Trumpeting populism in America
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Has populism overthrown conservatism in the GOP race for the White House? One might reckon with the recent Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE endorsements by Sara Palin and Jerry Falwell Jr. who clearly represent the most zealous Evangelicals on the far right of political spectrum. Does anyone really know where the Trump phenomenon is going and what it really signifies? 

Donald’s strategic catheter has struck through the arteries of red-blooded conservatism and surgically navigated his way into the blue-blood veins of Americans in the mainstream of the political spectrum. Trump reminds the tens of thousands flocking to his rallies of their disillusionment with the intellectual elites, the long-standing oligarchy in Washington, and the special interests at the end of the gravy train. He quite often refers to the establishment as “stupid people”, while those attending the rally are the “smart people” who realize the self-serving power has been taken away from the ordinary people.   


While the “Let’s Make America Great Again” theme out of the trump camp resonates well, it is so much more than just the big promises. First, Trump has become the most natural antithesis to the presidency of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question Obama spends Presidents Day at Ayesha Curry's San Francisco restaurant Government's misguided holiday to celebrate itself MORE. From the bully pulpit, Donald has effectively pointed out Obama’s domestic and foreign policy debacles where friend and foes no longer respect America on the world’s stage and the demise of the economic fibre of the American heartland.

Trump has drawn his own line in the sand in front of Obama legacy when he said, “there is something going on with him that we don’t know about”. A polarizing comment when insinuating Obama does not love America the way we should, and he might not even be an American. Donald has perfected a contrasting incarnation between himself and the president through raw and politically incorrect racial, tribal, and religious demagoguery that has mobilized mass nationalism.

The political right and far left have taken their lead from the recent SOTU address and GOP opposition response when making clear references to the Republican frontrunner when the president pointed out the irresponsible voices galvanizing Americans into an unparalleled universe and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) referred to angry voices of division failing to unify the country. The National Review, the conservative magazine, published a special issue opposing Trump’s bid for the presidency.

The issue featured a blistering editorial that labeled Trump as a threat to conservatism, as well as a rendition of essays by 22 prominent conservative thinkers claiming Trump as a menace to America and he would trample conservatism on behalf of populism as needless and crude as Donald himself. The far left, not exactly a surprise, has not minced words in referring to Trump as a narcissistic, bigoted, fascists, and extreme references to Hitler.

Trump may be a populist, but he is certainly not a fascist bent on gaining supremacy through a national collective or by waging war. Trump, on the other hand, embraces individualism and working hard to achieve the American dream.

The opposing candidates facing Trump have also taken their shots both on Trump’s persona and his big promises and puffy platitudes that offer little to no specifics. Let’s look at two foreign policy positions to see how clear he is. Trump has laid out a two-prong demeaning of the ISIS savages with Russia through Syria and the U.S. squeeze in Iraq; and safe zones to curb the flood of refugees and OPEC countries footing the bill. On trade, he made it clear that the $500 billion trade deficit with China through manipulated currencies has killed off millions of American jobs and would be addressed with the smartest business people in America and not political hacks. He was also first out of the gate on building the Trump wall on the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration, and Mexico would pay for it. Trump may not be a purist but he surely is a pragmatist seeking to right the country.   

Given populism’s mistrust for the eastern seaboard establishment, it is no small irony that Trump is a New York billionaire businessman with close connections in broadcast television, Wall Street, and politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington. Trump said he can get along with Democrats in Congress and the Senate.  Does this raise red flags for conservative Republicans determining if their loyalty to conservative values lie with an opposing candidate such as the Christian Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke mulling another Senate run as well as presidential bid Texas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes Trump working on labels for 2020 Dems: report MORE (R-Texas) or the populist Trump who is not a passionate conservative but a moderate nationalist.

We have seen populists rise in previous races for the presidency. Ross Perot and Patrick Buchannan were party outsiders that struck a chord only to eventually fall by the wayside when the electorate decided to swing with devil they know rather than the devil they might regret. This time around, Trump seems to have mastered the art of populism in what he and ordinary Americans can do for their country.

Will there be a last minute gut check amongst Iowa conservatives? Will New Hampshire take the plunge for Trump? And will the GOP South Carolina firewall halt Trump in his tracks? If Trump makes it through the first three states as the frontrunner, there may be no stopping the unifying of the disparate under populism’s contempt as Trump leads a national movement.

Berdan, based in Detroit, writes on various subjects, and operates a website 'Man of Grit'