The Trump Workers Party
How our president is reviving an older more genuine liberalism.
Michael Ledeen is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Frank Buckley is a real original, and his recent book, The Republican Workers Party, gives us plenty to ponder. He is a political maverick, rejecting labels and stereotypes, which delights me.
The title comes from Trump’s speech to CPAC in 2017. Which Buckley characterizes this way:
The Republican Workers Party would be libertarian in its opposition to crony capitalism but economically liberal when it comes to welfare policies for those truly in need. It would be a party of nationalists who reject a globalism that is indifferent between the welfare of Americans and of foreigners. It would be a jobs party led by a jobs president…
He’s a Trump guy, neither a traditional conservative nor an establishment Republican. He deplores the indifference both liberals and conservatives reserve for the poor, and writes movingly about “empathy erosion.” But unlike true believers of both Left and Right, Buckley does not believe that education, important though it may be, can overcome it. Instead, he sides with Pascal: “the heart has its reasons which reason knoweth not.”
In other words, the remedy for today’s indifference toward the poor is not so much new legislation as new leaders, who lead by moral example rather than appeal to any “modern” ideology. Buckley powerfully invokes religion—religious men and women–as the only way out. In so doing, he says we need less Law School Law and more revealed law, and he has little admiration for either the top conservatives or the leading liberals.
In 2016 modern liberalism died…it was a liberalism that had lost its way and forgotten its religious origins, that smirked at believers…that decried privilege while luxuriating in it…a liberalism without souls…
Meanwhile, the conservatives abandoned the liberalism of the Founders. The Sisters of Charity, Buckley reminds us, “had never read John Locke, but…they had something better than a theory or a philosophy.”
Meanwhile again, Trump addressed Americans who had been maltreated by the government and dropped into the ranks of the impoverished, unemployed, and unsuccessful. “(Trump) identified the hollowness of modern liberalism and appealed to a forgotten liberalism of compassion for fellow Americans.”
Ergo, the workers’ party. It’s an important and provocative book. I disagree with a lot of it, but I cherish it nonetheless, which is the way I feel about Trump himself. It’s useful and, I think, correct to think of Trump’s election as a rejection of the clichés of both left and right, but I’m not at all convinced that religious inspiration is the most reliable antidote. Looking around the world of faith nowadays, from the scandals of the Catholic Church to radical Islamism in its various violent incarnations, doesn’t suggest optimism. Leadership based on fealty to religious diktats has had, let us say, a very mixed record of virtuous pursuits.
Machiavelli put it best, I think, when he said that if man is left to his own impulses, he is more likely to do evil than to do good. Certainly human history bears this out. Moments of virtue are very rare, while terrible events are far more common. Both our own nature and the unquestioned power of corruption drive us toward evil. The Founders knew this well, which is why they created a system where all efforts to consolidate power would be blocked whenever possible.
When I look at Trump, I see many admirable impulses at work, but I also see an administration that has done poorly in staffing out the government. Yes, he has done well in many areas, most importantly in addressing the poor treatment of American workers. It’s what the workers’ party is all about. But he has yet to master Washington, and he makes huge mistakes about key appointees. If his workers party is going to succeed he’s got to master that. I don’t believe that job creation and genuine empathy for the workers, new and old, is good enough.