What the new nationalism means

When the left-wing establishment of today laments the threat to good order and norms posed by the populist right, it even sounds like the traditional establishment of centuries past. The populist right’s very mode of speaking (or tweeting) is vulgar and offensive. Conservative defenders of the left-wing establishment, otherwise known as the NeverTrump gang, obsess over the uncouth character of the president and perceive his supporters as a mindless rabble ever on the edge of violence. This was just how the defenders of the old aristocratic order saw the Chartists and other popular movements demanding political and economic reform.

There is, to be sure, still a non-establishment left championed by figures such as Bernie Sanders. But Sanders’s radicalism applies only to the quasi-free market part of the ruling class: he rails against the insurance companies and pharmaceutical industry but does not take on the educational establishment or the permanent unelected government. Far from being a revolutionary threat to capitalism, Sanders is a non-threat to a political and economic order that is as statist as it is capitalist.

A truly radical challenge to the establishment would change the country’s economic and political dispensations alike. This is what the new nationalism attempts, in however clumsy a fashion: Trump has disrupted bureaucracies, even if he has not uprooted them, and his administration has been equally willing to disrupt the global trade system.