Sunday, February 26, 2017

The New Nationalism in America

Today the situation is reversed. Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and the presidency of the United States despite the resistance of the conservative intellectual movement and many party activists. While his administration leans heavily on institutions such as the Heritage Foundation, those aspects of his campaign that diverged most significantly from the conservatism of the Beltway remain undefined. Where Trump stands on trade, immigration, entitlements, America First, and the Iraq war is clear enough. Not so clear, however, is whether those stances add up to a coherent worldview, what that worldview is, and what it implies for political action. In the case of President Trump the voters came before the movement. Hence one explanation for the turbulent beginning of his administration is that Trump, unlike Reagan, is unable to draw from years of intellectual work and policy research.

That is beginning to change. The first issue of American Affairs, a quarterly journal of policy and political thought, was feted at a reception in New York City on Tuesday. I found the magazine lively and thought provoking and at times deeply insightful. In their mission statement the editors reject "a misguided and complacent consensus" that too easily dismisses widespread protest against social problems as populist exercises in nostalgia. "But our intellectuals as well as our politicians are subservient to an even more debilitating nostalgia," the editors say, "which views the ideologies of the last few decades as the only alternatives and their policies as the only solutions. They are nostalgic for a present they think they inhabit, but which has already slipped away." And this nostalgia led the intellectuals and politicians so far afield that they missed completely the economic crisis, the Arab Spring, Brexit, and the rise and victory of Donald Trump.

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