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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Roots of Trumpery

From Webster:
trumpery
noun  trum·pery  \ˈtrəm-p(ə-)rē\
Definition of trumpery
Popularity: Top 10% of words
1
a :  worthless nonsense
b :  trivial or useless articles :  junk
2
archaic :  tawdry finery
What if you dropped all this leftover 19th-century piety about the free market and promised to fight the elites who were selling out American jobs? What if you just stopped talking about reforming Medicare and Social Security and instead said that the elites were failing to deliver better health care at a reasonable price? What if, instead of vainly talking about restoring the place of religion in society — something that appeals only to a narrow slice of Middle America — you simply promised to restore the Middle American core — the economic and cultural losers of globalization — to their rightful place in America? What if you said you would restorethem as the chief clients of the American state under your watch, being mindful of their interests when regulating the economy or negotiating trade deals?
That's pretty much the advice that columnist Samuel Francis gave to Pat Buchanan in a 1996 essay, "From Household to Nation," in Chronicles magazine. Samuel Francis was a paleo-conservative intellectual who died in 2005. Earlier in his career he helped Senator East of North Carolina oppose the Martin Luther King holiday. He wrote a white paper recommending the Reagan White House use its law enforcement powers to break up and harass left-wing groups. He was an intellectual disciple of James Burnham's political realism, and Francis' political analysis always had a residue of Burnham's Marxist sociology about it. He argued that the political right needed to stop playing defense — the globalist left won the political and cultural war a long time ago — and should instead adopt the insurgent strategy of communist intellectual Antonio Gramsci. Francis eventually turned into a something resembling an all-out white nationalist, penning his most racist material under a pen name. Buchanan didn't take Francis' advice in 1996, not entirely. But 20 years later, "From Household to Nation," reads like a political manifesto from which the Trump campaign springs.
To simplify Francis' theory: There are a number of Americans who are losers from a process of economic globalization that enriches a transnational global elite. These Middle Americans see jobs disappearing to Asia and increased competition from immigrants. Most of them feel threatened by cultural liberalism, at least the type that sees Middle Americans as loathsome white bigots. But they are also threatened by conservatives who would take away their Medicare, hand their Social Security earnings to fund-managers in Connecticut, and cut off their unemployment too.
Walter Russell Mead writes at The American Interest
What we are seeing in American politics today is a Jacksonian surge. It is not yet a revolution on the scale of Old Hickory’s movement that transformed American politics for a generation. Such a revolution may not be possible in today’s America, and in any case the current wave of Jacksonian activism and consciousness is still in an early and somewhat incoherent phase. In the past, moderate leaders on the center left and center right alike have found ways to capture Jacksonian energy. FDR was able to steal the demagogic energy of Huey Long; Richard Nixon marginalized George Wallace even as he responded to some of Wallace’s concerns about bussing and crime. (He did not, however, give way to Wallace on the core issue of racial equality.)
Donald Trump, for now, is serving as a kind of blank screen on which Jacksonians project their hopes. Proposing himself as a strong leader who ‘gets’ America but is above party, Trump appeals to Jacksonian ideas about leadership. Trump’s Jacksonian appeal has left the Republican Party in deep disarray, demonstrating the gulf between contemporary conservative ideology and Jacksonian nationalism. Indeed, one of the reasons that Trump hasn’t been hurt by attacks that highlight his lack of long term commitment to the boilerplate conservative agenda (either in the social or economic conservative variant) is that Jacksonian voters are less dogmatic and less conservative than some of their would-be political representatives care to acknowledge. Jacksonians like Social Security and Medicare much more than most Republican intellectuals, and they like immigration and free trade much less.