at best 60-40 against—and in nearly every case at far lower levels than that—while sticking it to your actual voters over and over in obeisance to your donors, amounts to a guarantee of eventual demographic and electoral irrelevance. Thus, to the charge that Trump will destroy the Republican Party, one can only laugh and note that he hardly need bother, as the Republicans are doing a fine job of that themselves. David Frum distilled Trump’s message into one tart phrase: “We are governed by idiots.” That’s only half right: the Democrats know what they’re doing and know that it serves their interests.
Still, the pol-egghead axis may yet stop Trump in his tracks. Conservatism, Inc. certainly looks forward to refreezing the hands of the ideological clock to November 1980 and refighting that election for the tenth time (and losing it for the sixth, and third in a row).
But Trumpism will go forward with or without Trump. If conservatism and the Republican Party can’t be convinced to come along for the ride, then they must be forced to accept for themselves the “creative destruction” they claim to favor for the economy. Poetic justice for those who consider Trump beyond the pale because of his business bankruptcies.
“Publius Decius Mus” is the pseudonym of a longtime writer for mainstream conservative publications. Some of his other writings may be found at http://journalofamericangreatness.blogspot.com/