The idea that Trump isn’t a true conservative is not new. In fact, The National Review, a cornerstone of conservative media, wrote two (here and here) pieces distancing themselves from Trump by arguing that he is not conservative. Still, Republicans, by and large, were still sticking by their candidate. It wasn’t until the Access Hollywood tapes were leaked that a significant number of Republicans pulled their support of Trump. Talking heads saturate the airwaves bemoaning how Trump has poisoned the otherwise benevolent electoral process with his racism and misogyny. They seem to yearn for the days of George W. Bush and wax poetic about the Reagan Era. Even liberals can be heard making this asinine and historically illiterate position.
In reality Trump is pure conservatism. The most basic understanding of American history makes this truth painfully obvious. Behind the facade of individual liberty, states rights and smaller government lies the same perverted worldview which Trump has made manifest in 2016. Let’s look closer at Trump’s roots in conservatism.
“Making America Great Again”
The root of conservatism is to conserve: to protect from harm or destruction. Trump’s entire campaign rests on the rhetoric of returning America to some good ol’ day when it was great. It is not lost on millions of Americans that those very same good ol’ days required their oppression. As we fawn over the founding fathers we erase the genocide of Natives they openly advocated for. Once Manifest Destiny had spread from “sea to shinning sea” America embraced, both North and South, chattel slavery. Once abolitionists –those folks that should be celebrated over Presidents– finally made it too politically risky to advocate for the spread of slavery and radical Republicans in the Congress won their fight for the passage of the 13, 14th and 15th Amendments conservatives preserved their power via Andrew Johnson and ushered in the Black Codes and Jim Crow. Plain and simply there is no time in our country’s history where we have been great. Furthermore, as progressives push to move this country closer to its ideals conservatives are there at every turn doing exactly what conservatives do: conserving.
States Rights, Individual Liberty and Trump’s Bigotry
One of the cornerstones of conservatism is the idea of individual rights and liberty. Conservatives, ones cut in the era or Reagan, will frame this as if those rights and liberties are meant for everyone, we know that’s not true. As laid out above, the foundation of this country is one of exploitation, oppression, division and genocide. Only wealthy white men were afforded the ability to enter into the social contract, the crown jewel of enlightenment thinking. This is why folks argue that the South seceding from the Union was about State’s rights while erasing the fact the states were fighting for the right to hold slaves.
It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that as people organized to change and transform the very nature of this country there was a set of people there to conserve it. To conserve it’s nature and preserve in it’s institutions, forever, a disconnection from humanity. It is no longer exposed in defenses of chattel slavery, or in slogans of “Segregation now, Segregation forever!” It has evolved and is now embodied in obsessions over ObamaCare, the national debt and homeland security. When Reagan crowned his welfare queen on the Southside of Chicago he cut millions for poor whites. When Republicans today rail against the Affordable Care Act and Conservative Governors refuse to expand medicare they are hurting millions of whites. Trump just taps into this anger and pain.
Donald Trump is leveraging the bill of goods this country sold working class whites: buy into whiteness and you will live like a king. But that’s not how capitalism works. There is not magic policy that changes that fundamental fact. No way of maneuvering the market to make it provide for folks it was never meant to provide for. Enter Whiteness. With whiteness and its social capital working class white people were positioned perfectly to be the battlefield. While Reagan did it through innuendo and fiscal policy Trump is pulling back the veil and telling the truth. And the people love it. Trump is conservatism in its most pure form.