What makes Trump significant? Two views are linked here. One is by Peggy Noonan, who wrote Reagan’s speeches in the 1980s. Her main observation is that Trump’s candidacy is shaking up political allegiances and motivating people who are fed up with the current consensus of elites to foist free trade and open borders on the citizens of the United States.
Both sides, the elites and the non-elites, sense that things are stuck.
The people hate the elites, which is not new, and very American. The elites have no faith in the people, which, actually, is new. Everything is stasis. Then Donald Trump comes, like a rock thrown through a showroom window, and the molecules start to move.
The second is by Julius Krein in the American Standard, called “Traitor to his Class”.
What Trump offers is permission to conceive of an American interest as a national interest separate from the “international community” and permission to wish to see that interest triumph. What makes him popular on immigration is not how extreme his policies are, but the emphasis he puts on the interests of Americans rather than everyone else. His slogan is “Make America Great Again,” and he is not ashamed of the fact that this means making it better than other places, perhaps even at their expense.
His least practical suggestion—making Mexico pay for the border wall—is precisely the most significant: It shows that a President Trump would be willing to take something from someone else in order to give it to the American people. Whether he could achieve this is of secondary importance; the fact that he is willing to say it is everything. Nothing is more terrifying to the business and donor class—as well as the media and the entire elite—than Trump’s embrace of a tangible American nationalism. The fact that Trump should by all rights be a member of this class and is in fact a traitor to it makes him all the more attractive to his supporters and all the more baffling to pundits.
I recall the almost universal condemnation of Ronald Reagan back when he emerged as a possible Republican candidate in the late 1970s. That was when Communism was here to stay, and the legitimacy of the Soviet Union as a permanent fact of history permitted to be challenged in the then élite consensus. Reagan broke from that consensus. After he became President, he shocked the Atlanticist policy élites by the very simple statement of calling the USSR “an evil empire”, which is exactly what it was: evil and imperial.
The American people gave him two terms as President. The USA went on a military spending spree, called an arms race, culminating in the Strategic Defense Initiative, which was designed to scare the bejeezus out of Soviet war planners. It succeeded. The USSR collapsed from military overspending weighing on a sclerotic economy, contained within a vast prison camp of nations.
I do not wish to conflate Reagan and Trump. There are differences in origin, style, and policy, and at this stage of their careers, degree of greatness. What I find reminiscent is the desire for liberation from stasis on the part of the American people, and the leader who is calling it like it is, and whose words are resonating with an electorate alienated from the élite consensus, and the gasps of horror from the bien-pensants.