Focusing on Trump Himself Is a Mistake

In a story on Vox today Ezra Klein claims that “Trumpism” has died because its namesake, President Trump, is no longer pushing the brand of sexist, racist populism that brought him to the White House. Instead, Klein correctly notes that Trump has turned to more conventional Republican politics of class warfare, disenfranchising people of color, and attacking women’s rights — all of which are apparent in his pivot away from campaign promises of expanding health coverage in the midst of an intense fight over the proposed GOP healthcare overhaul.

Klein is right, this is a significant move for Trump. He is also (almost) correct in noting that Trump’s only consistent message thus far has been his anti-immigrant nationalism (Trump’s virulent sexism is equally consistent). However, just because the Trump administration has apparently abandoned its right populism does not mean for a second that “Trumpsim” is defeated. Here Klein conflates Trump with the groundswell of right wing sentiment that brought him power, the growing alt right, and the realignment of US politics in general.

One relevant historical example is the return of Jaun Perón to Argentina in 1973 after a nearly 30 year exile in Spain. Perón presided over a populist coalition with adherents across the right/left spectrum of Argentine politics, from militant union organizers to the military establishment. After a return to power largely orchestrated by the left faction of his coalition, Perón turned on the left and endorsed right wing reprisal, one of the central causes of Argentina’s Dirty War. Crucially, this turn against some of the central populist promises of his movement did not end support for “Peronism” in Argentina — Peronistas would return to politics in the 90’s, while Peronism as such continues to be the dominant critera by which Argentine politics is understood, the standard all else is measured against.

So, Trump may indeed have abandoned his message. But we are far from being able to say that the coalition he presides over, or the politics he endorses, has died.

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