Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Donald Trump: Not Far Right, but Populist Right

I vowed I would refrain from commenting about the 2016 election at least until the primaries begin next year.  I promised not to take Donald Trump seriously.  I still believe that he has plenty of time to flame out and fully expect him to.  But a number of commentators have written some good pieces on him, so I simply can't resist wading back in.

First is Paul Krugman.  Krugman comments that Trump fills a much-neglected box in American politics.  There are straight-up conservatives on both economic and social issues.  There are straight-up liberals on both economic and social issues.  And then there are semi-libertarians, not full-on libertarian by any means, but economically conservative and socially liberal.  These last are over-represented in the donor class to both parties and the cultural elite.  These tend to be considered the three options in American politics.  But what of the fourth quadrant, that is economically liberal but socially conservative?  They make up, after all, a substantial portion of the population, but Krugman does not have a name for that quadrant, so he calls it Trumpism or even National Social Democracy.

In fact, plenty of people have a name for that quadrant.  It commonly referred to as populist, but that is only half true.  Populism tends to be used as a pejorative these days (a decidedly elitist view) as one who plays on the public's anger and resentments, rather than their legitimate aspirations.  And an economically liberal/socially conservative viewpoint need not be one of anger and resentment.  In fact,* I have heard that viewpoint described as Christian Democratic, an eminently wholesome and respectable movement in much of Europe and Latin America.

Except for one thing.  Trump's "social conservatism" does not take the form of his views on sex or religion or family life (the less said about Trump on any of those matters the better!), but of immigrant bashing.  Christian Democrats, by contrast, my support a strong welfare state and other constraints on capitalists, and may be be conservative on matters of religion, sex, family life, public mores, etc.  But they do not scapegoat vulnerable minorities.  To do so is un-Christian.  Trump's immigrant-bashing makes him a populist in the pejorative sense -- one who plays to people's anger and base instincts.

Others have commented that Trump's views are not all that unusual.  In fact, they very similar to rising nativist parties in Europe such as the UK Independence Party, Marine LePen's French National Front, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and various nativist parties in the Nordic countries.  These parties are described as far right, but they are not far right on economic issues.  In fact, they are often the only ones fighting against EU-imposed austerity and anti-labor measures.  Nor is this combination all that unusual or new even in US politics.  Pat Buchanan and George Wallace were noted for their race-baiting but hewed left on economic matters.  Trump is following in the same tradition when he opposes the Republican Establishment's drive to cut Social Security and Medicare while cutting tax rates at the top.  These parties are not properly labeled far right so much as right-wing populist.  And right wing populism, with its emphasis on kicking down at vulnerable minorities, is an ugly business.

*Too lazy to hunt down link.

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