An era has ended. The passing of Nancy Reagan epitomizes the death of one of the most influential subcultures of the Right: Reaganism, the summit of the so called conservative revolution that marked the ‘80s. It was a cultural climate characterized by the influence of Neoliberalism and one which advocated the primacy of the market over the failures of the state; an ideology that praised individualism over state interventionism, man versus society. “There is no such thing as society”, Margaret Thatcher – the other influential leader of the conservative diarchy which embodied the “conservative revolution” – maintained.
Reaganism activated a paradigm shift that sloughed the traditional American “conservatism with a conscience” summarized by Barry Goldwater’s eponymous book “The conscience of a conservative” and reflected the intellectual background of another rightist offspring: Neoconservatism. This would have its heyday during the administration of George W. Bush, seducing the electorate with a mythical New Pax Americana based on military supremacy.
There is a thin red line linking Reaganism with Neocons, even though Michael Lind argues that the latter are also responsible for Trumpism; in fact, Neocons themselves favoured a new role for the rich elites inside the GOP, leaving the white working class Americans – who were culturally conservative but, politically, opposed welfare cuts -, unrepresented.
Can the twilight of Libertarian and Conservative gods inside the GOP mark the rise of a new hegemony, represented by Trumpism? Undoubtedly, the party’s establishment is fighting fiercely to stop Trump. I am not sure whether the conservative electorate posses the “right” antibody to stem this populist drift however. Two things are clear. First, Trump is swinging the pendulum of the Right from individualism – a key feature of both Neocons and Reaganites – towards organicism. Secondly, this trend is a minoritarian underground flow within the conservative subculture that – in times of crisis – emerges again. And Trump rides the tide.
Paradoxically, no matter how odd it may sound, Trump, a billionaire tycoon, aims to represent the common folk against the elites. The rhetoric of the “pure people” against the corrupted elites is one of the main leitmotifs of populism. In Trump’s thinking, people are a unique identity, not the sum of different interests: nativism is only a way of pursuing this purity, by excluding ethnic communities that, according to a pluralist approach, should be part of a complex society. However, it is not only foreign communities that are not part of this “pure people”, and there is no place for the different elites that advocate interests that can poison the purity of “one people, one nation” rhetoric: greedy capitalists, the political establishment dazed by the Potomac fever, and the euphuistic intelligentsia who live their golden lives in luxury villas, far from the needs of white collar workers. Incredibly, Trump is an anti-leftist tycoon who believes in capitalism, and who also backs a sort of social agenda tailored to protect white collar workers from the excesses of the kind of capitalism that the establishment represents. Brilliantly, Jeffrey Tucker recalls the term “mercantilism” to define Trump’s economic approach. Mercantilism bred both guild socialism and fascism, explaining how this approach can sound rightist and leftist at the same time.
As a consequence, Trump combines a pro market stance with a protectionist agenda aimed at shielding the WASP middle class. We might define him an anti-liberal capitalist, who saves the market at the expense of civil liberties and who represents an old-fashioned capitalism without class frictions. Actually, not by chance, both mercantilism and protectionism share the same organicist approach, and the same anti-libertarian and anti-individual afflatus.
But how can a multi millionaire plausibly represent the “pure people”? A working paper issued by the George J. Stigler Centre for the Study of the Economy and the State at Chicago Booth shows how Americans are very worried about the way political donations influence policy decisions. Ironically, Trump, who is “digging into his own pockets to fund much of his campaign”, is the presidential candidate with the least chance of being the benefactor of donations from interest groups. In this regard, Trumpism – as with other forms of populism- reveals ever more its profound nature as a pathology of liberal democracies. If we don’t heal the system, new Trumps will come.alessio postiglione