Culture Wars/Current Controversies

On the coming radicalism of Donald J. Trump

The indictments have fueled him. If he wins in 2024, his second Presidency will marry that personal fury with a conservative attack on the administrative state to remake the government radically.

Aug 25, 2023

Donald Trump has felt the boot of the government on his neck.

And he is angry.

The conventional wisdom about Trump’s first term is that for all his bluster, he governed as a fairly standard conservative.

And – as it sometimes is – the conventional wisdom is correct. Whatever Trump’s radical impulses might have been, the bureaucracy and his own limitations kept them in check through 2020.

Trump cut taxes, appointed conservative Supreme Court Justices, and allowed the government to continue to grow. He made noise about NATO but ultimately took no action. He hardened the southern border but remained far from closing it. When Covid arrived, he deferred to public health experts and did not fight lockdowns or mask mandates.

Trump spoke like a populist. But he governed in the post-World War 2, post-New Deal American tradition, which assumed the world is an unruly place, and only a strong America headed by a large federal government can lead it.

Whether or not you agree with that view, all of us should recognize that it has been the consensus for three generations now.

But the consensus is breaking, especially on the right.

The populist right is furious at government support for the left’s increasingly overt cultural intrusions. Further, it sees no financial benefit either from the neo-liberalism that was the left’s playbook before 2008 or the climate change-driven anti-growth policies that the left has peddle since. (The populist left promises that it has learned its neo-liberalism lesson and will split the pie more fairly for the working class. It misunderstands that the populist right wants a bigger pie first.)

These currents are not new, but before Donald Trump the Republican Party had largely suborned them for a generation. The elite right – the Washington right – was content to nibble at the fringes of the administrative state while launching two wars in Iraq (the second monumentally stupid and destructive) and failing to navigate its way out of Afghanistan.


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