The United States made the right choice after, to paraphrase Churchill, exhausting all other options. It would have been nice if we hadn’t gone down the Trump path but perhaps it was necessary to learn some lessons the hard way. Hopefully he will soon be a distant figure in the rear view window, but before we pull away it would be wise to learn what we can from Trumpism. So here’s my post-election blog.
The election was not the blowout that the polling predicted. Almost half of the voters chose Trump. I don’t think there are many Americans who are surprised by how close it was. We know how powerful the cultural and political currents are that Trump tapped.
The most obvious motivation for voting for Trump was that Republican voters vote for Republican candidates, especially if they are sitting presidents. They may not particularly like Trump, but he is still on their team, and a great many voters stick with their team, simple as that. From their point of view, he at the very least gives lip service to Republican values and causes, such as smaller government and bigger military, more restrictions on abortion and fewer on business.
The next most obvious thing is the potent blend of dog-whistle racism, economic anxiety and gun fetishism that is probably the primary driver for a good many ardent, rather than reluctant, Trump supporters. Trump turned this blend into a political brand. A lot of merchandise got sold and will continue to be sold. Trumpism is a branding opportunity as much as anything, as well as a lifestyle disease, as the Washington Post’s Phillip Kennicott describes it, in his own post-election meditation. Trumpism, Kennicott writes is a disease of sedentary thinking. To understand why American manufacturing with its high-paying unionized jobs is in decline; why the American economy is losing its pre-eminence; and why the American way of life, with its astronomical levels of material consumption and green house gas emissions, is no longer viable requires a painful objectivity about our national and international standing and global resource depletion. Trump relieved that immense pain and unease by focusing it on Others, creating a menagerie of scape-goats: liberals, immigrants, Muslims, gun-snatchers, etc. It’s not that he is some kind of political genius, it’s just that decent people don’t resort to scape-goating however effective a political tactic it might be. The scary thing is how many people in the US are willing to go along with him down that dark path.
Somewhere under the Trumpism is a Republican Party that upholds sober, careful, responsible conservatism. Somewhere under the Trumpism is a conservatism that advocates for pragmatism and deep-rooted traditions, that conserves resources as its very name suggests. Such a conservatism is a necessary and desirable complement to a liberalism that argues for equal opportunity and change. Somewhere under the Trumpism are fellow citizens willing to have discussions about policy, rather than regressing into trolling and name-calling. This is, perhaps, a liberal’s idea of conservatism, which is to say, ironically, a conservative idea of conservatism. Conservative conservatism is not very popular, and actually doesn’t fit very well with extreme capitalism, which has led to the current mutated version, which would inflict white supremacy, misogyny, and environmental destruction on us all in the name of a few cherry-picked and hardly recognizable “traditional” values.
We have a responsibility ahead of us, both Democrats and Republicans, to bring the best and not the worst of our politics to the effort to conserve and regenerate a livable and living Earth. In a sense it doesn’t matter whether we identify more with liberal or conservative ways of thinking, what matters is whether we are willing to serve life on Earth and basic human decency as best we know how – in practice. As the Indian activist and writer Vandana Shiva said recently at the Quivira Coalition’s Regenerate 2020 conference: “Rootedness in place is the power of nonviolence in creative form.” Both liberals and conservatives have something to learn from that thought.