Late on election night, as befuddled pundits finally accepted that Trump, against all predictions, had been elected president, the question arose: “What then should this new Trump party be called?” Came the puzzled response: “I don’t know you tell me.”
Whereas others entered office prepared merely to give lip service to their campaign promises, Trump intends to keep every single one of his. Get rid of Obamacare? That has already been done for all practical purposes. Build a wall? The prototypes are complete and if it is not built, it will not be the fault of the Trump Administration so much as it is of Republicans in Congress who still do not appear to understand the significance of the immigration problem. But perhaps most central to Trump’s appeal was his promise to restore American manufacturing, especially in the rust belt.
Those were campaign promises, true. But they were not meant simply to be naked appeals to a certain class of voter. Trump was savvy to notice the blue-collar, middle-class voters Barack Obama and Hillary deliberately ignored and dumped into a “basket of deplorables” had unmet political needs.
But more than that, Trump’s hostility to open immigration with lax or non-existent borders, recognized that America had unmet political needs that, even though they ran contrary to the establishment majority in the GOP, were a unifying element in the GOP’s base just waiting for someone like Trump to seize the initiative.
But if the Republican establishment is diminishing then what name best suits the now defunct in nomenclature party?
History suggests the Trumpian Party is much like the Republican Party of old, the Whigs freed from their slavery albatross. They stressed the forgotten man—farmers, laborers—while binding together the nation with economic policies and jobs. Whig leader Henry Clay, (like Trump) argued for “internal improvements” that would improve the productivity of the country by facilitating trade in both sections of the country, a national bank to promote circulation of money across the nation, and high tariffs to maintain America’s key industries of iron and textiles.
What we now call “free trade” began at the end of World War II, when the United States benefited from the “Golden Accident.” America stood in the unique position of being the only major nation in the world that had not suffered physical devastation or financial ruin as the result of the war. The United States and the United States alone emerged from the war with intact industries and found a world that desperately needed it both as a producer and as a consumer of other nations’ goods.
But this was an artificial position. America controlled up to 15 percent of all world trade, and 40 percent of world manufacturing. All free markets were open to U.S. goods primarily because no one could compete with us. This situation lasted mainly until Western Europe and Japan’s standard of living increased enough to become significant trading partners. At that point, the free trade the United States enjoyed for over 15 years dissipated.
Then came competitiveness, as we saw in the auto and steel industry. Prohibitions in other nations denied American products a place in the market. Worse, key industries necessary for defense—steel, textiles, and electronics—had been allowed to move offshore.
Trump recognized this threat to American workers, industry, and security intuitively, as he does most challenges. His drive to see America as the best in all things is what instinctively takes him to the heart of the problem. In the case of his insistence on bringing back manufacturing jobs—which in just a year of his administration, have already started to return. Trump correctly acknowledged, as Americans that there are some industries that can never be allowed to disappear.
Trump will win this battle because our history and experience are on his side. Aside from the Golden Accident, the United States has never been a fully free-trade nation, and most Republican presidents have never been willing to abandon the key manufacturing industries.
Even Reagan appreciated the need for selective tariffs. The difference between Reagan’s time and our own is that the apparent strengths of the new high-tech industries appeared to compensate for the loss of textiles and steel, and the full devastation of our “de-industrialization” had not become apparent. It is by no means clear that Reagan would not agree with Trump about tariffs today were he around to make a judgment.
In short, Trump is a representative of the classical Republicanism that marked Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, and Calvin Coolidge. He also harks back to the even more classic Americanism of Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and Andrew Jackson.
Trump’s “new” Republicanism really isn’t so new, and it is working to revive the nation economically, driving down unemployment, pushing black unemployment to historically low levels, creating a surging stock market, and inspiring record consumer confidence. It has revived a moribund Republican Party that stood against the interests of Americans and in favor of foreigners.
Whatever you want to call the new party, the word “American” should be a part of it.
Photo credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images