Trumpism and Paleoconservatism

In a lengthy, admirably dispassionate New Yorker piece on “Intellectuals for Trump,” Kelefa Sanneh notes that “Trumpism draws on a political tradition that has often been linked to white identity politics.”

He draws particular attention to the work of Samuel Francis, who argued that “America needed a President who would stand up to the ‘globalization of the American economy.’ In Francis’s view, that candidate was Pat Buchanan, a former longtime White House aide who ran for President in 1992 and 1996 as a fiery populist Republican—and in 2000 as the Reform Party candidate, having staved off a brief challenge, in the primary, from Trump. Francis and Buchanan were united in their disdain for the Republican élite, which seemed to them too cozy with international business interests and too removed from the concerns of everyday Americans. Both also saw themselves as defenders of an American culture that was implicitly white, or even explicitly so.” Francis was sometimes intemperate; Buchanan, the standard bearer, was “more circumspect,” yet “linked his economic argument to an argument about the erosion of America’s cultural and racial identity.”

Trumpism riffs on paleoconservatism without so much as a whisper of its central message: “Compared with forebears such as these, what is striking about Trump is how little he engages, at least explicitly, with questions of culture and identity. . . . The ‘great’ America that he talks about is an unsentimental place: not a tight-knit community defined by old-fashioned values but a big and shiny and rather nonjudgmental country where everyone has a good job, stays safe, and adores the President. Whether he was in a rural white town or an urban black church, Trump avoided moral exhortation, preferring to focus on the economic renewal that his Presidency would bring.”

This may mean that Trump will be far more accommodating to liberal culture than many expect. It mostly confirms that we don’t know what the heck Trump is going to do.

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