What a fascinating and momentous time we live in—a time that may well be remembered as an awakening of our great nation. President Trump, the catalyst, has changed the debate in this country on seemingly everything from identity politics and immigration to trade and foreign policy. Barack Obama said he wanted to “fundamentally transform” the United States, and did his best to carry out that promise to the detriment of the country. But it seems Trump could be the greater “transformative” president. All for the good—a transformation back to our constitutional and historical roots after almost a century of progressivism.
And he certainly is changing the Republican Party along with we’ve come to know as the “conservative movement.”
Critics will say that Trump is “not a conservative” and that he doesn’t have any governing philosophy but, as they have been with almost everything when it comes to Trump, the critics are wrong. Trump does indeed have a governing philosophy. It just isn’t the one we have been hearing from Republican leaders for the past 40 years—including everyone from Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, the Bushes, Paul Ryan, and all of the leading conservative think tanks, National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the rest. Trump’s philosophy goes deeper and further back than our self-destructive dalliances with globalism, “free trade,” open borders, what’s good for Wall Street, and an imperialistic, “neoconservative” foreign policy.
Trump’s “conservative” critics will insist he’s not even a Republican—and if by “Republican” they mean Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney, or Jeb Bush, then right they are. But the Republican Party wasn’t created in 1994, it was founded in 1854. The Party has gone through many changes since then, but it was founded on principles that predate it as a Party, that go back to the early days of our Republic. Leaving the GOP aside, there are rich philosophical traditions running through American history. Trump it can be said, is beyond “party,” as he is not even a politician in the classic sense. And in that vein, he is drawing from many philosophical roots.
Trump has been called a nationalist and a populist. He is certainly a bit of both of those, but it is very difficult to define Trump by political labels. One thing seems certain; there has never been a more “American” president than our current one. He is a self-made man in the truest sense in the American tradition. Trump is part Andrew Jackson, Andrew Carnegie, Buffalo Bill Cody, with plenty of P.T. Barnum thrown in. He is a can do, rough-and-tumble, builder, creator, frontiersman; employing brains, brawn and yes, a fair amount of hucksterism to achieve not just his dreams, but America’s promise.
His political philosophy is American nationalism, or in the tradition of the 1830’s, he is a believer in the American System. A lot of people, as I have, draw the comparison of Trump to Andrew Jackson, and in personality and the “larger than life” persona, there is much to compare. But in political philosophy, Trump is more Whig than anything. Under the leadership of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, the Whig Party believed in a strong active federal role in stimulating economic and industrial growth.
Henry Clay’s greatest admirer was Abraham Lincoln. As a Whig congressman, Lincoln later helped to found the Republican Party based, in part, on a strong Whig platform (which included a tariff policy) and famously said, “The legitimate object of government is ‘to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.” While the Left has misinterpreted that quote ad nauseam to the great detriment of millions, there is a legitimate American tradition for a federal role in building, maintaining, and securing growth and opportunity for all.
Trump harkens back to this earlier time in our nation’s history, a time of tremendous growth and potential, a time of Lincoln, the pre-progressive era of America. He wants opportunity for all; he is a champion of the working class, the forgotten men and women. He believes in the individual and liberty, and in believing that the government has a role, not overbearing and intrusive, he is certainly not simplistically laissez-faire.
This leads to another fascinating epoch in our history, the recurring “Great Awakenings” that have swept through our nation. We are in the midst of another “Awakening” and though this one will be more cultural than religious, there will be strong religious undercurrents. This Awakening is an inevitable occurrence in response to the relentless attacks on our culture, faith, and traditions from the Left. The millions of Americans who still believe in the greatness of the American Founding and its impact on our culture and our history were not going to lose their country in without a fight.
I don’t know how much of a believer in God Trump is, none can be so arrogant to know with certainty what drives a man in the realm of faith. But for a man who has “fallen” in many ways during his life, he seems to have an unerring ability to see with clear vision the necessary and critical role that religion plays in American life and in our culture. The man of the “Access Hollywood” tapes has become the champion of Christian America and the great protector of our Judeo-Christian values. No one saw this coming.
The election of Trump, his rise, and his presidency are a part of this very long and overdue awakening. For that we can be very thankful, but, of course, its success will depend upon more than him. We have to succeed. And that success hangs by a thread. The Left is at war with Trump, which is to say that it is at war with America. They will stop at nothing to derail this Awakening. Trump is just a stand-in for America and for us. If they succeed at that, our great Republic will pass into the sunset, forever.
Who predicted this? That Donald Trump may go down in history as another Churchillian or Lincolnesque figure; a leader who saves our republic? We need to pray that he succeeds; we need to engage and fight, not just in upcoming elections, but every day in our culture, in our communities and in our everyday lives.
Michael Finch is the president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center in Los Angeles. He is the author of Finding Home.