Why the GOP needs to broaden the philosophy of ‘Trumpism’


Democracy, communism, socialism, capitalism and progressivism all have one thing in common: They are based on a philosophy. With each, you can point to documents, books, treatises, governments, rulers, systems and/or economies that have been built on one of these philosophical foundations. But unlike progressivism — which is now ingrained in the Democratic Party and America’s culture and institutions — “Trumpism,” as a new way of the Republican Party, remains largely undefined and tied to President Trump. 

The foundations of democracy began with ancient Greece and Rome. European philosophers including Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau “encouraged the questioning of absolute monarchs.” The foundation of the U.S. government largely can be traced to John Locke, whose “Second Treatise of Government” identified “consent of the people” as “the only lawful basis for government.” The fundamentals of socialism were articulated by Auguste Comte; communism by Karl Marx; and free-market capitalism by Adam Smith

All of these philosophies were grounded in differing viewpoints of how human beings act in their self- interests. The central question among them is, can people be trusted with power and freedom? Each answers this question differently.  

Progressivism in the United States is not liberalism, which can be traced to the debates of our Founding Fathers about the powers and scope of a federal government. Progressivism is economically socialist, structurally authoritarian, socially libertarian, religiously secular and culturally dictatorial. At its core, it rejects John Locke, Adam Smith, the teachings of Jesus Christ, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  

Progressives’ philosophy today is rooted in climate change, “woke” capitalism, critical race theory, class warfare, diversity and inclusion. Progressivism represents a coalition of certain factions of society — including the “oppressed,” some technology oligarchs, wealthy suburbanites, academics, mainstream news organizations and Wall Street. This coalition is fueled by one galvanizing principle: intense dislike of Donald Trump.

Literature abounds to support this growing ideology. One significant piece is Robin J. DiAngelo’s book, “White Fragility ” — that is, that white people become angry and defensive when told they are privileged and complicit in systemic racism. The term “systemic racism” has given rise to social justice protests this year. It has elevated the Black Lives Matter movement, which until recently self-described as Marxist and anti-nuclear family, and antifa, which challenges the philosophical underpinnings of the United States.  

Progressivism provided license to the New York Times to pursue its “1619 Project,” a revisionist assessment of U.S. history. This project, which includes curriculum for schools, aims to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” Critics, including Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, called it “a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” Yet schools across the U.S. have agreed to adopt this revisionist history. 

Force is at the core of modern progressivism. Those who disagree or openly criticize its proponents are subject to “cancel culture.”

Trumpism, personified in Donald Trump, could be called an adaptation of populism, politics which mobilize people against ruling powers. Well-known populists have included Huey Long, William Jennings Bryan, Father Charles Coughlin and George Wallace. Populism also might be embodied by the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. Each of these put forth and organized around a defining issue.

Trump has built populism into a governing philosophy. His political following is more broad than narrow, more practical than dogmatic, more entrepreneurial than process-driven, and more transactional than programmatic. In many ways, Trump is conservative — as exemplified by his appointments to federal courts, his lowering of taxes and his moves toward deregulation.

In other ways, however, he is liberal — for example, he is not afraid to spend money to get results, such as investing in drug companies to develop vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19.  He is not a deficit hawk, but is a traditional Republican who wants to keep us out of foreign wars and focus on problems at home. He is like a Roosevelt Democrat in his use of government to better the lives of the working class and minorities. He is liberal in seeking prison reform, but also an unabashed capitalist who incentivizes investment in minority communities as the way to defeat poverty. 

Trumpism may be the foundation of the new Republican Party, a way to appeal to new constituencies. But many traditional Republicans are “anti-Trumpers” because he is disruptive to the system. They like the way it was, with the federal government spending $4.5 trillion a year and everyone eating in D.C. regardless of political party.

Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have said this will be the most important election in recent history. And it is, because what will emerge are two realigned political parties that will restructure to consolidate their appeal to new audiences. 

Progressives likely are in a far better position to consolidate their gains if they win, because they already have integrated their philosophy into our institutions and culture. Republicans, win or lose, will be tasked with creating the philosophical foundation for Trumpism, so that it can be passed on to new voices who will broaden its appeal by reframing issues and articulating core beliefs. 

Were Trump to lose in November, Republicans likely could be set back a generation. That is why this is shaping up to be the most interesting and impactful election in decades.

Dennis M. Powell is founder and president of Massey Powell, a management consultancy in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. He has been involved in more than 300 political campaigns doing strategy, messaging, polling and fundraising, including President George H.W. Bush’s campaign in Pennsylvania. He was retained for six years by Trump Entertainment Resorts in a marketing capacity. Follow him on Twitter @dennismpe.

Tags 2020 presidential election Black Lives Matter Donald Trump Joe Biden Political ideologies Populism Progressivism trumpism

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