What is Trumpism? We have been treated to much handwringing about Trump’s beliefs, but very few explanations as to what they actually are, or what kind of ideology Trump represents.
Some of the more interesting attempts to outline ‘Trumpism’ have appeared in the pages of the Claremont Review of Books, written by his supporters. In the compelling article, ‘Flight 93 Election’, Publius Decius Mus (now revealed to be Trump staffer Michael Anton) said there are three key pillars to Trump’s ideology: closed borders, economic nationalism, and an interests-based foreign policy.
Charles R. Kesler, also writing in the CRB, repeated this formulation, anchoring Trump’s principles in the old Republican Party of William McKinley (president from 1897 to 1901) and Calvin Coolidge (1923 to 1929). Both this old Republicanism and the Trump administration agree, he argued, on having a ‘restrained foreign policy guided by a firm but modest version of the national interest’, alongside being pro-tariffs and supporting a strict assimilationist approach to immigration.
For a while, Trump held true to this foreign-policy vision. He was the only Republican candidate to disavow the foolish foreign interventionism of the Bush era. Following the 2013 chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus, he ‘warned’ Obama against bombing Syria. In his inaugural address, he affirmed his commitment to ‘the right of all nations to put their own interests first’.
Yet now, Trump appears to be backing away from these apparently core ‘Trumpist’ principles. His decision to bomb an Assad airbase in response to the recent chemical attack is more in tune with the humanitarian interventionism he once disavowed than with McKinley / Coolidge Republicanism. It was the sort of thing many Americans sensibly voted against in last year’s election.