Editor’s Note: This will be another long day on this website. I’m going to shift gears from history and philosophy back to political science and punditry.
Kevin Williamson writes:
“Do you thrill to the sight of a military parade?
Planning a splendid military parade was practically the first thing Donald Trump did upon being elected to the presidency, a $100 million exercise in political semiotics. He calls himself a “nationalist,” not a conservative. And there’s something to that, and the parade is part of it—maybe all of it. …”
Donald Trump ran as a “nationalist” in the 2016 election.
This is why he excited and unified the “alt-right” which is nationalist and populist in orientation. He has governed, however, as a mainstream conservative. That’s why he will probably end up losing the non-traditional states he won like Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The “alt-right” isn’t really the “Far Right.” It is closer to the center of the electorate. These people are Middle American Radicals (MARS) voters. They are radicalized moderates and centrists whose views on social issues and economics don’t fit in with either political party.
Charlie Kirk and Sean Hannity are “Far Right.” I’m not a “Far Right” voter. I’m a nationalist swing voter who agrees more with Republicans on social issues and Democrats on economics. Seeing how badly people like me got screwed after 2016, I am now supporting Andrew Yang.
“At the National Review Institute’s biennial Ideas Summit in Washington last week, National Review editor-in-chief Rich Lowry and NRI fellow Jonah Goldberg had a spirited discussion about nationalism’s place in U.S. politics, with Lowry advancing the nationalist banner and Goldberg wary of it. It was intellectual nutrition: spirited, frank, unrehearsed, and I am grateful to have been there for it, and to be part of an institution where ideas matter. …”
Let’s start with Slide 1:
This is what happened in 2016. Donald Trump won the presidency and beat all his “conservative” rivals by running on the MAGA agenda which attracted enough nationalist, populist, moderate and centrist voters to win him the presidency in spite of his obvious massive flaws.
“What American nationalism might mean as a question of public policy is unclear. Self-proclaimed nationalists talk about acting in the national interest, but that’s no good: Senator Sanders thinks implementing a Soviet-style health-care system would be in the national interest; Tom Metzger has other ideas about the national interest.”
No, it is CRYSTAL CLEAR.
The problem is that “conservatives” and especially libertarians and the GOP establishment are unable to come to terms with why Donald Trump won the 2016 election. Kevin Williamson literally spent 2016 publishing articles on National Review calling for the death of White working class communities while Donald Trump talked about the opioid and suicide epidemic in White America, an America First foreign policy and bringing jobs back to White working class towns in the Midwest.
The thing that unites Left-Authoritarian populist nationalists such as myself and Right-Authoritarian conservatives is a shared concern about a loss of social cohesion. This is why I supported Donald Trump’s plan to build the border wall, end the tyranny of political correctness, end the overseas adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, invest in the United States with an infrastructure plan, preserve entitlements, end abortion, renegotiate our trade deals to serve the national interest, etc.
Right-Libertarians like Kevin Williamson, the Koch Brothers, The Bulwark and the GOP establishment don’t share any of these concerns. They look at the suicide and opioid epidemic and see a failure of personal responsibility in White America. They look at nationalist and populist voters who are furious about political correctness and social media lynch mobs and wave away the accusations of “cuckservatism,” i.e., always yielding to the demands of Far Left SJWs, as “racism.”
Left-Authoritarians and Right-Authoritarians disagree about economics. There are conservatives who would prefer to cut taxes on multinational corporations. Similarly, there are populists such as myself who would prefer to raise taxes. There are conservatives who oppose Universal Basic Income on economic liberty grounds. Similarly, there are populists such as myself who think putting a financial floor underneath the working class is such a great idea that it is worth voting for Andrew Yang.
It makes sense when you realize how policies are seen from your political perspective. Friedrich Nietzsche would have pointed out the absurdity of separating politics from perspective.
“People of good faith (and other kinds of people) have radically different notions of national interest, because they have radically different notions about community and the good life. Nationalism as a creed does not help us to distinguish prudently between those competing conceptions.”
Nationalists are social conservatives who are motivated by a perceived loss of social cohesion. It can be racial, cultural, ethnic, economic, ideological or religious in nature. In my case, it is all six which is why I have been tagged an “extremist” in American politics.
Right-Libertarians don’t care about the loss of social cohesion. In their view, it is the magic of the free market at work through the Providence of the Invisible Hand that has created places such as Detroit, the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia and the Mahoning Valley.
“As Goldberg argued, the character of nationalism depends greatly on the character of the nation—and the times, too: The New Deal was the nationalist project of a nationalist president. Mohandas K. Gandhi was speaking as a nationalist when he conceded the excellence of British administration but insisted that any people would naturally prefer bad government of their own than the good government of an alien power. Joseph Stalin was a nationalist. Jack Kennedy’s motto was a nationalist one: “Ask not what your country can do for you . . .” As -isms go, nationalism is pretty loosey-goosey.”
I don’t think that Conservatism, Inc. will like the alternative to Trump all that much. A nationalist populist majority can easily also take the form it took under FDR:
Enter the Dragon.
The thing that unites populist, nationalist and reactionary voters with progressives, moderates, centrists, socialists and liberals is a sense of economic fairness.
Andrew Yang is an inoffensive, nerdy Asian guy with lots of practical solutions to systemic economic problems. Among other things, he wants to give us $1,000 a month, end wage slavery, the student loan debt crisis, regime change wars and create a more affordable health care system. He doesn’t talk down to White people in political correctness and alienate them either.
Suppose that the populists and nationalist MAGA voters who supported Trump made peace with those people. The Jews who control the Democratic Party are told to chill out with the political correctness. We focus on economics instead of playing identity politics. In such a way, we could conceivably create a nationalist populist coalition like the one FDR had in the 1930s.
How could this work? It is easy to see how it could work because Yang appeals to the populists and nationalists who are angry about the loss of social cohesion. He started talking to them about the financial insecurity of the Millennial and Zoomer generations. He started talking to them about the opioid and suicide epidemic in White America. It has worked too.
By dropping the political correctness, expressing sympathy for disillusioned and alienated young White voters and focusing on practical economic solutions, Yang is scrambling the map and the 2016 electoral coalition. If he gets on television, he could go very far with this.
“Make America Great” is the nationalist motto of the moment (the “Again” is a concession to conservative nostalgia), but that gets pretty complicated pretty quickly, inasmuch as our gentle new nationalists despise so many of the very flourishing institutions and endeavors in which the United States actually excels: Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood, the universities, the National Institute of Science. (Yes, yes, but doesn’t national greatness supersede your petty partisanship?) Do our nationalists swell with pride thinking of Eugene O’Neill’s Nobel Prize . . . or Barack Obama’s?”
Here’s why: the gentle new nationalists are extremely active online, love their smartphones and social media accounts, LOVE SCIENCE and many of them are already inclined to progressivism in lots of ways. There is, for example, a shared interest in science fiction and futurism. The populists and nationalists are also inclined toward a more equitable distribution of wealth.
Yang is selling them on the Silicon Reich which to many of them sounds better than conservative nostalgia anyway. They already love anime and don’t really have a problem with Asians. The MAGA movement is a failure. We’re not ever going back to the 1950s.
There are two things which divide populists and progressives more than anything else. The first is that the populists hate political correctness and elected Trump as revenge on progressives. The second is the toxic system of identity politics that has been created by political correctness. By getting rid of political correctness and focusing on economics, they become persuadable.
These people don’t really “hate” other races. They resent political correctness and being told that they can’t have an identity or legitimate interests like other groups. This is what creates resentment along with the middle of the electorate getting screwed in every election.
Yang’s UBI dog whistle in March kind of reminds me of this scene from Battlestar Galactica where a lot of nationalists and populists realize they could be the Dems:
In another time, say, when FDR was president or George Wallace was the governor of Alabama, many of us who are populists would have been Dems, not Republicans. We’ve never agreed with “mainstream conservatism” since George W. Bush was in office.
You’ve misunderstood 2016: Blompf was a double FU to “True Conservatives” in the primaries and SJW fundamentalists on the Far Left who backed Hillary. Yang is the same thing.
“Abraham Lincoln’s nationalism (in matters not related to the immediate preservation of the Union) was directed in the service of “improvements”—canals, railroads, etc.—exemplifying a tendency that carries through such New Deal enterprises as rural electrification. These programs are not engaged in the creation of “public goods” formally understood, but neither were they directed at the economic interests of a single corporation, community, or party. A country with universal access to electricity and water, with railroads and canals, is different in important ways from one that lacks those things, and this difference is more significant in the long run than is the particular mix of private enterprise and government action involved in those projects. Our spasmodic attention to infrastructure programs is arguably the most specifically nationalistic aspect of our current politics. And there is a healthy current in that: Men planting trees knowing they will not live long enough to sit in their shade. …”
There were also Southerners who were huge fans of internal improvements.
Henry Clay was one of them. Lincoln was nothing more than a disciple of Clay in that respect. In the Deep South, James D.B. DeBow of Louisiana was a relentless champion of economic diversification. He was also a “racist” and a “white supremacist” and a “secessionist.”
I’ve also read and reviewed Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans and Kicking Away The Ladder which criticize free-market capitalism from a nationalist and historicist perspective on economics. Over the years, I have given a great deal of thought to the East Asian way of doing capitalism which I have long admired. I have also read and reviewed Clyde Prestowitz’s The Betrayal of American Prosperity.
I have been critical of libertarian takes on economics for over a decade. I have studied and written about the history of Alabama’s economy in the 20th century as well as the 19th century. I have studied the economic history of the United States, the economic history of the South and the economic history of the Caribbean since the Napoleonic Wars.
“But that is not much of a policy fight, for the most part. Nobody is in favor of crumbling roads or collapsing bridges, and the discrete disagreements over the particulars—this bridge, that road—are not the source of our nation’s current political convulsion. Even the very bitter fights over such important infrastructure projects as oil and gas pipelines are proxies for disputes that are at least as much cultural as economic or related to the particularities of energy production.”
I’m not so sure.
It’s hard to look at Trump’s infrastructure package and the response it got in the GOP controlled Congress from 2017 to 2018, as opposed to the health care bills and the tax cuts, and not walk away with the conclusion that the GOP really doesn’t care much about our national infrastructure.
Am I mistaken in concluding that the GOP would rather spend money on Israel and the Pentagon and huge tax cuts for its wealthy donors?
“To the extent that 2016 vintage nationalism has produced a policy agenda at all distinguishable from the old Republican stuff, it is anti-capitalist and anti-liberal: in favor of trade restrictions and suspicious of big business, especially banks, anti-immigration, anti-elitist, longstanding tendencies to which American populists from William Jennings Bryan to George Wallace and Ross Perot have been stubbornly attached.”
The 2016 election produced a vision and a consensus for a nationalist populist realignment of the electorate. It is why so many swing voters backed Donald Trump.
There actually was a policy agenda. As Donald Trump articulated it in 2016, the agenda was that political correctness was going to be dismantled, illegal immigration brought under control, a wall was going to be built on the border of Mexico, the opioid and suicide epidemic would be quelled, trade deals were going to be renegotiated in the American national interest and we were going to cut bait on our globalist foreign policy and endless wars in the Middle East.
Now obviously, this isn’t what happened under the Trump presidency. The answer is that Donald Trump met so much resistance from the “True Conservative” wing of the GOP and pressure from Republican donors that he caved to their demands. In doing so, he delivered the “True Conservative” agenda which his supporters had opposed in the Republican Party, while delivering none of the things that attracted those swing voters to his campaign in the first place.
“That these represent an orientation toward the actual national interest is not obvious: Tariffs function mainly as a sales tax on American consumers and as a crutch for certain U.S.-based firms that wish to be protected from foreign competition. There is more to a nation than its economy, but markets are national institutions, too, and far from the least important of them. Hostility toward these does not serve the nation, even if it serves the interests of some of the nation’s people.”
This is also what we call a Right-Libertarian take.
In other words, it is a criticism of the nationalist populist coalition that won Donald Trump the presidency. It is a pining for a conservative-libertarian coalition too which John McCain and Mitt Romney ran on in 2008 and 2012 and lost the presidency. It is going to be even worse for the GOP in 2020 because there so many fewer Reaganite Boomers in the electorate who believe this nonsense and so many more angry and economically hurting Millennials.
“With apologies to the often misunderstood Charles Erwin Wilson, the interest of General Motors is not synonymous with the national interest. There is no substantive nationalist argument for privileging the business interests of U.S.-based firms that produce steel over those of U.S.-based firms that consume steel. …”
Could it be … that a U.S. based steel worker has stable employment in this country which appeals to our sense of 1.) social cohesion and 2.) economic fairness? A White working class man with stable employment in Alabama is paying taxes in this state too. He is paying into social programs, not simply buying a Chinese or a Japanese product?
“Occasionally one will hear arguments that the existence of a thriving steel industry is in sum important to the country in a way that exceeds the value and interests of the firms that compose that industry, but this is ultimately a very limited line of reasoning, one that could be deployed on behalf of any industry, from frisbees to wine. (The national-security case for traditional heavy-industry protectionism is in practice a limitless warrant; Senator Rubio, who also was kind enough to speak at the NRI event, has defended sugar subsidies as a matter of national security, a deficiency that is more irksome in so admirable a senator). It is difficult to say with a straight face that we must act to preserve the frisbee factories as a matter of national interest—because they are our frisbee factories—and not many nationalists, even the perfervid ones, in practice begrudge the French their oenological excellence or the Germans their automotive genius or the Canadians whatever it is they are good at. They do produce cabernet sauvignon in Ohio, after all.”
Now that I thought more about it, many Right-Libertarians and the Reaganite conservative-libertarian coalition of the 1980s were right about the benefits of international trade and free trading our industrial base and millions of jobs to East Asia and Third World countries.
Maybe Andrew Yang is right that it is inevitable that automation in manufacturing will reduce the need for White working class jobs in the Rust Belt. Well, if that is the case, then what do we do about it? How do we deal with the social and economic dysfunction created by free trade? Why not simply implement a Universal Basic Income and a Maximum Income Cap? In such a way, we could eliminate the power of billionaires over our politics while redistributing the benefits of trade so that capitalism could start at some other number than zero. Just give people the money.
“If our nationalists do not think very much of the parts of America that are actually thriving—many of them the envy of the world—and do not think very much of U.S.-led developments, such as international trade, that have enriched the country immeasurably, then what is it they are thinking of?
I think it’s that parade.”
No, I do not believe that free-market economics is working in the Alabama Black Belt. It hasn’t worked since it was introduced here after the Civil War either.
While I grant that I might be working for some people in San Francisco and New York City who are more integrated into the global economy, it is not working where I live. I don’t give a shit about Blompf’s stupid military parade. I do care being being conned on MAGA by conservatives only to get MIGA from the Trump administration and the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.
I could continue, but it would be pointless; these types are deaf to “what we want.” They will never get it until they are finally taught a lesson that they will never forget.