Populism + Nationalism = Donald Trump

The phenomenon of Donald Trump is unlike anything we have ever seen in American politics. Or is it? With Trump having been a charismatic public figure for the last 30 years, it would be incorrect to assert that any group "created" him. Nevertheless, you might say that the conditions for his political ascension were set in place by a group that some of us call the "ruling class", or "elites". Conservatives like myself, have looked at Mr. Trump's rise with puzzlement, not understanding how so many who proudly refer to themselves as "conservative" could support this man who so obviously is not. With the essential element of conservatism being human experience, we should know that the answers to questions like this are almost always found in history and philosophy. It is safe to say that everything that is, once was at a different time.

Over the years I have dismissed the left's accusations of racism and nationalism as simply the worst kind of politics. "Surely they do not believe what they are saying", I thought, and when they cited examples, I would always come back with something like "that is not conservatism, conservatism is....". I have come to believe though, that while yes, modern liberals obviously do exploit and prey on the fears of minorities for political gain, many if not most, really do believe what they are charging. With such an erroneous understanding of what conservatism truly is, we should not be surprised. It is not necessarily the modern liberal's fault for this labeling error though. Since true conservatives have needed a few of the "others" to form a voting coalition, they (conservatives) have not only allowed this false identification, but have encouraged it. This inflated the movement's numbers and led us to believe that conservatism was much more popular than it really was. Self-identification polling, by the way, reinforced this denial. In short, as the author of this piece recently pointed out, conservative Republicans tend to over-estimate the conservatism of their base. So therefore, the elites are not the only ones responsible for Mr. Trump's ascension.

Before I go too far in this analysis, let me go ahead and say that I do not view Trump or his supporters as racist. Sure, there are a few, but they are a really small minority and every constituency has them. These people are however, proudly nationalistic. Some are also quite patriotic. I realize that the left gets these two terms mixed up, but they are not the same. Patriotism is simply the love of country, whereas nationalism goes further, in that it blames the country's problems on other countries, or other nationalities, or specific groups. When a patriot speaks of "American exceptionalism", he is not talking about the superiority of a people, since Americans originate from all parts of the world. No, he recognizes that America is different because of liberty, the free market, and the civil society. The nationalist, on the other hand, is fiercely devoted to nationality, or in the American nationalist's case, country. He tends to support a protectionist trade policy, while being skeptical of foreign governments. In short, the Trump nationalist both loves his country and is angry, not only at some of his fellow Americans, but also at the foreign country's America trades with. Very few of these people are racist. They don't have any general animus against Asian Americans, or Mexican Americans or any race of Americans. Generally, Trump nationalists are decent, hard working people, who play by the rules, but have become angry at their situation and the people they believe is to blame for it.

The other ingredient in this movement is populism, and populism most assuredly is not conservatism. It's not even close. Most people who claim the philosophy of conservatism, either trace their intellectual roots to the writings of Edmund Burke, or the classical liberalism of John Locke or Adam Smith. Populism, on the other hand, is a left of center political and economic philosophy. The "populist movement" that began in the United States in the late 1800's, was a precursor to the modern progressive movement, also known as modern liberalism, which is the direct opposite of classical liberalism. Contrary to the small government and free trade policies of modern conservatives/classical liberals, populists advocated for a strong central government, and fiat money, in order to create inflation to benefit farmers. Though mostly an agrarian movement, they would later align with labor. As previously stated, many populist ideas were successfully co-opted and implemented by the progressive movement. The Federal Reserve Act, the graduated Income Tax, the direct election of Senators, and the removal of the gold standard, all originated with populism. All of this "progress", by the way, was opposed by conservatives.

When populism, or progressivism, is combined with nationalism, the result is fascism. Now before you accuse me of  any Godwin's Law violation, please try your best to get Hitler out of your mind. Fascism existed before Hitler, with people like Mussolini, and it exists today with men like Vladimir Putin. As noted by author Jonah Goldberg and others, American progressives were early supporters of both Italian and German fascism.

So to summarize, while Donald Trump is not a racist or a Nazi, he is indeed a fascist, and just like any other brand of progressivism, Trump's "good intentions" will require the existence of a powerful central government, with a powerful executive to carry them out. The implementation of his plans will necessitate force, and history shows that these policies will have very negative consequences for our economy, particularly the groups they are supposed to help. Trump's trade policies, for example, will result in the enormous inflation of prices on the every day goods that common people require. Also, other government's will respond to these taxes with tariffs of their own, which will result in a reduction of American exports.

Republicans and Trump supporters fail to understand why so many conservatives like myself, can not support him in the general election. It's not that he isn't conservative enough, like other moderate nominees from past elections that we have held our nose and voted for. It's that he isn't conservative at all. He does indeed fit the modern liberal's definition of the word, which as I noted above, is incorrect. But he most certainly is nowhere close to any true definition, be it Burkean, Lockean, libertarian, or social conservative. No, Mr Trump is a modern liberal, in every sense of the word. He is also a nationalist, a demagogue who stirs up the masses by blaming America's problems on the Chinese, the Mexicans, and the banks, and he has convinced American workers that free trade is their enemy, promising to expand on the oldest form of "picking winners and losers", tariffs. So please stop demanding that conservatives fall in line and get behind this man, just to stop Mrs. Clinton. You have to understand, we don't see him as being any different than her. They are two sides of the same coin, and equally as dangerous. A friend of mine, a Trump backer, who later became an ex-friend, not too long ago declared to me that "conservatism is dead!". That statement shocked me when I first heard it, but that is exactly what Trumpeters believe. They believe conservatism has failed, when in fact it has not been tried. If you are a conservative and expect our philosophy to be advanced under a Trump regime, you will be severely disappointed. You see, not only do Trump supporters not care that he is not adequately conservative, they are glad of it.