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The Pillars of Trumpism

The Pillars of Trumpism
Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Image via AP

Dear Reader —

During an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, President Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon outlined the “three verticals” of the administration: “National security and sovereignty,” “economic nationalism,” and the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Call these the pillars of the new Trumpian right.

There was much handwringing during the primary and general elections over whether any consistent set of political principles could be pinned to the GOP’s unlikely candidate. Those worries can now be put to rest. While some critics still lament the administration’s lack of specificity on policy, and supporters puzzle over the president’s apparent softening on key issues (including illegal immigration), the contours of the Trumpian philosophy are clear enough. And though the president may have repackaged that philosophy in his first joint address to Congress earlier this week, its central tenets — secure borders, protectionist economics, and deregulation — remain solid. 

Debates continue among conservatives about whether Trump’s peculiar blend of political principles is, itself, a form of conservatism or at least compatible with it. However one parses the terms, though, two things are clear. One the one hand, Trump’s program of economic nationalism — and, arguably, his stance on foreign policy and immigration — is out of step with mainline American conservatism. On the other hand, Trumpism falls squarely within a tradition of populist nationalism that is recognizably right wing — even if it is less familiar on this side of the Atlantic — with a peculiarly American emphasis on the dangers of the administrative state. Yet even this emphasis, though appealing to constitutional conservatives, fits comfortably within a populism that fundamentally distrusts technocracy.

On the Left, the question is whether and to what extent any elements of this new political program are compatible with progressivism or, if not, how best to oppose it. Deregulation and restrictionist immigration policies surely have no place on the contemporary Left. But Trumpism’s emphasis on national ties of solidarity and the role of the federal government in securing them as well as a general skepticism about neo-liberal economics — captured in Bannon’s assertion that “we are a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace” — brings it closer to old-fashioned Leftism than many on the Left (or Right) might like to admit.

Will mainline conservatives hitch their cart to the new Trumpian right? Will progressives look for common ground or offer up a revitalized Leftist alternative? The answers to these questions may seal the fate of that peculiarly American political philosophy which still sees a meaningful distinction between patriotism and nationalism and believes the strengthening of local, self-governing communities is just as vital to American democracy as the weakening of our fourth branch of government.

These are some of the many issues taken up at RealClearPolicy over the past two weeks. Below you will find just a few highlights.

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy


The Checks & Balances on President Trump. The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein maintains that Trump’s first month in office was “an extended lesson in the limits of a president’s power.”

Trump Should Pursue a Compassionate Immigration Policy. Derek McCoy makes his case in our own pages.

Trump Should Support Bipartisan "Evidence Based" Revolution. Also in our pages, Robert Doar and Andrew Feldman spotlight efforts to improve the results and cost-effectiveness of government social spending.

The GOP’s Radical Assault on Regulations Has Begun. For Washington Monthly Peter Shane contends that the benefits of regulations must not be “sacrificed at the altar of anti-regulatory dogma.”

Trumpism Is Here to Stay. Also in Washington Monthly, Anne Kim analyzes the economic forces that gave rise to Trump. 

Presidents' Day in a Fractured Republic. In our own pages, Steven Hayward suggests how we should think about patriotism in the era of Trump. 

A Powerful Check on the Regulatory State. Also in our pages, Tim Doyle touts the Congressional Review Act as key to advancing President Trump's regulatory reform agenda. 

Will Trump Start to See the Value in Virtue? National Review’s David French argues that the “more dignified” version of Trump’s “conservative-tinged populism” on display during his joint address to Congress may be a recipe for success.

Vanity in the Service of the Public Interest. City Journal’s Myron Magnet considers whether Trump’s “character flaws” could yet produce “constructive ends.”

Congress in Search of Itself. In Library of Law & Liberty, John Marini evaluates the thesis that Congress can “reestablish its institutional and constitutional purpose” in the era of Trump.

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