Some politicians try to be all things to all people. Some politicians try to be be all things to a majority of people. Trump, however, seems to try to be everything to some people while be nothing to most people. But, that “everything” is specific to each particular group. He is an anomaly, a man with no true political beliefs that rose to the highest office in the land. To define Trumpism, we must look at the beliefs of the people around him who are shaping his policy. It would seem from his constant contradictions that he is not steering the ship, but rather allowing the crew to set the course(s). Within the past year, Trump has expounded on very little, but put forth ideas in definitive, undefined statements that reflect a myriad of political views from all over the spectrum. His rhetoric throughout the campaign would pick form various right of center ideologies like territorial/civic/integral nationalism (“Make America Great Again”, America first, Mexican rapists). He had elements of classical populism (political elitists run the country, America will be run by the people, the media is out to delegitimize him). A large part was political reactionism (Make America Great Again, with the emphasis on Again, we will start building things in America Again). He even expressed views akin to National Socialism/Fascism (anti-liberalism, anti-conservatism, anti-socialism, corporatism). A friend and UD Political Science professor, Chris Counihan, pointed out, he also showed flashes of primacy (renegotiate NAFTA, pull out of TPP, denigrate NATO). He has even let a few left of center ideologies slip along the way (insurance for all, lower drug prices, jobs for everyone).
The picture that this gives of Trumps true ideology is more like surrealist art than an easily definable landscape. Maybe it is because he does not hold any of these views in reality, or to any lasting extent. It would seem his political views are those of an opportunist. He looks for the the belief structure that will adhere to him the people with the most to gain and least to lose. To him, ideology is a tool to gain an advantage, a profit, or resolve a grudge. The true idealogues in his circle are the ones that turn this into policy. Bannon, Pence, Conway, and Spicer are the ones that will make his Tweets into laws, statements, and actions, while putting a little piece of their own ideology into the mix. The fact that Trump has no true political identity is confounding to those who look for reason and methodology in his words and actions. However, it is perfectly clear to his millions of followers. These are the people who not only do not understand the system, they do not care to do so. They are afraid of what they do not understand, therefore it is corrupt and needs to be destroyed. Their political views are shaped by the tangible world around them that they understand. Everything that happens to them is someone else’s fault. They do not fail, they are cheated. The reason they cannot get ahead is because someone is keeping them down, or getting special favors. They see themselves in him and his words reflect how they feel. They believe that if not for a millions of dollars loan from his father, he could be them and vice versa. They did not vote for a cause, or an ideology. They voted for a bully who could make them feel less inferior to the smarter, more capable people who were/should be in charge.
Trumpism is not an ideology, or a political theory. It is a mindset. It is a notion that if you cannot get ahead on your own skills and merit, you will get ahead on the backs of others, then bury them in your wake to prove your are the best. It is an attitude of see me, hear me, I am the only one that matters, and if you don’t like me, you are a loser. The tenets of Trumpism are the same as the rules of an elementary school playground. The bully gets what he wants and anyone that questions him gets beat down. Trumpism is an affliction, more than a theory. It is a character flaw, not a vision. The simplest definition of Trumpism is this: a philosophy based on gaining influence and power through the denigration and humiliation of one’s opponents through the repetition of falsehoods, appealing to the base bigotries of a desperate demographic, and omission of factual details. In other words, be a bully.
Since he’s said so many contradictory things (sometimes within the same sentence), we won’t know what he actually believes in until he starts creating policy rather than just soundbites. Even then, we still might not be able to nail him down because the other thing we know about him (besides that he has the tendencies of a bully) is that he is an opportunist. He will take whatever he can get out of Congress and declare it a victory; lurching from one “policy” to the next, creating a patchwork of programs that have no core message besides political expediency.
Primacy: a Grand Strategy of American foreign policy outline in Posen & Ross’s “Competing Visions of U.S. Grand Strategy” in International Security (Vol. 21, No. 3,), 1997. http://www.comw.org/pda/14dec/fulltext/97posen.pdf
There is also the (alternative) fact that he will declare victory in every scenario, no matter the outcome. The best way to deal with him may be to stop trying to figure him out and just deal with the issues that arise. In those we may notice a pattern. But, if we keep trying to find the meaning we may miss the repetitions and cues that could give us an idea where he is going and what he will do. We’ve established that he believes Trump above all else. Everything that comes after is just a means to an end.
Excellent blogging, HD!
Trump appeals to his supporters because he thrives on an us v them mindset. This isn’t so far away from the Republican mindset we’ve always witnessed – my government assistance is different; my abortion is different; taxes used to fix my roads, library, etc.are different. Their needs are necessary and just – they deserve everything they are demanding be taken away from others. They are always the exception to their rules.
How you implement policy on those beliefs escapes me. What does that look like? Only Trump supporters get to keep their ACA insurance and benefits, only their jobs will come back (and if some jobs do come back what happens if they go to a non-white, non-male citizen, because that didn’t strike me as part of the deal)? It sure sounded that way for the last year. The problems are beginning to show. We see this on the stunned faces of Trump supporters facing the loss of their health insurance. They weren’t supposed to lose their insurance – They voted for those other people to lose theirs.
Not sure how this will play out, but the campaigning is over.