This is a wonderful moment to be a conservative. For decades now the Republican Party has been groaning under the Reagan orthodoxy, which was right for the 1980s but has become increasingly obsolete. The Reagan worldview was based on the idea that a rising economic tide would lift all boats. But that’s clearly no longer true.
We’ve gone from Rising Tide America to Coming Apart America. Technological change, globalization and social and family breakdown mean that the benefits of growth, to the extend there is growth, are not widely shared.
Republicans sort of recognize this reality, but they are still imprisoned in the Reaganite model. They ask Reaganite questions, propose Reaganite policies and have Reaganite instincts.
Now along comes Donald Trump, an angel of destruction, to blow it all to smithereens. He represents not only a rejection of the existing Reaganite establishment, but also a rejection of Reaganite foreign policy (he is less globalist) and Reaganite domestic policy (he is friendlier to the state).
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Trumpism will not replace Reaganism, though. Trump is prompting what Thomas Kuhn, in his theory of scientific revolutions, called a model crisis.
According to Kuhn, intellectual progress is not steady and gradual. It’s marked by sudden paradigm shifts. There’s a period of normal science when everybody embraces a paradigm that seems to be working. Then there’s a period of model drift: As years go by, anomalies accumulate and the model begins to seem creaky and flawed.
Then there’s a model crisis, when the whole thing collapses. Attempts to patch up the model fail. Everybody is in anguish, but nobody knows what to do.
That’s where the Republican Party is right now. Everybody talks about being so depressed about Trump. But Republicans are passive and psychologically defeated. That’s because their conscious and unconscious mental frameworks have just stopped working. Trump has a monopoly on audacity, while everyone else is immobile.
But Trump has no actual ideas or policies. There is no army of Trumpists out there to carry on his legacy. He will almost certainly go down to a devastating defeat, either in the general election or – God help us – as the worst president in American history.
At that point the GOP will enter what Kuhn called the revolution phase. During these moments you get a proliferation of competing approaches, a willingness to try anything. People ask different questions, speak a different language, congregate around a new paradigm that is incommensurate with the last.
That’s where the GOP is heading. So this is a moment of anticipation. The great question is not, Should I vote for Hillary or sit out this campaign? The great question is, How do I prepare now for the post-Trump era?
The first step clearly is mental purging: casting aside many existing mental categories and presuppositions, to shift your identity from one with a fixed mindset to one in which you are a seeker and open to anything. The second step is probably embedding: going out and seeing America again with fresh eyes and listening to American voices with fresh ears, paying special attention to that nexus where the struggles of Trump supporters overlap with the struggles of immigrants and African-Americans.
This is a moment for honesty. Valuably, Trump has exposed the rottenness of the consultant culture, and the squirrelly way politicians now talk to us. This is a moment for revived American nationalism. Trump’s closed, ethnic nationalism is dominant because Iraq, globalization and broken immigration policies have discredited the expansive open form of nationalism that usually dominates American culture.
This is also a moment for redefined compassion. Trump is loveless. There is no room for reciprocity and love in his worldview. There is just winning or losing, beating or being beaten.
It is as if he was a person who received no love and tried to compensate through competition. That is an ugly, freakish and untenable representation of the human condition. Somehow the Republican Party will have to rediscover a language of loving thy neighbor, which is a primary ideal in our culture, and a primary longing of the heart.
This is also a moment for sociology. Reaganism was very economic, built around tax policies, enterprise zones and the conception of the human being as a rational, utility-driven individual. The Adam Smith necktie was the emblem of that movement.
It might be time to invest in Émile Durkheim neckties, because today’s problems relate to binding a fragmenting society, reweaving family and social connections, relating across the diversity of a globalized world. Homo economicus is a myth and conservatism needs a worldview that is accurate about human nature.
We’re going to have two parties in this country. One will be a Democratic Party that is moving left. The other will be a Republican Party. Nobody knows what it will be, but it’s exciting to be present at the re-creation.