Trump: Symbol of Resentment?

Thomas Edsall of The New York Times (unsurprisingly) endorses an essay by William Galston, “The Bitter Heartland”. Galston, according to Edsall,

captures the forces at work in the lives of many of Trump’s most loyal backers:

Resentment is one of the most powerful forces in human life. Unleashing it is like splitting the atom; it creates enormous energy, which can lead to more honest discussions and long-delayed redress of grievances. It can also undermine personal relationships — and political regimes. Because its destructive potential is so great, it must be faced.

Recent decades, Galston continues, “have witnessed the growth of a potent new locus of right-wing resentment at the intersection of race, culture, class, and geography” — difficult for “those outside its orbit to understand.”

They — “social conservatives and white Christians” — have what Galston calls a “bill of particulars” against political and cultural liberalism. I am going to quote from it at length because Galston’s rendering of this bill of particulars is on target.

  • “They have a sense of displacement in a country they once dominated. Immigrants, minorities, non-Christians, even atheists have taken center stage, forcing them to the margins of American life.”

  • “They believe we have a powerful desire for moral coercion. We tell them how to behave — and, worse, how to think. When they complain, we accuse them of racism and xenophobia. How, they ask, did standing up for the traditional family become racism? When did transgender bathrooms become a civil right?”

  • “They believe we hold them in contempt.”

  • “Finally, they think we are hypocrites. We claim to support free speech — until someone says something we don’t like. We claim to oppose violence — unless it serves a cause we approve of. We claim to defend the Constitution — except for the Second Amendment. We support tolerance, inclusion, and social justice — except for people like them.”

So far, so good. The four bullet points are right on; that is, they are not only true of “social conservatives and white Christians”, but they are also true of the proponents of what Edsall calls “political and cultural liberalism”. But, as the characterizations of the latter reveal, they are not liberal in the true meaning of the word. It is therefore meet and just for “social conservatives and white Christians” to resent political and cultural fascists — for that is what they are.

But there’s a lot more to it. Our home-grown fascisti are not just resented, but also rightly feared and vehemently opposed by conservatives, regardless of their socioeconomic status or religious views. And that is why Trump still has a grip on hordes of Americans.

Despite Trump’s lack of fiscal and rhetorical discipline, he was more than talk when it came to restoring conservative governance to America.

  • Exhibit A is his record of judicial appointments — in sheer numbers and in conservative judicial philosophy. (Why else would the Democrats have been so fierce in their opposition, not only to Supreme Courts picks but also to many lower-court picks?)
  • Exhibit B: Trump did more than any president since World War II to roll back the administrative state (See “Presidents as Regulators: From Ike to the Donald“. Truman isn’t included because the database is incomplete, but his regime was heavy-handed.)
  • Exhibit C: Defense spending, which was on the decline under Obama, turned around under Trump. (Many conservatives oppose “endless war”, but most conservatives prefer preparedness and the ability to defend the nation in case a “real war” comes along.)
  • Exhibit D: Trump’s pro-life agenda.

I could add a lot to that list, but it seems like more than enough to make the case that allegiance to Trump signals more than mere resentment. It signals alignment with his deeply conservative agenda.

There is also the not insignificant fact that Trump — unlike the Bushes, McCain, and Romney — wasn’t an “establishment” Republican who cozies up to Democrats or a “maverick” prone to betraying those who voted for him.

Trump was true to his base and true to his campaign promises. That’s integrity — a rare commodity in electoral politics. Trump’s supporters are discerning enough to recognize it when they see it, and to reject faux conservatives like Romney.