This article makes an effort to describe the conservative ideal that has prevailed over the last 60 years and argues that Trump has responded to new realities and shifted it in a positive direction. Conservatism under William Buckley and Ronald Reagan had common enemies. They opposed big government for a variety of reasons. They did not like the welfare state; they opposed government regulations; and they argued that progressive tax policies reduced the incentive to work hard and to create new businesses. They were also engaged in a cold war against communism and/or socialism. They believed in free trade and in the use of American leadership to inspire other nations to follow our lead.
This article argues that Donald Trump has redefined conservatism and Republicanism for a variety of reasons. The cold war is now a domestic war. It is between globalism and Americanism. His "America First" slogan is part of an effort to promote a national solidarity that binds the government to its citizens. The new enemies are immigrants that compete for American jobs and nations that have used unfair practices to build trade surpluses that led to the loss of millions of jobs in America.
Trump's "America first" slogan helped him to win the election because both of our political parties promote a utopian idea of globalism that is a threat to democracy. It disenfranchises the vast majority of Americans it empowers technocratic elites who are resented because many Americans believe that they look down at them. We should reject much of Trump's harshest rhetoric but we should lean in the direction of nationalism instead of utopian form of globalism which assumes that everyone benefits from globalization.
I have many problems with this article. In the first place Trump's policy proposals are very similar to those that have defined the Republican Party for ages. Like Reagan, he claims that government is a big part of our problem. He has issued executive orders that reduce government regulations and limit the activities of many government agencies. He claims that he will "drain the swamp" in Washington and turn more power over to state governments. He has also proposed tax reforms that primarily benefit high income citizens. Like Reagan, he favors a less progressive tax system. Republicans have promised to repeal Obamacare for the last eight years and Trump supported their failed effort to replace Obamacare with a plan that reduced federal funding for our most needy citizens. It also eliminated a tax on high income Americans that was put into Obamacare to fund an increase in Medicare spending. Like Ronald Reagan, Trump has also proposed a large increase in military spending. Islamic terrorism has replaced communism as the justification for the large increase in the military budget.
Trump won the election because he won 50,000 votes out 13,000,000 votes cast in three rust belt states that would have given Clinton the election if she had won them. He did that by doing what Reagan did in the 1980's. He got blue collar workers to vote for him by attacking NAFTA and other trade agreements that many union leaders, and union members, blame for their loss of jobs. His attack on free trade differentiated him from his fellow Republicans and from Democrats enough to win an extra 50,000 votes that would have typically gone to Democrats. Trump is not really against international trade. He has real estate assets in many parts of the world; his daughter Ivanka has trademarked her products that sell across the globe; her husband Jared Kushner also has international real estate assets. My bet is that he will retreat substantially from many of the promises that he made about reducing US imports. He was just smart enough to understand what he needed to say to win the election.
Trump also differentiated himself from Republicans like Paul Ryan who has been promoting cuts in popular social welfare programs like Social Security and Medicare for years. Trump beat Marco Rubio in his home state of Florida in the GOP primary because he won the majority of votes from
the huge numbers of retired voters in Florida who depend upon those programs. Those votes also helped him to beat Clinton in Florida by a small margin.
My position on Trump is that he is not bound by any ideology. He understood what he needed to do in order to win the Republican primaries and to beat a Democrat in the general election. The conservative Heritage Foundation recommended many of Trump's cabinet nominees as well his Supreme Court nominee. Many of his economic ideas were also influenced by conservative economists from Heritage. Trump is smart enough to understand that he won the election as a Republican and that he needs its support to get anything done in Washington. Most of his policies smell like other Republican policies. On the other hand, he will ditch any of them if they get in the way of his real goal which is to win another term as president four years from now.
While I am critical of many points made in this article, I do not want to minimize the effect that globalization has had on national politics. It has been even stronger in the European Union than it has in the US. The common currency in the eurozone made it impossible for nations that went into recession following the financial crisis to devalue their currencies in order to expand exports. Moreover, the cultural differences between the nation states in the European Union are much stronger than the many differences that exist between states and regions in the US. There is a deeper sense of lost national identity in Europe than there is in the US. On the other hand, businesses have aggressively marketed their products globally and they have taken advantage of lower cost resources, including labor, in order to expand and remain competitive. That combined with the effect of automation on the demand for labor has created major problems in most countries. Governments will have to be more active rather than less active in order to deal with the economic and social consequences of globalization. Unfortunately, many governments will face political opposition to the expansion of social welfare programs and nations with slow growth, or shrinking economies, will not have the funds that will be needed. We will need more enlightened leaders in government to make this happen. Party politics have also become a big problem. Party leadership is not the same thing as national leadership. None of the major political parties in France made it to the run off election to select its next president. Voters in US tend to identify with their political party but neither of them has responded to the degree necessary to deal with the problems which we face. Trump and his political party will take us backwards when we should be going forward. The Democratic Party seems too dependent on marketing itself to its various constituents than it is to figuring out how to address the forces of globalization and technological changes that have been disruptive and which will not go away.