Two Cheers for Trumpism
Tucker Carlson is the most popular intellectual defender of Trumpism, though he has reservations about Trump himself. Trumpism holds that America (1) has a new ruling class that is (2) indifferent to the good of the country and hostile toward its “deplorable” people and (3) earning comfortable livings off of the actions that are undermining the good of the country. It’s a new oligarchy.
Trumpism has aroused opposition on the Right and the Left. Most interesting is the opposition on the Right among “Never Trumpers.” Some Never Trumpers should quit writing to spare themselves further embarrassment (I’m looking at you Max Boot!). Some Never Trumpers see Trump himself as too volatile or ignorant for the high executive office he holds.
Others question the Trumpian diagnosis or think that Trump offers bad medicine that will not remedy, holding to a more standard conservative analysis. NRO’s David French seems to be among the most intelligent in this category.
Tucker’s central claim is that the new ruling elite has undercut the economic conditions that support family life and that foster pride in labor, especially among men, that are most likely to lead men to become good providers. Free trade as it is practiced (See Oren Cass an NRO contributor) and immigration policies have done not a little to undermine conditions for dignified labor among those who aspire to a high school education.
This new elite also undercuts a public morality of self-restraint or self-control that prepares people for living family lives. Drug legalization undermines a culture of dedicated to long-term thinking and fosters empty lives. There is little public support for forms and laws that point their passions toward responsible family life. De-regulating pornography has sapped some of the self-control and energy from our men. Same-sex marriage has further de-institutionalized family life. These changes affect lives and mores of the poor more than they affect the rich.
It is not crazy to see our drug policy as class legislation, where those without good habits are more likely to succumb. Nor is it crazy to see feminism and sexual revolution as good for the upper class women, but bad for lower class. Same for the free trade that masks a rent-seeking reality. Same for immigration. Perhaps the upper middle class is different!
It may be that Trump, a thrice-married, serial adulterer, and lover to porn stars, is—what shall I say?—an unsavory, imperfect vessel for such opposition to the ruling elite in some ways. Yet Trump’s diagnosis puts the ruling elite in the dock—and Tucker is Trump’s poet on these matters. Perhaps Tucker should use other evidence but profound thinkers seem concerned that the administrative state constitutes a separate class with its own interests.
Does French agree with Tucker’s analysis? Like Tucker, he thinks human beings long for connection, that men suffer from unique problems, and that the sphere of economics cannot be divorced from the family. He bristles at some of Tucker’s evidence. Marijuana use is not so high (though life expectancy is down, for some reason). Manufacturing jobs are making a comeback. Americans are charitable.
None of this touches the heart of the matter, which is whether America has an new ruling class. On that point, French thinks that “any argument that American elites. . .represent an uncaring, indifferent, exploitive mass is fundamentally wrong.”
According to French, Tucker embraces a “victim-politics populism that takes a series of tectonic cultural changes — civil rights, women’s rights, a technological revolution as significant as the industrial revolution, the mass-scale loss of religious faith, the sexual revolution, etc. — and turns the negative or challenging aspects of those changes into an angry tale of what they are doing to you.” French thinks residual problems are being blown out of proportion (“speedbumps,” he calls them) or could be solved with more personal responsibility. People aren’t helpless. They should take advantage of the opportunities that the amazing modern world presents. “This is still a land where you can determine your own success more than can any political party or group of nefarious elites.”
Yet much in French’s own writing suggests that there is a ruling class hostile to middle America. Next to French’s post is an NRO editorial: “Stop Hounding the Knights of Columbus.” Who’s hounding? French himself sometimes sees the ruling elite imposing its will on its citizens in areas of transgender activism, same-sex marriage, religious freedom, and free speech. The faithful are being “persecuted,” French claims. Free speech is “under siege.” From whom? From a ruling elite, centered in America’s corporations, abetted in America’s bureaucracy and America’s courts? If so, then French embraces the central, first point of Tucker’s Trumpism.
Part of protecting the middle class’s rights to be bakers or believers is recognizing how threats to those rights threaten and undermine the entire culture That is what Tucker’s oeuvre, which includes much that French identifies, shows.
Perhaps, as French implies, the best approach to combatting the Left’s attempt to remake middle America is to assert personal responsibility instead of stir up anger against the Left since that anger risks making people feel helpless and unable to live a better life. One can “say no” to drugs—and live a better life. No laws prohibit people from marrying and staying together. Certainly responsibility is part of any solution and one cannot hope for too much from politics, as French suggests (would Tucker disagree?—I don’t think so).
There needs to be public support for such responsibility and this requires a culture that the Left is actively seeking to undermine. If French agrees with Tucker on this fundamental point, he should correct Tucker’s Trumpism rather than deride it for populist victimhood. Only a sufficiently unified republican people can combat the New Oligarchy.