“Debating the Trump Presidency” with
Public debate took place on October 12, 2018, at the University of Notre Dame.
Trump’s core constituency covers about 39 percent of prospective voters; and this raises certain questions about whether this percentage is coextensive with the entire “people.” Do the 4 out of 10 college students who would silence “hate speech” (that is speech from the Right) belong to “the people”? Do the 60 percent of those polled in a recent CNN survey who disapprove of Trump’s criticism of NFL players who took to their knees during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, belong to this mystical whole known as “the people”? What about the more than 60 million individuals who gave their votes to Clinton in our most recent presidential election? Do these voters belong to “the people”? If not, why not?
.. The Revolt of the Elites by Christopher Lasch—a work that tries to dissociate “the people” from the vile, transnational “overclass” that Lasch blames for the decline of the family and a traditional sense of community. Lasch studiously ignores a major reason that the entertainers, authors, and other celebrities whom he deprecates have done so remarkably well. It’s because “the people” adore them and their cultural products and have made them what they are. Without Lasch’s “people,” the overclass that he despises would not be prospering.
.. Lasch, a defender of settled communities, typically holds up as his paradigm a mid-twentieth century working-class family, featuring very traditional gender roles. Lasch’s ideal mommy packs a lunch pail for his ideal blue-collar dad, who goes off to work in a factory.
.. By contrast, most of those who I hear celebrating Trumpian populism—like Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich on Fox News—are not about to restore “the people” as they used to be, or at least how they were perceived to be
.. Our self-advertised populists do not therefore attempt to take us back to mid-twentieth century communities, lest they be accused of praising the bad old times. In any case, Trumpian populists have different priorities. For example, Hannity and other pundits on Fox News want to mobilize their viewers against the Democrats and in favor of Republican political candidates.
.. Reading Breitbart, one gets the impression that their staff’s understanding of populism is simply to support Trump at every turn, except when Steve Bannon decides to break ranks (such as on DACA).
.. These would-be populists were disciples of Strauss’s student, the late Harry Jaffa, or in some cases of Jaffa’s student Charles Kesler at Claremont University, and are promoting their trademark views about the United States as a propositional nation founded on natural rights theory. Jaffa combined his view of America’s founding with obligatory worship of certain democratic statesmen and heroes, including Lincoln, Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr. For more than 50 years, “West Coast Straussians” have been feuding with more mainstream Straussians, who are centered mostly in Chicago or else on the East Coast. Not surprisingly, this second group of sectarians has come to be known as “East Coast Straussians.”
.. I would be delighted if these websites simply stated some of their signature positions, such as criticizing judicial activism, without claiming to represent an entity called “the people.”
.. All that seems left of populism, a movement that arose in late 19th century America among rural and small-town populations, are a political style and distrust of elites. Unlike those who today appropriate this identity, American populists historically desired to return all domestic politics to the states and to create public utilities.