Since populist Donald Trump threw his hat into the ring, running as a GOP candidate for the presidency, 2016 has become an election year like nothing ever observed in American history. There are some who try to make comparisons with the Jackson-Adams campaigns of 1828. While that election was filled with personal attacks between candidates, the dynamics of that election differ fundamentally from the dynamics of the 2016 election.
In 1828 America was not a pluralistic society. The common beliefs of the people matched those of the founders who wrote our Constitution. In 2016 America is not held together by a set of core values broad enough to encompass enough of the foundational beliefs to hold America together.
Now, we have the “Trump Phenomenon,” where a large percentage of people rally around a populist who may, or may not, agree with their values. Why at this juncture in American history is Trump winning so much support? Is Trump’s popularity a symptom of a political pathology or the cure for one? Where is it leading us and what does that say about the future of America? For answers to these questions, read “The Trump Phenomenon.”
What are the Experts Saying?
A Recurrent Desire to Up-End the System
Chad Pergram of Fox News says “They want to up-end the system. Tear down the castle. Throw out the ‘professional’ politicians. Where did this come from? This restiveness is as old as the republic. In fact, it’s very American. The nation’s political system thrives on it and has seen it before…” But he cites the Tea Party and the 1994 elections as examples. These were fairly recent and all could be similar responses to the same underlying causal factors. If that is true, then we are seeing a rapid trend toward something that we have never actually observed in American history.
A Virulent Opposition to the Left
Rush Limbaugh says what really unites conservatives isn’t necessarily ideology. “If that’s what defined people as conservative and was the glue that made the conservative movement a big movement, then Trump would have no chance …” Limbaugh added that “… what glues conservatives together is virulent opposition to the left and the Democrat Party and Barack Obama. And I, for the life of me, don’t know what’s so hard to understand about that.”
A Change of Tactics
Commentator Charles Krauthammer said it might be because conservatives have tried voting for people who think like they do, but haven’t seen any success.
All About Me – President Obama
Obama said years of GOP hostility toward him led to Trump phenomenon. He added, “What I’m not going to do is to validate some notion that the Republican crackup that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that I’ve taken…I certainly have not contributed to dividing the country.”
With the exception of Chad Pergram, who does not distinguish this unique time in history, each commentator describes a bit of the Trump phenomenon.
But why are so many Americans, including part of the GOP, so virulently opposed to the left—so much in need of a change in tactics that they would opt for someone like Trump?
Why is This Happening?
Need for a Strong Protector
Commentator Charles Krauthammer said, speaking of the religious right, “they know he is not a guy who is one of them, but he is a guy they think will defend them against an aggressively secular society, squeezing them on all kinds of issues from same sex-marriage to abortion…”
Need to Expand the Party
Mr. Limbaugh said, “For the longest time the Republican Party has told us that they can’t win with just Republican votes. And that’s why they support amnesty, that’s why they support Democrats on many of their issues to go out and get Hispanics or other minorities. And guess who’s doing it? Donald Trump is doing it.”
Need to Satisfy Aggrievement
Conservative writer David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, said that Palin’s support of Trump represents an “alliance of the aggrieved.” Frum stated that, “Talk radio uses those feelings [aggrievement], too, of course, and has used them for years. But the more ideological stars of conservative talk — the Limbaughs, the Levins — try to use those feelings in service of a more-or-less coherent set of political ideas …” Frum added, “Speaking to the feelings of persecution is only a means; some vision of a revitalized free-enterprise system is the end.”
Is There a Deeper Why?
Though Krauthammer, Limbaugh and Frum make good points, there must be a deeper “why” that is driving Americans into a frenzy in this election year.
Charles Murray’s Analysis
In 2012 Charles Murray wrote, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010.” He focused on white Americans only to emphasize that they were not excluded from the coming apart of this nation. He thought all groups, minorities and the majority, were being impacted. His diagnosis comes nearer to the real underlying why of the Trump phenomenon than the commentators mentioned above. In Murray’s estimation, the rending of America is happening at the level of our core of common beliefs—religion, marriage and family, labor, ethics, and morality.
Murray believed the split was along class lines. H. L. Wegley strongly disagrees, because this split cuts across nearly all minority and majority groups. For instance, the coming apart of the family, through divorce, happens with nearly the same frequency among Christians as for the general population. All groups are being split apart along the lines of demarcation that once defined Americans—lines that formed boundaries assumed by our nation’s founders to contain the core beliefs of all Americans.
Dr. Robert P. George’s Analysis
These common beliefs Murray referred to were derived from the Judeo-Christian worldview held by nearly everyone at the Constitutional Convention. In 2001, Dr. Robert P. George, Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University wrote his great book, “The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis,” defining the liberal orthodoxy and the resultant clash with the Judeo-Christian worldview. Here he describes how natural rights and natural law (as defined in the Declaration of Independence and assumed in the Constitution) have been undermined by a judicial reading of the Constitution and case law as a result of the liberal (secular) orthodoxy.
Stated simply, the crisis results from disparate views on the origin of human rights. One group says they are divine in origin, coming from God. The liberal orthodoxy, as described by Dr. George, says that man is the source of rights. The drawbacks of man being the source are obvious. God is transcendent, but man can change his mind. Under men, rights can be here today and declared criminal tomorrow.
Both George and Murray state that the split in American core beliefs cause irreconcilable differences between the two major segments of our population. Deeply held convictions go much deeper than race, social status, and sometimes deeper than blood relations, pitting brother against brother. These convictions, if in diametric opposition can bring the wheels of government to a grinding halt, leading to unconstitutional attempts to further a political agenda. If one’s worldview supports the end justifying the means, a person will violate the Constitution to fix perceived problems. We have seen this from the executive branch for the past seven years.
This is where we are today, at an impasse. Some people are so desperate that they will support a man, or woman, who perhaps doesn’t hold to all their core beliefs but promises to defend them while breaking the impasse. Because we see Evangelical Christians crossing over to support Trump, perhaps Rush Limbaugh was right, in a practical sense, when he said, “what glues conservatives together is virulent opposition to the left and the Democrat Party and Barack Obama.” Trump, at best, may bludgeon one side into some state of submission, temporarily breaking the legislative impasse. But he doesn’t have the power to unify diametrically opposed worldviews.
Trump is a temporary savior to some, one they are willing to vote for, but a dangerous leader to others. Trump is winning among Republican candidates precisely because many people are willing to gamble on a temporary savior rather than continue to endure an overreaching executive and a legislature that is stalled and not sufficiently concerned about the will of the people.
What is the Solution?
Both George and Murray offered their solutions to the impasse that we see today between the Judeo-Christian worldview and the secular orthodoxy that produces both an ideologically driven government stalemate and the resultant dysfunction among the branches of government. George’s and Murray’s solutions are similar, though not identical.
Murray says the only hope for America is what he calls a “Civic Great Awakening,” a returning to our foundations on family, vocation, community and faith. H. L. Wegley believes Murray is correct in his analysis, except that the rending of our population is along worldview lines, not just along class lines. That leaves us with the challenge to first, persuade people who have uncritically assimilated an incoherent worldview from the culture, to see that America cannot be America without a return to those common, core foundational values and to second, persuade people of various ethnic backgrounds with different cultures to assimilate sufficiently to adopt our foundational values.
However, if our increasingly pluralistic society, in which large segments of the population refuse to embrace America’s core values, cannot assimilate sufficiently, then America will not be America anymore. And the world will be poorer for it…much poorer.
Research provided by author H. L Wegley
Pick up a copy of his political thriller Voice in the Wilderness, Book 1 of the Against All Enemies series, a story written more than a year ago, but which parallels the current US political situation and speculates about the nation’s future.