The people who elected Obama elected Trump. More importantly, the people who elected Ronald Reagan elected Trump. This is the more important contradiction in my mind. Reagan and Trump both threw down the gauntlet to their respective establishments in their times. Both represented conservative insurrections. Both came to power against all the weight of the media and the political establishments of their days. I remember the brouhaha of Reagan coming to power in 1980, and it resembles the current frenzy about Trump, though perhaps the Trumpophobia is even more deranged than the anti-Reagansim of the elites.
In terms of policy Reagan stood for the opening of markets, an invigorating and sincere anti-Communism, a process of de-regulation from the policies set down by the New Deal, and confrontation with the then Soviet Union.
Trump stands for almost the opposite, but not quite: an increased control of access to the US market, and an acceptance, within limits, of Russia’s interests and legitimacy. In contradistinction to Reagan and the Soviet Union, Trump holds that Russia is not the focus of evil in the modern world, and challenges the Democratic party and security establishment line that Russia is the prime enemy.
Each was elected as a candidate of the Republican party. Each was elected by voters who rebelled against the presumed truths of their social betters, the Democrats and the media. Both were elected by an older, whiter electorate than their Democratic opponents obtained. Both were seeking to change the conventional agenda. Yet the net direction of the policies of Trump and Reagan may be opposite one another. How is this apparent contradiction to be reconciled?
In one sense, what they are both seeking to preserve is the United States of America, but each had a different idea of the principal threat. For Reagan, it was Communism, which looked like it might have prevailed if matters had continued as they had under Jimmy Carter. For Trump, it is the very concept of a United States itself. By this I mean that he may have foreseen that the path the US is on will lead to a pauperized working class west of the Alleghenies and that unlimited immigration would reduce the US to something like the southern Confederacy, with wealth accruing to the top and a middle class wholly dependent upon the slave owners. To bring the message up to date, replace “slave” with “robot” and you get a rough idea of the expected outcome. I do not say he had exactly this image in mind, only that he does not like where de-industrialization is taking the US.
I find myself returning to the piece I wrote before Christmas, “Globalization, National Sovereignty and Democratic Politics”.
Trump has gone for a combination of national sovereignty and democratic politics. Hillary was working for hyper-globalization and democratic politics. And Reagan in his time may never have thought about hyper-globalization, though the forces unleashed by his administration have led to it.
My argument is that the same sorts of people who elected Reagan elected Trump. Thirty seven years after 1980, the issues have changed. I have changed. My priorities have changed. And I would rather live in a coherent nation than live in the best hotel in the world, whether it be called Canada or the United States.