The Buchanan boys: The Trump voters aren’t a new phenomenon

The Buchananite vision would make most Americans worse off, with any increase in nominal money incomes being more than offset by an increase in prices. This is the opposite of the economics of immigration, which lowers prices and thereby raises Americans’ real incomes, even when nominal money incomes are stagnant or declining. Or so immigration activists tell us: The reality is that this immigration effect holds true only for the incomes of native-born Americans, excluding current immigrants, who constitute about 15 percent of the population. Include them in your numbers and the studies generally cited in service of the claim that immigration increases real incomes show the opposite.

Conventional conservatives are generally in favor of free(r) trade and hold mixed views on immigration, which is not entirely an economic matter. And they are perfectly happy (eager, really) to subsidize Buchanan’s hypothetical Irish Catholics who wish to send their children to private schools — just as they are happy to do the same for black families in Philadelphia and the District of Columbia. And that is the sticking point: American conservatives are rooted in classical liberalism, and their political philosophy is universalist: free enterprise and the rule of law for everyone. The jackbootier elements among the Buchanan boys demand the explicit servicing of white interests as such. (Never mind, for the moment, the argument from our progressive friends that conservative universalism is the servicing of white interests as such, inexplicitly.) Whether that leap lands you on so-called economic nationalism or explicit racism, it’s the same leap.

There are all sorts of ways to draw the line between Us and Them. Sometimes it’s Us vs. Them Foreigners, and sometimes it’s Us vs. Them Jews, as in Buchanan’s unfortunate memo. Conservatives should continue to appeal to these voters, addressing the better angels of their nature with policy solutions to their problems, which are not imaginary. Confronting the stupidity and snobbery that holds in contempt those Americans who do work that does not require a university degree would be welcome, too, and Marco Rubio was well-advised to do so in his disquisition on welders and philosophers.

But it is unlikely that such voters can ever be entirely assimilated into the mainstream of American conservatism, the universalism of which provides them no Them — and they want a Them, badly. Some Republicans might finesse this to an extent, for example through all that risible ritual denunciation of “the establishment,” Ted Cruz and his “Washington cartel,” “Wall Street insiders,” etc. But that is not going to satisfy those who hunger for a fully expressed white identity politics, and we should expect that the occasional lunatic (Ross Perot), true believer (Pat Buchanan) or con artist (Donald Trump) periodically will find ways to tap into that energy. There’s a ceiling on that vote, but the numbers aren’t trivial.