It wasn’t that long ago that GOP libertarians engaged in spirited debates with GOP communitarians — between those who sought to eliminate and privatize government functions and those who sought to reform them. Then came the tea party movement, claiming to defend a “constitutional conservatism.” But its stated goal of returning the U.S. government to the scale and role of an 18th-century agrarian republic was so absurd that it guaranteed disappointment. At that point, many Republican activists — marinated in talk radio and other conservative media — found their real unifying goals were attacking outsiders and “owning” liberals. Eventually, Trump intuited and embodied this pure negativity.
If the test of an ideology is the ability to set limits and prudently balance competing goods, Trumpism utterly fails. Some thinkers have tried to give it an intellectual structure. But there is a fundamental difference between the application of political principles and the rationalization of destructive passions. You can have principled discussions, for example, on immigration policy that try to balance compassion and security. Nativism, in contrast, has no limiting principle. There is always another immigrant to slander, always another refugee to defame. If the entire goal is to provoke the anger that unifies your followers, discussion, disagreement and even truth are irrelevant. The same applies to targets such as socialists, globalists, multiculturalists and liberals more broadly. The objective is not to debate opponents; it is to smash them.