Historians of Conservatism Stumped By Trump

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

It’s laudable that academics actually have an interest in a political philosophy which is usually either disdained or ignored in academia. Nevertheless, their failure to comprehend the Trump Administration shows that they are still struggling with it.

This bewilderment was on display recently at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA), which Colleen Flaherty covered for Inside Higher Ed:

~ “How do we think about and engage with conservative Trump voters?” Willamette University Professor Seth Cotlar asked. “What does it mean to empathize with people who advocate white nationalism?” The possibility that he is on the wrong track with the second question doesn’t seem to occur to him.

~Michelle Nickerson, an associate professor of history at Loyola University in Chicago, said, “In my classroom I haven’t adequately shown the extent to which, as a way of seeing the world, this populism bleeds all over the place in American politics, especially in conservative movement politics. Is populism maybe not so freakish in American history? Even if it’s only now a demagogue has only managed to ride it to the White House?” Perhaps it is not those outside the AHA who are freakish.

~ Joshua A. Lynn, a lecturer in history at Yale University, said, “The definition of conservatism and the designation of who is conservative have always been contested,” with seemingly everyone from 1850s white supremacist Democrats to Abraham Lincoln to “Never Trumpers” claiming the moniker over time, he said. “Adding the debate over Trump’s conservatism to the mix does not destabilize American conservatism as an historical category. Because it has never been a stable category.” This might be marginally more sophisticated than Lionel Trilling’s description of conservatism as “irritable mental gestures.”

~Benjamin Waterhouse, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said of the president that “He is also not a liberal, or a populist or traditionalist or even an especially good fascist. …Preciously because he is so intellectually and ideologically vacuous, his various hangers-on and enablers and sycophants can project all manner of identity onto him.”

All of the above might do well to contemplate what has actually happened in America since Donald Trump became America’s 45th president:

1. Even CNN, not the president’s favorite network, wound up reporting that one million new jobs were created in President Trump’s first year in office, though they were loath to give him any credit for them.

2. “The calendar year concluded with 61,950 pages in the Federal Register this morning,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) concluded on December 29, 2017 in its annual review of federal regulations. “This is the lowest count since 1993’s 61,166 pages.”

3. There might be a relationship between one and two.