The world is obsessed with Donald Trump. Hardly a day goes by without my receiving an email, a call, or a tweet from someone, somewhere who wants me to tell him what the president will do next. I always oblige as best I can, but the fact is these queries aren’t often about the real story unfolding before our eyes. The important question for anyone interested in America’s future is not “what will Trump do next?”; it is “what are the terms on which America’s next dominant political coalition will be formed?”
President Trump is an important, even decisive figure in this, but as a democratic leader he can do no more than what public opinion permits. He can shape it, he can mold it, but he cannot ignore it or battle against it. What he can do, and what any politician who aspires to be transformative tries to do, is to build from the disparate strands of opinion a strong coalition that shares some common principles and is defined against a common enemy. With that in place, a leader can truly make America great again.
I’ve been writing and speaking about this topic for the last eight years in columns, articles, and talks, as well as in two books on the Republican Party and on Ronald Reagan. American Greatness’ editors have read my work and invited me to share my thoughts with you as a bi-weekly columnist starting today. Since the American Greatness project—how to build, in theory and in practice, a durable and coherent political coalition conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all Americans deserve respect and dignity—is near to my heart, it was easy for me to accept their offer.
Over the coming months, I will try to explain how such a coalition represents the views and dreams of the vast majority of Americans; what challenges exist in bringing that coalition together; and what sort of policies are needed both to unite the different factions within that potential coalition and to define future battles in ways that both advance core principles and keeps a common foe in sight. Sometimes I will discuss these ideas in light of recent events, while other times I will simply talk about the issues and opinions that are important even if they are not currently in the news. In all cases, I will keep my eye on the ball: what does America need to be great and which Americans need to unite to keep it great.
You might be surprised by how little I will discuss the president. That will be by design. His views and personality will be important in how these forces are divided or combined, but he himself is not the reason we are having the debates we are having as a nation. He won his election because he responded to overlooked and latent political demands, not because he created those demands with his campaign. He is a demand-side, not a supply-side, figure.
We cannot control what Trump does, nor can we even influence it if we do not know what we want. Those of us who desire an America that works towards fulfilling her destiny as the nation best suited to develop and enhance human nature and human happiness must know how to get there on our own. If President Trump were to leave office tomorrow for whatever reason, we must know how to act. We can only do that if, in addition to knowing who we are for and whom we are against, we also know what we are for. This has to be about more than personalities.
I am for a political movement that builds on, but is not coextensive with, the existing conservative movement. The conservative movement is currently not a movement at all, but rather is an alliance of discrete groups with differing and competing agendas. They agree on what they are against: transformation of America into a centralized, government-directed state, open denigration of religion and traditional values, and surrender of American freedom and security to determined foes abroad. But they strongly disagree on what they are for. This, not feckless leadership in Congress or a directionless administration, is why the current Republican majority is unable to do much of anything even when it has control.
The current political configuration on the Right has another essential flaw: it does not represent the majority of Americans. Much has been made of President Trump’s ability to win millions of votes among whites without a college degree in the Midwest and other places rarely visited by our nation’s elites. Republicans win these voters at the statewide level, but they rarely win them nationally because these voters don’t want current national Republican policies. Instead, they are the swing voters in American politics and have been since at least the election of 1896. As I will explain in the future, they sit between the traditional “Left versus Right” politics, and hence are the only group who can join with one partisan coalition and make it a majority. The fact that they have not done so in the past 20 years speaks volumes as to why our politics are divisive, corrosive, and indecisive.
Ronald Reagan always understood this. He told Americans when he endorsed Barry Goldwater in the television speech that launched his political star that “there is no such thing as Left or Right, there is only up or down.” There can be no winning an American majority that does not recognize those who still believe that maxim, and feel betrayed by political classes that see only left or right. My column will be dedicated to the idea that Americans want and would vote for the “up party” if only they had one to vote for. In the coming months, I hope to build for you a vision of what that up party looks like, stands for, and represents. For such a party, only such a party, one that unites what is common for all Americans regardless of color, creed, or gender, can maintain and enhance the virtues that truly make America great.
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