Trump, ideology and identity politics: “wrecking ball” or nationalism informed by a worldview?

Leftist people described president Trump like a member of the ruling elites which adopted  a populist rhetoric against Washington, D.C.’s establishment only to further decrease state control and revamp Corporate America with Reaganism. While this perspective must be taken into account, it overlooks important nuances about Trump’s worldview and it runs the risk of being reductionist. This post does neither agree nor disagree with Trump’s ideology – personally I find myself on the far left side of the political spectrum – but it is important to highlight the logic and the coherency that one can trace by looking at Trump’s discourse.
In this sense the work of Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman, while it does not offer the kind of quality of academic works, it provides an interesting view of the new president.
They observed Trump’s statements since the 1980s and concluded that “he is not mere opportunist […] Trump emerges from the confluence of two long-dormant but now resurgent American political traditions: the blunt early 19th century appeal of Andrew Jackson to the “common man” and the protectionist isolationism which produced the Smoot-Hawley tariffs and Charles Lindbergh in the 1930s” (Donald Trump: The Making of a World View by Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman, 2017). This argument is diametrically opposite to the view of all those that find in Trump a narcissist and sociopath, a personality driven by “sky-high extroversion combined with off-the-chart low agreeableness” (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/the-mind-of-donald-trump/480771/?utm_source=twb). This is not only the psychological analysis executed on Trump by observers but in a way it reflects the view of many rivals. To the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – one of the members of “The Blob”, see previous post in this blog – the president looks rather like “a “wrecking ball” when it comes to longstanding American foreign policy […] determined “to just destroy everything about” the U.S. establishment’s view of the world” (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/bob-corker-committee-foreign-relations-trump-214773). Others argued that Trump’s “Miami Vice”-like attitude for “law and order” that he adopted with regard to the war on drug it applies to his governmental style (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-weird-adherence-to-this-1980s-concept-explains-his-whole-presidency/2017/05/26/a7ecec0c-4094-11e7-9869-bac8b446820a_story.html?tid=sm_tw_pp&tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.a5ca93156f81). Certainly, the fact that he often says what he thinks and therefore is “too honest” – as suggested – does not help to calm institutional-bureaucratic tensions (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/05/23/trump-is-americas-most-honest-president-215180).
However Simms’ and Laderman’s observations about Trump’s worldview found confirmation in an interview that the new president released to The New York Times and which is crucial to understand the global perspective of the new American president. As the interview went through the most important issues in international politics, Trump explained that his idea of American greatness remains “the turn of the century, that’s when we were a great, when we were really starting to go robust” first of all, but also – in fairness – Truman’s years (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/us/politics/donald-trump-transcript.html?_r=1).
As it can be read in previous posts of this blog, Trump encountered severe resistance to his ideological view. The president and some of his advisers had to compromise with the globalist establishment. This problem was portrayed clearly in an interesting piece which described well how Trump’s idiosyncrasies add complexity to the interaction between different foreign policy actors and in particular between the White House and the bureaucrats. Trump is isolated inside his own administration. It was argued that the president is part of “a tiny minority within his own administration. His national security team is primarily composed of people who want to maintain U.S. alliances, an open global economy and support for universal values. The reason why Trump ended up with such a team is, in part, because there are no think tanks or academic cabals that are working out how to translate his visceral beliefs into policy” (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/03/trumps-jekyll-and-hyde-foreign-policy-214903). The ideological clash involved also people that are close to Trump such as daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kusher against Bannon and the Californians. It was argued that California’s history bore responsibilities for the intellectual incubation of people like Steve Bannon. Anticipating what then happened on a national scale – see blog post on Obama’s multiculturalism – the rise of Latinos and Asians explains why “California’s out-of-power Republicans […] hardened their own political views” (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/04/how-california-gave-us-trumpism-215038).
This local process and Trump’s views on national identity are contiguous with what many Republican voters believe despite this represented a minoritarian faction inside the GOP which remained too close to Jacksonian Democratic Party. Donald Trump’s identity discourse in fact embeds the paleoconservative idea that “nations were defined by the specific cultural and historical heritage of their founders” rather than by a collective political experience (http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/218712/spencer-gottfried-alt-right). How profitable will this ideological posture be in terms of electoral success – in a demographically changing United States – it remains to be seen.

Zeno Leoni
@multipolarorder

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