Ever since Donald Trump ascended to the presidency, confused members of the media have been trying to come to grips with their inability to understand him by dubbing him a “populist,” a “nationalist,” or some combination of the two. This has triggered a debate throughout American society. People are conditioned to view these two terms as things associated with negative forces throughout American history. Nationalism, as it is understood by the vast majority of people in academia today, is something rooted in ethnic and religious discrimination. Populism, a term that even the Founding Fathers feared (referring to it as a “mobocracy”), usually means the tyranny of the majority.
Like many others, I am also guilty of having used the “nationalist-populist” terminology over the last two years. Certainly, the Trump movement—like the Tea Party movement that preceded it—is based on popular notions of government. But, the nationalism espoused by this movement is neither ethnic nor religious. Instead, it is a civic and economic nationalism. In other words, it is pragmatic and patriotic.
When one analyzes the outcomes of Trump’s policies, it is clear that “nationalism” and “populism” don’t quite describe them. Very technically, Trump is not popular. He neither won the popular vote in 2016 nor has his approval rating topped 40 percent. What’s more, he is not a racist leading a racialist charge against minority communities. If that were actually true, then the massive gains made by minority communities in the United States since Trump became president would seem to work against the Trump agenda. Instead, Trump lauds their achievements and explicitly wishes for more.
Think about it: Trump did not campaign under the banner of cutting America’s various welfare programs (though, they are certainly in need of reform). He merely said that, if elected, he’d manage these programs better. Trump explicitly ran on a campaign platform of intensifying government spending through an expensive (though much-needed) infrastructure plan. Trump also ran against Republican Party orthodoxy on trade. All of these things, while unpopular with “true conservatives,” were immensely popular with enough voters across the country to give Trump the boost he needed to win the 2016 election.
President Trump’s stances on immigration are also less rooted on racialist assumptions and more based on economic need and political pragmatism, as well as concern for the citizens and immigrants who already live here. While Trump has advocated for curbing all immigration into the United States, this places the president in good company. After all, Calvin Coolidge placed a moratorium on immigration into the United States which lasted until former Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) bamboozled his fellow elected leaders into embracing an immigration “reform” plan that created the current mess in U.S. immigration policy.
Trump supports severe curbs on all forms of immigration into the United States because the present system is depressing wages, swamping an already-overburdened welfare system, and causing massive political dislocations—to say nothing of security concerns, in the form of increases in illicit narcotics and gang-related violence. Trump wants a more serious commitment to merit-based legal immigration focusing on national need. This is a sensible policy. In fact, this policy is similar to what Canada—America’s social democratic neighbor to the north—presently enjoys. If it’s not radical for globalist Canada, why is it radical, nationalist-populism for the United States?
When Trump campaigned, he vowed to adhere to an “America First” principle of governance. As president, he has chided his fellow world leaders to stick to their own national interests and he will do the same with his. While everyone has been frantically trying to come up with the correct political science jargon for understanding Trump’s philosophy, it was hiding right in plain sight. He told us. It’s America First. How is this controversial? How is this un-American? Why must such a controversial term, like “nationalist-populism” be used (except to denigrate Trump’s legitimacy)?
Trump believes exactly as most Americans do on the critical issues of our day. He wants the best for the United States, partisan ideology be damned. Let’s start calling Trump what he is: a patriot.
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