Opinion

The Trumpistas don't care about American democracy

They care only about their own tribe

In the debate over whether the Trump presidency poses an existential threat to American democracy, there's at least a shared assumption among all parties that the system is worth protecting ... right?

Well, maybe not.

The latest syndicated column by Pat Buchanan, still largely underrated as the intellectual architect of President Trump's successful campaign, is an extraordinarily revealing piece of evidence that suggests the answer is no. It's worth quoting at length:

China may be a single-party Communist state that restricts freedom of speech, religion, and the press, the defining marks of democracy. Yet Beijing has delivered what makes the Chinese people proud — a superpower nation to rival the mighty United States.

Chinese citizens appear willing to pay, in restricted freedoms, the price of national greatness no modern Chinese generation had ever known.

The same appears true of the Russian people.

After the humiliation of the Boris Yeltsin era, Russians rallied to Vladimir Putin, an autocrat 18 years in power, for having retrieved Crimea and restored Russia to a great power that can stand up to the Americans.

Consider those "illiberal" democracies of Central and Eastern Europe — the Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Hungary.

To preserve their national character and identity, all have chosen to refuse refugees from Africa and the Middle East. And if this does not comport with the liberal democratic values of the EU, so be it.

President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that if the French had voted at the time Britain did, for Brexit, France, too, might have voted to get out of the European Union.

Why? One reason, and, no, it's not the economy, stupid.

It is the tribe. [Pat Buchanan, via The American Conservative]

The tribe. Buchanan later baldly claims that the aforementioned geopolitical trend proves that "nationalism trumps democratism" — itself a revealing turn of phrase. The epithet "democratism," as I recall, was used by Buchanan and other paleocons to deride the militaristic bent of post-9/11 neoconservatives. Winning the war on terror, in the latter's view, ultimately required the forced conversion of autocracies into democracies. To the extent this could be called an ideology, "democratism" was as useful a descriptor as any.

Now Buchanan uses it to describe the internal politics of already-existing democracies.

Of course we all know which "tribe" Buchanan prefers: white Christians of European descent. But that's just one of the democracy-skeptical tribes in Trump's corner. Another is what you might call the Thielites. This tribe rejects the 20th-century consensus under which equality of material opportunity was seen to be inextricably tied to democratic inclusion. Jonathan Chait limns the core convictions of this group of uberwealthy libertarian types in a 2016 column about the "libertarian-authoritarian alliance" undergirding the Trump coalition:

The conventional wisdom sees the party as deeply and irrevocably split between its elite Paul Ryan wing and its Trump wing, probably headed toward civil war. My argument holds that the two wings are closely related. Ryan, Grover Norquist, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Koch brothers, and other advocates of the traditional party economic agenda have given [Trump] at least muted support. Economic libertarianism contains an intrinsic fear of the majority using the ballot box to redistribute resources from the few to the many. That terror is the basis of Ayn Rand's novels, which inspired Paul Ryan's career in public life. [New York]

One can see this elite fear in particularly crude and apocryphal form in the below tweet by noted Tocqueville scholar Donald Trump Jr.:

Which brings us lastly to the final Trumpist tribe: evangelicals. Michael Gerson laments the political bargain they've made with the White House:

Trump's court evangelicals have become active participants in the moral deregulation of our political life. Never mind whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is of good repute. Some evangelicals are busy erasing bright lines and destroying moral landmarks. In the process, they are associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness, and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith. [The Washington Post]

Gerson's charge makes sense as a criticism of short-term coalition transactionalism. But the truth is worse: Many evangelicals fear that American democracy has become synonymous with a hostile secular humanism in which orthodox Christianity has no safe harbor. They don't believe in protecting the system because the system won't protect them.

There in three legs — race, class, and religion — is the stool of antidemocratic Trump tribes.

There's a reason they're not worried about Trump and the erosion of democratic norms. They not so secretly welcome our post-democratic future.

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