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Populist Counterrevolution

Donald Trump and the Populist Counterrevolution—John Peeler

Donald Trump seems to be the worst nightmare of many in the Republican Party. Yet he embodies what they stand for.

Today’s Republican Party is basically an uneasy coalition between business-oriented libertarians and social and religious conservatives (and a shrinking number of traditional conservatives like the Bush family). The former favor maximum individual liberty, and minimal government interference with that liberty. The latter favor a government that enforces the convictions of those with correct religious beliefs (born-again or evangelical Christianity in the form it has taken in contemporary American society).

This odd couple has stayed together because the libertarians tolerate the obsession of religious conservatives with social issues like abortion, while the religious conservatives go along with the ideal of a laissez faire capitalist economy, so long as government can be allowed to regulate the bedroom.

Trump has beaten them all by embodying Rand’s hero even as he disregards Rand’s dogma. Rand’s hero could never be bound by dogma. It’s all about him.

Many on the libertarian wing have been heavily influenced by Ayn Rand, the twentieth century novelist and philosopher who preached rationalism in the service of radical individualism, who supported laissez faire capitalism, and who flatly rejected religion:

The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind.

The justification for the libertarian push for small government is to get out of the way of the heroic individual in his pursuit of money and power (although she was a woman, her heroes were men):

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

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Rand lived her creed. Her talent was inspirational writing, with which she acquired a large following and made a good living. Most of her followers, however, believe the creed but don’t live it. As academics, professionals and politicians they promote the creed by resisting big government, but they are not themselves Rand’s heroes:

Men have been taught that it is a virtue to agree with others. But the creator is the man who disagrees. Men have been taught that it is a virtue to swim with the current. But the creator is the man who goes against the current. Men have been taught that it is a virtue to stand together. But the creator is the man who stands alone.

Do you see Donald Trump in this picture? Here is someone who has emphatically made his own distinctive way in business, multiplying a substantial inheritance (Rand had nothing against inheritance because the right to property should be absolute). And then he has made his own way in politics, carefully determining what he needed to say, and how to say it, to attract a large chunk of the Republican base.

He’s paid no particular attention to Rand’s dogma about laissez faire economics, because that’s not calculated to win many voters. He professes to be religious now, but his record suggests that religiosity is a role he finds expedient. He believes in nothing but himself.

For many years the libertarians have sought to use the religious conservative mass base to win elections, but have not actually done much for them. Christian conservatives thought they could use the Republican organization to bring change to Washington and the state capitals, but they’ve been bitterly disappointed.

Ted Cruz thought he could ride to power as one of them, but it turned out that Trump got as many evangelical votes as Cruz. Now, with Trump as the virtual nominee, Christian conservative leaders realize that not only does he not represent them, he is stealing their flock.

And the small-government, libertarian business wing of the party? Their most consistent advocate, Rand Paul (named after Ayn Rand) flamed out early as a candidate. Their deep pockets, the Koch brothers, have been so impotent that they recently complained that they had no one in the Republican contest whom they could support.

john peeler

Trump has beaten them all by embodying Rand’s hero even as he disregards Rand’s dogma. Rand’s hero could never be bound by dogma. It’s all about him.

John Peeler