Trumpism Beyond Trump: The True and the Good
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is not merely an ideological contest for the Republican nomination or, perhaps, simply the expression of a populist desire for change. No, it is a struggle to understand the world around him as a kind of contest between good and bad, between what is traditional and what is new. By offering a view not just of what the country, and America, should look like in the future but also of what it is right and justified to do in the present, his campaign is an attempt to understand the world as something worth living with, and thus a contest between values.
That is a radical statement about America. There is certainly a deep-seated aversion to change in America or, perhaps, an overinvestment in continuity. People get angry when things look different, or at least they see nothing wrong with the things that have gone before them, and so they do not like change. A culture of conformity, with its rewards for conformity and rewards for failure, is a central aspect of the American character. Change, particularly when it brings with it the possibility for failure, is threatening to that culture. It is the challenge of the new, but it can be dangerous in a culture of winners and losers, especially in a culture where failure is celebrated and reward for failure is withheld.
If change is feared, or at least not encouraged, then there is the need for a kind of “tradition.” That is what Trump is offering in the campaign, a kind of traditionalism that takes the place of all the badness that has taken shape in our culture. It is the place where things are still the way they were done, and only those who have the courage to keep up with the new are truly leaders.
It is an incredibly risky position to take. It is the height of hubris to think that everything is as strong and secure as it once was, and that we can do it all over again. But that is exactly what Trump is offering. This is the kind of nationalism, the kind of traditionalism, the kind of Americanism that has served us so