In his September 19 address to the UN General Assembly, Donald Trump proclaimed, “In America, the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign. I was elected not to take power, but to give power to the American people, where it belongs.”
We have seen that the Trump project places the interests of U.S. corporations above the interests of the people, in that Trump proposes significant reductions in corporate taxes, without conditioning the cuts on investment in national production; and inasmuch as his administration takes the side of the corporations in their battle with ecologists and environmental regulation (see “Military strength and tax relief: Trump and Reagan” 10/24/2017).
Nevertheless, the rhetoric of Trump has considerable popular appeal. His call to patriotism, his affirmation of American heritage and values, his belief in the historic “greatness” of America, his belief that a strong nation needs a strong military, his proposal for massive tax cuts, and his efforts to reduce government regulation have resonance among a significant sector of the people (see “America as seen by Donald Trump” 10/23/2017; “Military strength and tax relief: Trump and Reagan” 10/24/2017). These are divisive issues, in that there is a liberal constituency that stands resolutely against the proposals, particularly in the form that the issues are framed. There is nonetheless a sizable sector of the people, perhaps approximately one-third, that are strongly in Trump’s corner with respect to these issues, constituting an important political force.
In addition, Trump connects to a sector of the people with respect to other issues. He maintains, for example, that laws are the foundation of the nation, and he calls on the people to support men and women in law enforcement. In taking a “pro-police” position, he clearly is siding with those who believe that law enforcement officials are constrained by rules that restrict them in the performance of their duties; and he is siding with those who believe that liberals are overly critical of the conduct of police. This “law and order” platform has a degree of popular appeal in the United States.
Another issue in which Trump’s rhetoric has resonance among a sector of the people is that of uncontrolled international migration. In his October 17 Heritage Foundation speech, he reiterates his call for strong borders and a crackdown on sanctuary cities. In his discussion of this theme during the electoral campaign and his presidency, Trump displays no understanding of the sources of uncontrolled international migration, and he does not have sensible proposal. However, he effectively has exploited the issue politically, albeit in a form that has been conflictive and divisive, provoking liberal opposition.
Rather than taking the liberal side in the political and cultural division of the nation, the Left should seek to reframe the issues in a form that has more resonance with the sector to which Trump appeals. The Left should formulate an alternative narrative: that calls for true American patriots to develop a thorough knowledge of American history, including consciousness of the limitations of American democracy in theory and practice, and including appreciation of the historic struggles of popular movements to overcome these limitations; that demonstrates a solid understanding of the factors that explain the spectacular economic ascent of the United States and its recent relative productive and commercial decline, debunking “American exceptionalism” and making evident the preparedness of the Left to lead the nation in the present context of sustained global crisis; that includes comprehensive law enforcement proposals based on analysis of the causes of the militarization of policing, connecting law enforcement issues to the social and economic development of local communities; and that affirms the rights of immigrants in the context of an analysis of the causes of uncontrolled international migration, proposing comprehensive solutions (see “A Left narrative on immigration” 3/9/2017 in the category Trump).
Spiro Agnew, the polemical vice-president of Richard Nixon, once referred to “radical liberals” as “effete snobs.” We should show that we are not, by demonstrating our commitment to the nation and its people, through the formulation of an alternative narrative that could only be created through hard work and self-sacrifice.