“I don’t want it to be about me,” Donald Trump explained at a recent event in Nashville. In other news: War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.
The Trump campaign is emphatically about Trump, in a manner typical of populism from Huey Long to Hugo Chavez. The people are infallible, but they require someone who embodies their collective wisdom. The country — betrayed by elites, beset by foreigners, exploited and humiliated at every turn — needs more than policy papers. It needs a savior. Populism is not identical to demagoguery, but it attracts demagogues.
Trump, on the evidence of past behavior, would take whatever political shape the moment required. But the direction upon which his spinning compass has settled is instructive. His approach has little to do with the Republican Party’s history of religious conservatism. Nor is it rooted primarily in tea party constitutionalism. Trump is pressing a case against corrupt and cosmopolitan elites; against mass and illegal immigration and the dilution of American identity; and against the economic dislocations of free trade and business capitalism.