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Irving Kristol, Populism & Donald Trump

August 3, 2019

Many years ago, in 1975, the late Irving Kristol wrote that populism

“is an eternal problem for the American democratic republic .It incarnates an antinomian impulse, a Jacobin contempt for the “mere” forms of law and order and civility. It also engenders an impulse toward a rather infantile political utopianism, on the premise that nothing is too good for “the people.” Above all, it is a temper and state of mind which too easily degenerates into political paranoia, with “enemies of the people” being constantly discovered and exorcised and convulsively purged. Populist paranoia  is always busy subverting the very institutions and authorities that the democratic republic laboriously creates for the purpose of orderly self-government.”

As I faced the voting booth in 2016 my intellect told me that Donald Trump was unqualified to serve as President of the United States. I later reasoned that the Republic could survive President Hillary Clinton, but I worried what damage or cataclysm a President Trump would bring to his Office.

So far, my greatest fear that a President Trump would trigger a war has not occurred. It’s clear, however, that he is destroying what was already a dead Republican Party. After Donald Trump the United States will struggle to form new means to achieve political consensus, though it is certain that Progressives will dominate the American Party system and what remains of a conservative consensus will await for the carnage that comes to clear itself and leave what remains of our country’s political culture to fate.

Irving Kristol, an astute observer of American culture, was right. Our politics is always prone to a populist, “antinomian impulse” that can lead to “political paranoia.” Whether Trump’s denunciations are deeply rooted in a disturbed and disordered spiritual condition, or a marketing technique, doesn’t really matter. He offers us nothing but disorder, destruction of mores and patterns of belief, and leaves us open to what Plato and Aristotle saw was “what’s next” after the excesses of democracy have run their course.

I’ve argued that Trump should be Impeached–immediately–and this virus removed from our politics. It’s clear that even if the most moderate Democrat, Joseph Biden, wins the 2020 Presidential election, there is no bottom to the ideological crevasse that resides in today’s Democrats. Election of Joe Biden merely delays a calamity made possible by the failure of the GOP to generate leaders capable of blocking the populist impulses that are now dominant.


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