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Donald Trump, defender of democracy

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THE looming political question over the next two or three years in the US and across the democratic world is whether the Trump agenda will come out on top. Or will it be defeated by a combination of Left-wing political parties, the bureaucratic and administrative state, the universities, woke corporations, most of the media and, yes, even a fair chunk of elected conservative politicians who turn out to be closer to the values of the big state than of those who voted for them?

Here is what we take Trump’s agenda to have been and still to be: it starts with a sincere belief in freedom and in the private economy as the best wealth generator going, and by far. Add to that a preference for limited government, a desire to deregulate and to pursue ‘America first’ or economic nationalist policies when dealing with China and, indeed, even with other democratic countries that are believed to be free-riding on the US’s military spending. Now throw in a strong willingness to fight for traditional culture policies – to fight the culture wars, if you wish to put it in those terms. Moreover, don’t forget the deep-seated dislike of lifelong politicians, of the political and top-level bureaucratic caste and of a media class that for some time now has cast off any pretence of even-handedness and is blatantly biased in favour of Left-wing causes and politicians.

Anything else? Actually, yes. The Trump agenda aimed to help working class Americans. Not just economically but socially, politically and culturally. That meant significantly reining in immigration, to help push up wages for citizens. (As an aside, don’t you love it when some BMW-driving top lawyer or university bureaucrat or woke corporate CEO-type earning a huge salary tells you that we need more immigrants because there are jobs local Australians/Americans/Brits/etc won’t do? What they mean is ‘won’t do for these wages’. No job goes unfilled when the price of labour is right. It’s pure self-interest. You can translate their claim as: ‘I want my barista or cleaning lady or gardener to be cheap as chips and that requires massive scale immigration’.) Another way to put that last point would be to say that Detroit (or fill in the blank) will not grow back while the US government encourages employers to send offshore the manufacturing work that Detroit used to do. The desired benefits here are more non-economic than economic, which is why many are prepared to take the efficiency hit on free trade (and overall wealth) that would go with this sort of mild protectionism. Now that sort of agenda has no obvious takers amongst the established political class in the US or anywhere much in the democratic world. So it will be driven by outsiders. If you want to put that disparagingly, you’d call it ‘populism’ – though any plausible definition of that term would also cover Emmanuel Macron of France, yet almost no journalists want to apply it to him.

This is where Donald Trump came in. He was willing to put his political and indeed non-political capital into the fight against today’s modern destructive culture. It wasn’t really a cultural vision for him as much as an abrupt, primal reaction. But it amounted to the most effective attack against both the Left’s political smears and the big state bureaucracy’s endless word salad (hint: start every sentence with a dependent clause and throw in all sorts of meaningless jargon). The proof that Trump was and is incredibly effective at communicating this agenda to those outside the usual political class is the extraordinary effort by the Left to censor him (would they bother with Jeb or George W Bush, or Mitt Romney?) and to harness the FBI, intelligence services and Justice Department to try to destroy his administration. Trump was also an instinctive entertainer. Bombastic. Vulgar. His head was bloodied but unbowed. He, virtually alone, was not intimidated by the masses of vitriol the system threw at him – and we know that even in the middle of a pandemic last year, with virtually the entirety of the media, against him tens of millions of voters (the second highest tally ever) showed they liked him more than the system by voting for him.

Trump wants to win elections to bring about change. He’s not in it for the chauffeur-driven limo and handsome pension. It is that challenge to the status quo that so many of the elite despise. The default setting of most American politicians is that the system that created them must be supported. And for politicians on the Right, the default setting is to flinch when bullied and attacked by the Left and by the media that overwhelmingly supports it. Put bluntly, Trump brings a clarity of purpose and a resolve to get results that you don’t see elsewhere. And he got results. Lots of them. Whether they survive till 2024 is an open question. Even many Republicans don’t want them to.

Two key questions, then, are these. One is whether you can get the Trump issues and goals without the Trump monomania and drive. The second is the more contentious question of whether Trump’s combative, abrasive, vulgar, boorish style is necessary to have any hope of prevailing. If it isn’t necessary then it is clearly counterproductive. But if it is necessary, then it’s essential. Remember, the core of Trump’s movement entails significant loss for all sorts of establishment players. Indeed, we know that even before Trump became president the intelligence community was engaged in trying to undermine his candidacy. After his inauguration Trump foolishly placed his trust in establishment figures like Mattis, Kelly and Bolton in foreign policy; he made Jeff Sessions attorney general; the Democrats impeached him twice on laughable grounds that would never have triggered anything against any other president, and they launched disinformation about Trump and everyone around him who remained loyal. It looked like a merciless war against Trump from start to finish and it’s amazing he was not destroyed. The same awaits anyone pursuing the Trump agenda. That is the background reality for all those on the Right who long for the rediscovering of the undoubted virtues of decorum and civility and Reaganesque bonhomie and who hope some centrist, semi-moderate coalition might deliver at least a goodly chunk of the Trump agenda.

Trump’s sins of vulgarity and bad manners are not, to us, worse than the deception, state violence and backstabbing of those who attack Trump for his style. They can go with immense bravery, and today that may be the most important attribute of any conservative politician. We think the Virginia results from a fortnight ago make a second Trump run for president in 2024 more likely than not. If he runs, he will win the Republican nomination whatever the deluded Never Trumpers claim. If he chooses not to, our bet is on Ron DeSantis and it will be because Trump thinks DeSantis can carry out the Trump agenda. Those are our hostages to fortune; silly predictions three years out.

This article, co-authored with James Haynes, first appeared in the Spectator Australia on November 13, 2021, and is republished by kind permission.

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James Allan
James Allan is Garrick professor of law at the University of Queensland.

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