OPINION: Trump’s legacy opens up new political possibilities beyond the Left and Right



Surrounded by Army cadets, President Donald Trump watches the first half of the 121st Army-Navy Football Game in Michie Stadium at the United States Military Academy, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Trump and Trumpism are unpopular, to put it mildly, especially here at DePaul, with the editors of this very paper endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016. Faculty members from the political science department recently held a panel, where they outlined their disgust at Trump’s tenure as president. One even went as far as to say “he was mainstreaming racism, bigotry and authoritarianism.” Another panelist claimed that “Republicans are increasingly not a conservative party, they’re an authoritarian party.” 

The case to be made for Trump, which rests more on the ideological possibilities he opened up for politics, remained unaddressed or dismissed as “white supremacist” or “authoritarian.” The American radical left, American liberals and the Democratic party seemed to get off without so much as a single piece of criticism by the panelists.

The panel felt unfair to the 74 million Americans that voted for Trump. While I know enough about my own worldview to not feel attacked, I can’t help but think of the damage that failing to think deeply about Trumpism will do to a department that claims for itself a measure of academic excellence. It was a vast and immeasurable failure on the part of the political science department to exclude the debates being had on the right, about what the current moment means or what kind of sentiments actually are behind support for Trump or the recent events at the Capitol. 

I cannot provide the reasoning of every Trump supporter. I can provide a window into some conservative thinking on the failures of individualism, post-’60s leftism, neoliberalism and globalization and the necessity of a communitarian politics.

To many who supported Trump, there are two paths forward for America after he left office. One of these is to move forward with an “America First” program, reasserting the American nation-state against the technocratic principles of “health and safety”, economism (the idea that the economy should be the center of all political and moral judgements), and nationless individualism, as well as reinvigorating institutions such as the family, spiritual communities and the economic forces that historically supported rooted, solidaristic communities, namely paternalistic manufacturing. Barring a takeover from the remnants of the pre-Trump GOP establishment, I do believe that this is the direction conservatism – and even some of the GOP politicians who were passionate neoliberals even just a few years ago – will take. 

The other path is to structure all human life around global corporate, political and cultural enterprises, a centralized surveillance state and individual hedonism. Discontent with post-1960s cultural “progress” and (the often intertwined) neoliberal economism should be approached with far more seriousness than the DePaul Political Science Department is willing to lend it. In a political landscape increasingly oriented towards creating a real-life adaptation of “Brave New World,” a good political thinker would be interested in addressing the discontents of the regime with more than just accusations of white supremacy. White supremacy is a real and vile ideology, but there are far more complex and sinister ideas and structures lying beneath the surface of this contemporary moment that were totally left out of the conversation. 


As the famous saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The left has asserted plenty of good intentions since the 1960s, emphasizing “liberation” for individuals and identity groups from the order, specificities and beliefs of traditional Anglo-American society. The post-’60s left has laid the foundations for us to smoke cannabis freely, get married to whatever kind of partner we want and divorce them at will, appreciate cultures from around the world, be part of various global institutions and assert our gender identities. 


But we are lonely, more alone perhaps than ever, and placeless, with data bearing out the effects of this on our youth. Traditional beliefs about nationality, culture and religion have been replaced by economistic means for measuring what the entire spectrum of the left — from lukewarm Democrats to radicals calling it “progress.” Much of this “progress” for women, sexual minorities and marginalized ethnic groups has been ordered toward making sure the individual is safe in the corporate boardroom and shopping mall. 

What one might call “liberated” individuals are easier to control by the state, and easier to use and abuse for a quick profit by corporations, than healthy families, communities and nations, since they are by definition atomized and alone. Since the 1960s, social changes leading away from the nuclear family (which itself was a change from the more resilient extended families of earlier eras) mass employment in well-paying unionized manufacturing jobs and strong protections on both economic and political sovereignty have led to an America of isolated individuals under the guidance and discipline of a detached surveillance and carceral super-state, where the average citizen is ruthlessly exploited by data miners and financial firms. 

As a recent article in Noema Magazine makes clear, the liberated individual has perversely paved the way for a soft-totalitarianism of state surveillance and corporate domination. DePaul’s political science department calls Trumpists “authoritarians,” but they curiously have no such criticism of the political establishment that has built a global consumer panopticon.

Change over the past half a century goes deeper than a more individualistic culture, however. Moral imperatives have been transformed into “scientific” imperatives around “health” in a society that is so nihilistic it cannot even stare into the void of death with honesty — but this new “health” mindset has been wildly unsuccessful, as it focuses on, and pathologizes, the individual in a setting of mass hedonistic-totalitarian delusionary-depression. The health and safety ideology may have good intentions, but it privileges life as biology over life as something worth living, what Italian theorist Giorgo Agamben calls “bare life”.

Whereas traditional institutions and the nation-state valued human connections, faith, and judgement of good and bad, now politics is measured by the template of a presupposed “need” to control and protect the body against danger, and the creation of an economy that can satisfy wants at all times. We may be “free” from traditional institutions and morals, but we are under more control than ever. 

This has not gone unnoticed by intellectuals outside the Depaul Political Science Department. One conservative intellectual, building off of Michel Foucault and the lyrics of popular music, has argued this strange regime constitutes a “Pink Police State.” The aforementioned Agamben, has recently written that “Governing bare life is the madness of our time. Men reduced to their pure biological existence, when the government of men and the government of things merge, are no longer human.”It was Trump that rejected this idea of governance, not completely or even conciously, but by asserting that the nation-state, and our constitution and its idea of natural rights, ought to be the basis for government going forwards.

Joe Biden has spent his career working on free trade, the PATRIOT Act (which has formed the basis for much of the contemporary surveillance apparatus), interventionist military campaigns and mass incarceration. Among his first orders as president has been to rejoin the World Health Organization, a signal to many that he does not prioritize America over elite dreams of a completely managed, globalized world. Such a world is great for billionaires, who can exploit cheap labor and shuffle their money to international tax havens. It is worse for the rest of us. 

Despite the fact that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that such workers have contributed to significantly lower wages for African American Citizens specifically, Biden has decided to streamline citizenship for undocumented workers. Black lives, apparently, matter to thee, but not to me, in the world of the new administration. The reality is that the “no borders, no banks” crowd protests without realizing “no borders” is precisely what banks want

In the recent election, a narrow majority of those without a degree voted for Trump. Unsurprisingly, Biden won the most votes with people with a four-year degree. These credentialed managers of the global political and economic order also seem to be a major portion of the young “radicals” arrested for taking part in the summer BLM riots. It is wise to think in terms of what this indicates about social class, and how the left and liberal wing of American politics has failed those who once were its base. Whether it is sexual liberation, globalization, racial integration, or secularization, the “causes” of the left since the 60s have led to an empty and destabilizing order in which credentialed “experts” have been given the power to direct and approve unprecedented changes to American society. Some may think of themselves as on “the right side of history,” but their regime has generated nothing but class resentment, and eroded social ties. The play acting of “socialists” who claim to be in opposition to the system but have ended upcritically supporting” the people constructing this regime proves that the left is very much a complicit supporter of the regime, no less complicit than the average Clintonian Democrat, no matter how much radical rhetoric they put in Jacobin or Dissent. The left thinks, often subtly, within the same paradigms as the rest of the regime that Trump tried to reject.

Despite the best intentions of the “experts” so fetishized by Trump’s critics, our country that was once a “shining city on a hill” is now riddled with some of the highest, if not the highest violent crime, incarceration, obesity, suicide, and drug addiction rates in the developed world. Where Trump rejected them, and their entire worldview, Biden has swooped back in to reimpose their position. 

Knee-jerk anti-science and anti-intellectual attitudes come naturally to folks who feel that the people who supposedly have “expert” qualifications understand nothing about the harsh reality they are creating. Ironically, the political science department’s inability to engage Trumpism with sincerity validates people’s suspicion. Trump didn’t just reject the economistic-individualist axis by asserting nationalism; he rejected the entire class of faux-experts which have been proven to be beyond the point of mere uselessness in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the 2008 financial crisis, and the debacle that is the “democratization of China through trade,”, which has failed completely. So called “experts” have still not apologized for their role in these things.

Only the “right wing,” now made up of the discontents of this international capitalist-technocratic system can confront that system. This is the choice Trump placed before America: We can be a nation, or we can be a technocratically-managed Special Economic Zone.

Leftists can claim that socialism will resolve the antinomy between social and individual life. Sadly, socialism is not on the horizon. There is no viable socialist party. The Democratic Party has rejected reformist social democracy (the Sanders campaign) not once, but twice in the past 10 years alone. Leftism since the 1960s has been a mere illusion, a justification for the system of global capital to extend its tentacles into what were once strong communities and sell the people in them Che Guevara t-shirts, sell the few businesses left sensitivity training seminars and sell the youth repetitive and empty pop music, addictive video games and cheap birth control to make sure they don’t breed too much. Reality can and will go on with or without the left, but one thing is clear: their “solutions” thus far have consistently failed to deliver anything other than further atomization and managerial-corporate domination. 

A vision of corporate hook up apps extracting data from people with no sense of who they are and where they come from, who drive for Uber alone or collect universal basic income, and whose primary entertainment is smoking pot in their tiny apartments, is a vision that is repulsive to the vast majority of Americans. The space for a coherent communitarian politics created by Trump’s nationalist rhetoric and political realignment must be seized upon and implemented by someone with competence and vision. A world beyond the death spiral of liberalism is possible. All politics points to something beyond itself. Trump was an incompetent fool who nonetheless pointed in directions that run contrary to the prevailing order. Those directions must be taken up as a task. Failing to do so will prolong and aggravate the crisis.