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Trump: Harbinger Of A New Age

Writing in Politico, Georgetown political scientist Joshua Mitchell has a long, important take on the deep meaning of Trump — and it’s probably not what you think. [1] If you’re a Trump-hater of the Left, or a #NeverTrump partisan of the Right, you need to read this. He says we really are at the turn of a new era in US politics, because of forces beyond Trump. Here’s how it opens:

Ideas really don’t come along that often. Already in 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, “ideas are a sort of mental dust,” that float about us but seldom cohere or hold our attention. For ideas to take hold, they need to be comprehensive and organizing; they need to order people’s experience of themselves and of their world. In 20th-century America, there were only a few ideas: the Progressivism of Wilson; Roosevelt’s New Deal; the Containment Doctrine of Truman; Johnson’s War on Poverty; Reagan’s audacious claim that the Cold War could be won; and finally, the post-1989 order rooted in “globalization” and “identity politics,” which seems to be unraveling before our eyes.

Yes, Donald Trump is implicated in that unraveling, cavalierly undermining decades worth of social and political certainties with his rapid-fire Twitter account and persona that only the borough of Queens can produce. But so is Bernie Sanders. And so is Brexit. And so are the growing rumblings in Europe, which are all the more dangerous because there is no exit strategy if the European Union proves unsustainable. It is not so much that there are no new ideas for us to consider in 2016; it is more that the old ones are being taken apart without a clear understanding of what comes next. 2016 is the year of mental dust, where notions that stand apart from the post-1989 order don’t fully cohere. The 2016 election will be the first—but not last—test of whether they can.

More:

If you listen closely to Trump, you’ll hear a direct repudiation of the system of globalization and identity politics that has defined the world order since the Cold War. There are, in fact, six specific ideas that he has either blurted out or thinly buried in his rhetoric: (1) borders matter; (2) immigration policy matters; (3) national interests, not so-called universal interests, matter; (4) entrepreneurship matters; (5) decentralization matters; (6) PC speech—without which identity politics is inconceivable—must be repudiated.

These six ideas together point to an end to the unstable experiment with supra- and sub-national sovereignty that many of our elites have guided us toward, siren-like, since 1989. That is what the Trump campaign, ghastly though it may at times be, leads us toward: A future where states matter. A future where people are citizens, working together toward (bourgeois) improvement of their lot. His ideas do not yet fully cohere. They are a bit too much like mental dust that has yet to come together. But they can come together. And Trump is the first American candidate to bring some coherence to them, however raucous his formulations have been.

Mitchell goes on to say that political elites call Trump “unprincipled,” and perhaps they’re right: that he only does what’s good for Trump. On the other hand, maybe Trump’s principles are not ideological, but pragmatic. That is, Trump might be a quintessential American political type: the leader who gets into a situation and figures out how to muddle through. Or, as Mitchell puts it:

This doesn’t necessarily mean that he is unprincipled; it means rather that he doesn’t believe that yet another policy paper based on conservative “principles” is going to save either America or the Republican Party.

Also, Mitchell says that there are no doubt voters in the Trump coalition who are nothing but angry, provincial bigots. But if anti-Trumpers convince themselves that that’s all the Trump voters are, they will miss something profoundly important about how Western politics are changing because of deep instincts emerging from within the body politic:

What is going on is that “globalization-and-identity-politics-speak” is being boldly challenged. Inside the Beltway, along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, there is scarcely any evidence of this challenge. There are people in those places who will vote for Trump, but they dare not say it, for fear of ostracism. They think that identity politics has gone too far, or that if it hasn’t yet gone too far, there is no principled place where it must stop. They believe that the state can’t be our only large-scale political unit, but they see that on the post-1989 model, there will, finally, be no place for the state. Out beyond this hermetically sealed bicoastal consensus, there are Trump placards everywhere, not because citizens are racists or homophobes or some other vermin that needs to be eradicated, but because there is little evidence in their own lives that this vast post-1989 experiment with “globalization” and identity politics has done them much good.

There’s lots more here, including his prediction of what’s going to happen to the GOP.
Read the whole thing.  [1] I do want to take some issue with this bit, though:

There are, then, two developments we are likely to see going forward. First, cultural conservatives will seriously consider a political “Benedict Option,” dropping out of the Republican Party and forming a like-minded Book Group, unconcerned with winning elections and very concerned with maintaining their “principles.” Their fidelity is to Aristotle rather than to winning the battle for the political soul of America. …

Clearly he disdains the Ben Op, and I can’t really blame him too much. The book is not out yet — coming March 2017; click here to pre-order [2] — so the only thing anyone knows about the Ben Op is what he or she has seen on this blog, which has not presented it in a systematic way. The book (the manuscript of which I’m revising now) does that. Mitchell and others still may not like the ideas — I expect most political scientists won’t — but it’s very much not a “Book Group” approach to politics.

Without giving too much away here, let me say that I make a case that the things that conservative Christians (and other social conservatives) care about most are no longer achievable through democratic politics, if ever they were. The Ben Op does not call for Christians to quit voting, or to quit running for office, or to quit caring what happens in the political arena. We can’t afford to be political quietists. On a practical level, that means that I will no longer vote primarily on the social issues that have dictated my vote in the past, but I will vote primarily for candidates who will be better at protecting my community’s right to be left alone. This will almost always mean voting for the Republicans in national elections, but in a primary situation, I will vote for the Republican who can best be counted on to defend religious liberty, even if he’s not 100 percent on board with what I consider to be promoting the Good. If it means voting for a Republican that the defense hawks or the Chamber of Commerce disdain, I have no problem at all with that. This is a particularly orthodox Christian expression of the attitude Mitchell describes as no longer believing “that yet another policy paper based on conservative ‘principles’ is going to save either America or the Republican Party.” The Ben Op Christian may or may not believe that the GOP or America can be saved at this point; she is just trying to save a cultural space within which she and her family and neighbors can raise and educate their children as orthodox Christians, and live a faithfully Christian life. Saving the Republican Party or the United States of America are second-order political concerns.

If the Ben Op doesn’t call on Christians to abandon politics altogether, it does call on them to recalibrate their (our) understanding of what politics is and what it can do. Politics, rightly understood, is more than statecraft. Ben Op politics are Christian politics for a post-Christian culture — that is, a culture that no longer shares some key basic Christian values, and in which orthodox Christians will come to be seen as threats to the common good, simply because of the views we hold and the practices we live by out of fidelity to our religion. In other words, it’s an attempt to re-imagine Vaclav Havel’s “antipolitical politics” for 21st century America.

119 Comments (Open | Close)

119 Comments To "Trump: Harbinger Of A New Age"

#1 Comment By Michael Guarino On September 18, 2016 @ 10:41 am

The most highly motivated voters in this election cycle seem to be insurgents pushing back against corrupt and incompetent elites and the Establishment. That does not bode well for Clinton.

Another page in the annals of American elite incompetence, only five days after the ceasefire in Syria was negotiated, we broke it by bombing a well-known Syrian position. After Russia took us to the woodshed, Samantha Power responds by basically saying, “We messed up, but Russia is a moralistic hypocrite because they support Assad and he is, like, really bad and stuff.” Which not only makes it seem more likely that we were targeting Assad’s forces to anyone reasonably distrustful of American involvement in the war, but also shows the moral reasoning ability of nothing greater than a 6 year old.

Seriously, accusing Russia of moralism, and then moralistically trying to hide responsibility by listing atrocities committed by Assad? It is self-parody.

#2 Comment By Troy On September 18, 2016 @ 11:33 am

VikingLS says: It’s been decades since there was a white riot in this country.

That is such a funny meme I had to share this.

[3]

#3 Comment By Joseph On September 18, 2016 @ 12:16 pm

“Conservative” Christians aren’t going to stop voting Republican. They’re just going to offer a different reason for doing it, when asked.

I will bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in Rod’s pockets that there will NEVER, in either of our lifetimes, be a time when he feels compelled by his principles to vote for a Democratic candidate for federal office over a Republican one.

And finally, I note that someone above asked a version of the same question I’ve periodically had: What does Dreherdom look like? If orthodox Christians controlled the levers of power, what do you propose to DO with your (cultural AND legal) authority? And what will be the status of the “other” in that brave new world?

[NFR: They will be captured and enslaved and sent to work in the [4]mines. And I will spend whatever percentage of the Gross National Product it takes to hire the Rolling Stones to play “Exile On Main Street” live, from start to finish, in a national broadcast that I will require every citizen to watch, on pain of being assigned to hard labor in the boudin mines. Also, I will eat boudin. — RD]

#4 Comment By WAB On September 18, 2016 @ 1:15 pm

[Connor: While I can’t speak for Rod, I can speak for many traditional Catholics. The end goal is the re-establishment of the social reign of Christ, which means a majority Christian nation, Christian culture, and a state which governs according to Christian principles (read Quas Primas). In that situation, and in that situation alone, would the Ben Op no longer be necessary.]

That’s interesting. Well, I think you’re right that about 3/4 of the readers would lose their minds if that was stated as an explicit political goal. It would confirm in the minds of many the suspicion that the primary strategy of the religious right is the establishment of an anti-democratic, theocracy or Caesaropapist regime. I would consider that the extreme “utopian” or some would even say “totalitarian” position of religious conservatives and not “conservative” in any sense that I understand “Conservatism”.

Saltlick’s minimal requirement seems to moderate that goal to “a national reaffirmation that our rights, as partially defined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, come from God the Creator, that life is valuable from the moment of conception, and that the traditional family is the best promoter of sound moral, cultural and economic health.”, but even in that he regards it as only a half-measure for Saltlick. Needless to say, what a “traditional” family is would need some definition.

If nothing short of establishing the City of God on earth would secure the comfort of some Christians then that is a pretty high bar and you have every right to feel insecure… as do the rest of us.

I would be curious to know how many of your co-religionists on these boards share your view? And how many would reject it?

#5 Comment By Conserving What? On September 18, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

Mr Dreher, I always read your articles with great interest, although I often disagree with you. For example, I don’t think anybody of any political persuasion is going to try to stamp out Christianity or those who espouse it. Indeed, I think many people will be delighted if all Christians would exercise the Benedict Option. A lot of people are tired of the Religious Right’s attempt to gain political power in order to impose Christian views of morality. A lot of people believe that there should be a separation of church and state, not only in the Constitutional sense of having no state-established religion, but also in the general sense that morality should be a private matter, not the subject of politics.

[NFR: That’s incredibly naive. Aside from procedural laws, all laws are nothing but legislated morality. Somebody’s morality is going to be reflected in law. It is unavoidable. — RD]

#6 Comment By William Burns On September 18, 2016 @ 2:50 pm

Amazing how people write about the Atlantic Coast as if South Carolina wasn’t on it.

#7 Comment By Michelle On September 18, 2016 @ 4:05 pm

Michelle: Obama advisor Al Sharpton has been responsible for stirring up more Jew hatred than Trump. Have you ever given a care about that? Do you care that Hillary’s Mexican and Muslim immigrants are sure to be more antisemitic than the native whites of the US that you fret about over and over?

Sharpton isn’t running for president and I didn’t vote for him when he was. Same for Jesse Jackson. I’m well aware of antisemitism within the black community but doubt it comes anywhere close to that of the alt-right and nationalist groups, who foment hate against both blacks and Jews. And duh, of course there’s plenty of anti-semitism among Muslims. Who’s pretending otherwise. It also appears that you didn’t read what I wrote. I favor strong borders but think you can do so without demagoguery and appealing to people’s baser instincts and hatreds, which is what Trump does.

I realize all you Trump apologists aren’t about to recognize the danger the man poses. I don’t care as long as there are enough people who do to keep him out of the presidency.

#8 Comment By Neguy On September 18, 2016 @ 4:29 pm

Rod, you clearly have unresolved cognitive dissonance, because if your vote is based on which candidate is best with religious liberty and the right of Christians to live as Christians, the answer is clear and unambiguous: Trump. Yet you refuse to vote for him.

The author of this piece actually has you nailed perfectly, which is why it makes you so uncomfortable. He sees that you are absolving yourself from the consequences of political engagement by acting like you can stay firm on your principles, while refusing to choose from the only two real sides on offer. That choice is the messy business of politics, and inevitably imperfect because politics is a human practice and humans are fallen. Because you are unwilling to make that choice, you are out of the politics business whether you realize it or not.

What you have not abandoned, but I believe should when it comes to the topics of politics, is the public square.

You recognize that your generation failed to fight. You very clearly have no intention of fighting even now. You have decided to build a Benedict Option because you think that’s the only viable option. That’s fine. In fact, I heartily approve.

But other people have chosen differently. They have chosen to fight. Donald Trump for one. You might not like his methods. But he’s not willing to see his country destroyed without doing everything he can to stop it. He’s not alone. Many people are standing up and recognizing that though the odds are long, they owe it to their children and grandchildren to stand up and be counted. That choice deserves respect too, Rod.

The problem with you is not the BenOp, but your active demonization of those who actually have the temerity to fight for their country instead of surrendering it to go hide in your BenOp bunker with you.

Trump, the alt-right, etc. may be wrong metaphysically and they may be wrong ethically, but they are right about some very important things – things that you, Rod Dreher, and your entire generation of conservatives were very, very wrong on. Rather than admit that, you want to stand back from the fight, pretending you’re too gosh darned principled to soil your hands voting for one of the two candidates who have a shot to be our president, and acting like you’re a morally superior person for doing so.

You should focus on the important work of building and evangelizing for BenOp, and leave the field of political discourse to those who are actually willing to engage in the business of politics.

#9 Comment By Ralph On September 18, 2016 @ 5:41 pm

No lengthy cerebral essay will cover up the fact that Trump is a crude, belligerent, and unethical con-artist. Clinton for her part has her own problems but both are a blot on American history. No amount of blabber will put a shine on Trump’s character. He is for himself, and no one else.

#10 Comment By mrscracker On September 18, 2016 @ 5:43 pm

I guess Mrs. Clinton is still not feeling well and/or on medication, but her reaction to the bombing in NYC was like someone sleepwalking.

#11 Comment By VikingLS On September 18, 2016 @ 10:47 pm

“I realize all you Trump apologists aren’t about to recognize the danger the man poses. I don’t care as long as there are enough people who do to keep him out of the presidency.”

So basically this boils down to you asking us to trust that your gut is right in spite of what we can see with our lying eyes?

Yeah, no thanks.

#12 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 18, 2016 @ 11:50 pm

No amount of blabber will put a shine on Trump’s character. He is for himself, and no one else.

And, while I continue to believe Trump is worse, the same should be said of Clinton.

the answer is clear and unambiguous

Apparently not.

#13 Comment By saltlick On September 19, 2016 @ 1:07 am

WAB — “If nothing short of establishing the City of God on earth would secure the comfort of some Christians then that is a pretty high bar and you have every right to feel insecure… as do the rest of us.”

OK, knowing you’re not someone who argues in good faith, but twists other people’s statements to suit yourself, will make things a lot easier. Bye.

#14 Comment By Edward On September 19, 2016 @ 5:17 am

The thing that I find most baffling about all of this is that people like this writer are presenting the kind of ideas he attributes to Trump as if they were novel, when in fact most of us haven’t stopped believing in them from when they were last in vogue.

He talks as though the post-1989 “consensus” about open borders, identity politics and globalization really was a consensus, which the public had thought about and signed up to, when of course it was never anything of the kind. Most of us haven’t yet noticed or thought about the state of intellectual affairs that this writer considers the familiar norm, so we certainly don’t feel we have to rethink anything now.

All that’s happening is that the common-sense way of viewing the world, which most people take for granted, is once again being brought to the notice of the small but influential group of people who had abandoned it. They don’t now need to do anything clever or come up with anything new, they just have to stop faffing about with all their faddish experiments and go back to what worked before.

#15 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On September 19, 2016 @ 8:46 am

Siarlys Jenkins,

Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a long list of unpaid contractors suing her… of course that’s because she never built hotels, and I don’t think she ever declared bankruptcy either. We have a batch of slumlords in Milwaukee who are little Trumps… they run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for building violations, declare bankruptcy or plead poverty and make occasional payments of $50, and meantime they spend tends of thousands of dollars buying up distressed property at sheriff’s auctions. All of them are black, all of them have beautiful homes in mostly “white” suburbs, and I wouldn’t vote for any of them for dogcatcher, much less president.

That said, Hillary is an ego-bloated lying sleaze, and I wouldn’t vote for her if she were running against almost anyone but Trump.

Yes, Clinton doesn’t have that list. Because, unlike either Trump or those slumlords you’ve mentioned, she never built anything real, created anything real or provided any real services. Instead she promotes some, to put it mildly, ambiguous economic agreements causing a damage that Trump’s activities didn’t and would never cause (I don’t even mention your slumlords since they’re innocent like toddlers when compared to that). Instead, as the Secretary of State, she promoted policies and political projects that not just damaged the economy of supposed allies in the EU, but destroyed the very fabric of their society. Trump… Even XIX century robber barons look pale compared to that. At least they created some real industries.

But, since I’ve already mentioned robber barons, let’s assume the worst about Trump: that he was involved with killing someone during his earlier business activities. Even if so, a battalion of businessmen like him wouldn’t come close to the number of victims she caused with her policies. You say you’re disappointed about Obama? There are certainly reasons for such feelings, but foreign policy debacles are not among those reasons. They are almost exclusively Clinton’s, as Italians would say, roba da matti. And now imagine what she does if she becomes an actual head of state.

Michael Guarino,

Another page in the annals of American elite incompetence, only five days after the ceasefire in Syria was negotiated, we broke it by bombing a well-known Syrian position. After Russia took us to the woodshed, Samantha Power responds by basically saying, “We messed up, but Russia is a moralistic hypocrite because they support Assad and he is, like, really bad and stuff.” Which not only makes it seem more likely that we were targeting Assad’s forces to anyone reasonably distrustful of American involvement in the war, but also shows the moral reasoning ability of nothing greater than a 6 year old.

Seriously, accusing Russia of moralism, and then moralistically trying to hide responsibility by listing atrocities committed by Assad? It is self-parody.

Hopefully this is more about Sammy’s personal 6 year old reaction mostly involved with what happens inside the US. She clearly feels her position and career slipping from her hands. As flawed as Kerry may be, I’m almost 100% sure that such escapade was not on his behest and that she will be taken to the woodshed one more time already by her boss.

Michelle,

doubt it comes anywhere close to that of the alt-right and nationalist groups, who foment hate against both blacks and Jews.

What about the Jewish husband of Trump’s daughter? Or about T. D. Bingham, one of the leaders of country’s strongest white supremacist syndicate?

#16 Comment By WAB On September 19, 2016 @ 10:32 am

Salt lick: [OK, knowing you’re not someone who argues in good faith, but twists other people’s statements to suit yourself, will make things a lot easier. Bye.]

I apologize. It was certainly not my intention to spin your statements. It is simply how I interpreted Connor’s and your desired end-state regime. Connor spoke of establishment of the “social reign of Christ” and you spoke of a “national reaffirmation” of a particularly Christian constitutional nationhood and referred to it as a “half-measure”. I’m not sure how else to interpret that as other than a theocratic utopian project that might comfort orthodox, Catholic or evangelical Christians but would make the rest of us very nervous. Religious language can be tricky so if I misinterpreted what you were saying I’d appreciate some clarification.

Perhaps I don’t understand how you envision that project or how that regime protects women’s rights and non-religious opinion; given the spotty history of Christian society and political order when it was regnant.

#17 Comment By WAB On September 19, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

[Joseph: “What does Dreherdom look like? If orthodox Christians controlled the levers of power, what do you propose to DO with your (cultural AND legal) authority? And what will be the status of the “other” in that brave new world?”]

Exactly. We seem to be arguing about some fairly gauzy, often neo-reactionary, romantic visions of religious society replete with inflated expectations, abstractions and metaphysical certitudes that are not all that certain.

All we know at this point is that “everything” is terribly bad and about to get worse, hence, the Ben Op. But what does it mean to get better? What concrete political and social conditions are necessary for Rod et al to relax? And what does that mean for the rest of us who do not share orthodox religious views?

It is critically important that we know these things in order to either accommodate or create a space for orthodox religious life or , at least, discover what is negotiable. I understand we are hip deep in paranoia and pessimism but we have to start somewhere.

#18 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 19, 2016 @ 2:49 pm

Alex, if slumlords is your idea of “building something real,” I can’t say you’re making a very persuasive argument.

#19 Comment By james On September 19, 2016 @ 6:03 pm

Interesting analysis, but I think it is a bit dense and overstated. My own sense is that Trump is gaining ground simply because so many everyday working Americans of both parties have come to the (correct) conclusion that neither major party cares one whit about the real problems facing working men and women. Trump promises to blow the whole charade up, of course without any real plan for what comes after doing so. Clinton promises more of the same government by and for the oligarchs, plutocrats, war profiteers, and Wall Street criminals. The natives are sick and tired of the same old same old, and as nutty as Trump is, voters think he will shake things up. The promise of upsetting the establishment is his main appeal—–even if he is a narcissistic sociopath. This voting behavior is is a profound reflection of how completely broken the traditional two party political process has become……