In light of Donald J Trump’s domination of the news headlines and America’s collective consciousness, I’ve decided to cobble together a series of articles over the next several weeks that explore the answers to several questions individuals may have about the brash and outspoken presidential candidate. For the record, I do not endorse Trump as a political candidate and I have no intention of voting for him at this time. That said, I will attempt to answer these questions as accurately and honestly as I can.
Part 1: Trump’s Political Ideology
At least nominally, Trump falls underneath the Republican party umbrella. This is partially due to the political identity of those drawn to Trump rather than his somewhat vague and broad policy positions. Personally, I think it’s left to be seen if Trump truly believes anything he espouses versus Trump merely pandering to a certain segment of the American public based on what is the popular topic or political position du jour. In the past, Trump has expressed support for gun control, pro-choice policies, single-payer government provided health care, and tax increases for the wealthy (not your typical Republican campaign talking points). During this election cycle Trump has made pro and con statements on the same topic, often within weeks of each other (take immigration for example).i
Broadly speaking, the core ideological components of the Republican party are conservatism, economic liberalism, fiscal conservatism, and social conservatism. Historically, the party was more progressive and classically liberal. Other significant factions in the modern GOP include libertarians, moderates, neoconservatives, populists, and the religious right.
However, with the rise of Trump, I believe another significant faction of voters exists within the Republican party. A faction that also extends to groups of independent voters and segments of the Democratic party. This faction is autocratic and nativist in nature. For lack of a better word, let’s call the ideology of this faction Trumpism.
Autocratic is defined as “of or relating to a ruler who has absolute power” or “taking no account of other people’s wishes or opinions; domineering.”ii Trump’s followers view him as a brash, politically incorrect, strong leader who knows how to get things done. Interestingly, a recent analysis of a poll of registered voters across the country discovered authoritarianism to be a statistically significant marker amongst Trump supporters.iii
Nativism is “the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants” or “a return to or emphasis on traditional or local customs, in opposition to outside influences.”iv All one need do is listen to the Republican debates and Trump’s stump speeches on the campaign trail to see how strongly Trump is pushing a nativist platform.
If this gives you pause, it should. The political leanings of the majority of Trump’s followers are one step removed from fascism. The core definition of fascism is “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.”v History has already demonstrated how dangerous and misguided this ideology can be.
Nevertheless, I’m not calling Trump or his followers fascist. Rather, many of Trump’s followers are proto-fascist in nature since they espouse precursor or foundational ideologies to fascism. On a side note, Trumpism, in style and substance, is more similar to the buffoonery of Benito Mussolini than the machinations of Adolph Hitler.vi
Robert Paxton defines fascism as the following:
A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. [The Anatomy of Fascism]
The initial part of this definition fits Trumpism, but not the latter, hence the similarity but not sameness with fascism.
You might note that I’ve been careful to avoid directly ascribing any ideology to Trump himself even though his campaign platform and his supporters fall within the aforementioned ideological camps. That is because Trump is not a true ideologue. Rather, Trump fits the profile of a populist demagogue.
Populism is “a doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general population, especially when contrasting any new collective consciousness push against the prevailing status quo interests of any predominant political sector.” Even though he is part of the national elite (Trump is a media feted multi-billionaire), Trump is running a virulent anti-establishment campaign that feeds off the anger (there is much less hope in Trump’s version of populism) and fears of the American working class.
A demagogue is “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”viii Given the vacuous nature of Trump’s campaign slogans, debate proclamations, and little to no substance or depth behind his policy positions, this definition describes Trump’s campaign perfectly.ix Even so, Trump is extremely intelligent when it comes to the media and marketing and exceptionally adroit at exploiting the 24/7 hyper-sensationalized modern news cycle.
It should be noted many of Trump’s Republican supporters are not traditional Republicans. Most of them are Trump supporters, first and foremost, and Republicans second. If Trump were to run as an independent, many of these voters would follow him. They are anti-establishment and feel highly alienated from the political process.x Many of Trump’s supporters were not very politically active (or at least were not as active as most regular participants of Republican primaries), if active at all, in prior election cycles until now.xi
In fact, I think the relative prior political inactivity of Trump’s supporters is one of the reasons why Trump’s unflagging popularity in the polls has caught the political pundits, party advisers, and mainstream think tanks by surprise; a sobering reality which has allowed Trump to defy predictions of an eventual campaign collapse.
ii Google Dictionary
iv Google Dictionary
vii Google Dictionary