Donald Trump has been many things, but he has never been the conservative that his supporters have claimed him to be.
The American people have never liked to hear harsh truths, but sometimes they need to be said. President Donald Trump is not a conservative. Trump is a reactionary. The left created Trump. The world is bigger than Donald Trump, but he has driven virtually everything in the world of politics since 2015. So, it makes sense to clarify just what happened in the past four years, and what it means for the future of American politics.
Trump Is No Conservative
The president may have some historically conservative traits, such as anti-war sentiments, lower taxes, and less executive overreach, but that does not mean he is conservative. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., New York) and former Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii) espouse at least two of those three principles—but they are liberals in the minds of average Americans.
It is almost entirely dependent on the Republican party for Trump to be described as conservative. What Trump really appears to be is a populist who plays as an anti-left candidate, despite the fact that Trump was a Democrat until 2012 after several party switches prior to that.
His inconsistent political history might explain why his original positions on several major issues have shifted. He plays to his crowd and fights his opponents. This could also explain his willingness to throw fiscal responsibility to the wind, his brash attacks of any person that opposes him, and his unwillingness to admit his recent defeat in the 2020 election.
Major hallmarks of American conservative thought are out the window with Trump’s politics, as well as the general proper manners of former House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Mitt Romney (R., Utah). It seems reckless and inaccurate to brand Trump as a legitimate conservative given his propensity to disregard customs and ideas to which conservative ideology has tied itself.
Trump Is a Reactionary
This adjective seems to best describe the Trump phenomena in American politics. Everything about Trump’s person and perception is supposed to be the exact opposite of a typical politician. One of the major tenets of his political career has been draining the swamp, which is typical of a populist movement that now feels forgotten.
Is it any wonder that rural voters, the working class, and other largely ignored political factions gravitated towards that message? People in Alabama certainly feel like they are the recipients of undeserved hate and neglect when they have lives and needs just as well. As if some of those elitists in D.C. will care about small town voters or the truly disenfranchised. In the minds of those who feel left behind, it’s better to flip the table than roll over.
Trump personified that feeling. For too long in the Republican Party, the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney did not fight for them. They may have campaigned as a better option, but the benefits never came. In the Democratic Party, it feels as if the coastal elites are laughing at those hicks that do not know their behind from a hole in the ground.
When things like this happen, it frankly does not matter to his supporters if Trump is wrong or engaging in bad behavior. They do not want to give any of these smug snobs the satisfaction of winning. People want to be heard—not tossed aside and ignored.
Trump Is a Product of the Left
As far as Trump’s Republican rise, he served as backlash to the left and their attacks on the Republican voter base. Not just political attacks, but malicious, personal attacks. These did not just come from low level staffers and political operatives on the left, but also from major political figures.
Former President Barack Obama comes to mind as he attacked a large segment of Americans by saying, “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”. This is an ugly statement to say the least. This belief implies massive bigotry on behalf of many Americans who merely have different priorities, lives, and circumstances. Differing voting patterns, at least according to this belief, demarcated those who opposed the former president (then a candidate for the presidency in 2008) as hateful, racist, stupid, cultist, or some other derogatory label.
If the front runner and eventual president could get away with essentially taking a sucker punch at these people, why would they care what they got in a candidate as long as that candidate punched back? They were not given any sort of real respect with candidates such as the late senator John McCain, who was considered a class act and American hero. So how could they ever get that respect?
Although it gets lost in history, the Republican Party did try to run another, respectable, candidate—but he and his voters were castigated as people who wanted to put black people “back in chains” by then Vice President Joe Biden. That candidate was Senator Mitt Romney, who by all accounts is widely seen as a model of good character. Romney and his voters were cast as the racist slave owners of old with this comment. There was no moral legitimacy for them.
A similar theme occurred with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” comment and President-Elect Joe Biden’s “chumps” remark this year. It is a recurring theme that anyone who opposes the Democratic party’s candidate is routinely shellacked by major political figures on the left, and, ironically, they all preceded Trump as a president. Barack Obama’s comment even predated Donald Trump’s party switch in 2012.
What are supposedly morally bankrupt people supposed to do but lash out? They have no real representation, and they have no way to run a candidate who rises above the fray. The choice these people made was to fight back—and that choice was Donald Trump with his brash and vulgar persona.
As the past four years have gone by, Trump has dominated our airwaves and media, and some of that has been warranted. After all, he is only the most ‘powerful man in the world’. A large portion of the criticisms and attacks he receives are malicious and ill-founded, especially when it comes to his base. Not the diehard Trump supporters you see on social media or in the spotlight, but the people not seen or considered until an upcoming election.
This odd amalgamation of anti-corruption populism and pushback against the vindictive left created the political figure that is Donald Trump. He never really came from a defined ideology like conservatism. His political career was born out of reactionary sentiments driven by the arrogance of left-wing elites. Recognizing this, both sides should reevaluate their use of language, candidates, and philosophies to construct a healthy body politic where resentment and disdain do not drive our governance.