The Trump question: Are Republicans for freedom or for white identity politics?

Consider what it would look like for America to follow the path of France, devolving toward a new two-party system which has on the one hand a center-left / technocratic party, full of elites with shared pedigrees of experience and education, and on the other a nativist right/populist party, which represents a constant reactive force to the dominant elite…

France is hardly alone in this experience – across Europe the rise of these populist movements, whether from the left or the right, have spread to Britain, Spain, Italy, and other nations. The European experience suggests that the burgeoning administrative state, whether run by putative leftists or putative rightists, engenders a reaction against itself. That antithesis usually is illiberal and adopts an aesthetic of anger, because it is the sort of citizenry that the administrative state produces, and because it is in the interest of that state to have that sort of enemy. Everyone who believes in the values that the administrative state at least claims to support and defend — societal pluralism, common decency, some sort of liberalism — gravitates toward it on Election Day. This is a story repeated across Europe – and in rare places like Hungary, we see what happens when the populist-right actually wins, and it isn’t pretty.

There is a slim possibility that what’s happening in the GOP primary campaign this summer is actually healthy and salutary, as conservative intellectual Yuval Levin argues here. But it is also possible that it represents one more way America is becoming more European. A classically liberal right is actually fairly uncommon in western democracies, requiring as it does a coalition that synthesizes populist tendencies and directs such frustrations toward the cause of limited government. Only the United States and Canada have successfully maintained one over an extended period. Now the popularity of Donald Trump suggests ours may be going away. In a sense we are reverting to a general mean – but we are also losing a rare and precious inheritance that is our only real living link to the Revolutionary era and its truly revolutionary ideas about self-government.

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