In the Summer/Fall 2017 issue of Inroads, we took a wide-ranging look at populist movements in Europe. Except for Ronald Beiner's investigation into the role of White House--now former--chief strategist Stephen Bannon and Gareth Morley's analysis of Donald Trump's Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, we did not include the United States. Trump's personality and the complex shifting allegiances in the White House, not to mention the U.S. constitutional division of power and rigid two-party system, make it hazardous to compare the place of populism in American politics with European movements.
However, developments since the issue came out in June make it clear that we cannot ignore the emergence of the particularly American brand of populism that Trump has aroused. Indeed, all the attention paid to Trump's unique combination of bullying and lies leads to the mistaken impression that what are now commonly being called the Trumpites are his creation. One useful reminder from the Alabama Republican primary in September that rejected Trump's "establishment" candidate in favour of the extremist Roy Moore is that the Trumpites are not Trump's creation but rather a subculture in American politics that Trump brings to the surface.
The Trumpites constitute around a third of American voters, and more than three quarters of current Republican voters. Their support for Trump is little related to his policies, such as they are. Those who voted for him instrumentally because he promised them industrial jobs--especially in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan that gave him the election--have drifted away. There are very few if indeed any Trump Democrats. Simply put, the Trumpites are not for anything; they are against: against people unlike themselves. They are practically all white, and the great majority have no college degree. Impervious to the relevant facts, they respond to a simple appeal: defeat those elitist un-American liberals who trample on everything patriotic because they want to turn the United States over to people not like themselves.
As New York Times columnist David Brooks describes it, there are two equally sized groups in the larger Republican constituency. Half are conservatives like himself, favouring openness to trade and diversity and small government. The other half are white racialists--their Republican Party is the white party. Trump draws in this latter group in coded and uncoded public statements: about fine...