Trump’s Culture War
President Trump has gone all in on defending Confederate monuments.
In a series of tweets on Thursday, Trump called the Lost Cause statues under consideration for removal “beautiful” and expressed his disappointment “to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.”
He also reiterated his warning that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson may be the next targets of the anti-statue Left.
Those comments didn’t do him any favors in quelling the hysteric level of criticism he is receiving from the media, Democrats and even many Republicans for his remarks on the Charlottesville violence.
Nearing the end of the week, folks still can’t believe the president compared the violence of the “alt-left” to that of the alt-right. While Trump has always received strong criticism from the same people for every controversy he gets himself into, two former supporters denounced him on Thursday over his remarks.
Republican Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker — a man who was on the short-list to become Trump’s secretary of state — said the president doesn’t understand “the character of our nation.”
Julius Krein, the founder of the “Trumpist” publication American Affairs, disavowed the guy who inspired the intellectual’s political brand. For Krein, Charlottesville was the last straw and he could no longer support the man he tried to base a new ideology on.
“Far from making America great again, Mr. Trump has betrayed the foundations of our common citizenship. And his actions are jeopardizing any prospect of enacting an agenda that might restore the promise of American life,” he wrote in The New York Times.
But for all the flak he’s taking, Trump’s positions in response to Charlottesville evince a large amount of support among the general public.
When it comes to the issue of taking down Confederate statues, a large majority of Americans — 62 percent — take the side of the president and oppose the removals. (RELATED: POLL: Most Voters Want Confederate Statues To Remain)
On Trump’s much-maligned comments blaming both sides for the Charlottesville catastrophe, a SurveyMonkey poll shows that 40 percent of Americans agree with the president, with an additional nine percent saying the counter-protesters were more to blame. When it comes to Republicans, only 18 percent agreed with Mitt Romney and the media that the alt-right is solely responsible for the violence, while the rest of the respondents either blamed both sides or the leftists.
Trump was siding with the silent majority with his responses to Charlottesville in total opposition to the desires of political and media elites. This is a familiar position for Trump to find himself in.
Throughout his presidential campaign, candidate Trump espoused views that brought forth fiery denunciations upon him from commentators and political leaders — both Democrat and Republican.
The future president kicked off his campaign with harsh rhetoric about illegal immigrants committing rape and bringing drugs to the country. Those comments earned Trump universal condemnation, but they were likely the reason GOP voters were first drawn to the then-candidate.
He appeared to be a fighter who would speak out about issues many Americans cared about, but few politicians would address. Trump ably turned his comments into a debate over political correctness, which he assailed for “killing” America.
Trump could count on having the backing of a majority of Americans in that debate. A 2016 Pew Research poll showed that 59 percent of Americans think their fellow countrymen are too easily offended, with 78 percent of Republicans agreeing with this sentiment.
In waging war against political correctness, Trump found a popular, yet ignored issue to connect with voters.
The most explosive issue Trump embraced during his campaign was support for a moratorium on Muslim immigration to the U.S. This stance, made in December of 2015, brought out the most aggressive criticism of the candidate so far in his campaign.
Nearly every Republican rushed to state they opposed the idea, including Trump’s future vice president Mike Pence. Few in politics and media dared to openly defend the proposal to limit Muslim immigration.
But once again, there was a silent majority in support of the proposal. During the campaign, polling found that half of America supported the measure, while an overwhelming majority of Republicans — 71 percent — backed it.
Proposing the Muslim ban is seen as a major factor in Trump winning the GOP primary and ultimately securing the presidency.
Trump’s response to last week’s events shows that he is once more his own kind of culture war. As a term, culture war is typically associated with social conservatives and their efforts against abortion, same-sex marriage and violent video games.
Trump’s battle is different.
It isn’t driven by the traditional concerns of social conservatives and evangelicals. The president’s culture conflict is entirely secular. Instead of religion, it is driven by concerns over national identity and underlined by the sharp division between elite and middle-class opinion.
In the primary, Trump battled against political correctness and open border platitudes to the cries of his opponents and the cheers of his supporters. His performance at the ballot box showed the success of this message.
Now Trump is positioning himself as the defender of American heritage, fighting against the toppling of statues to national heroes like Washington and Jefferson. He is also pushing back against the narrative that Antifa rioters are noble and only interested in self-defense.
To his voters, these violent leftists are a menace that need to be addressed. The base is well-aware that they could be the next ones maced and beaten if they attend a pro-Trump event, regardless of how much disgust they have for the alt-right.
To Antifa, all Republicans are Nazis.
Both on statues and left-wing violence, Trump stands with the silent majority against elite opinion, showing he hasn’t given up the culture war that he used to win the election.
Contrary to Krein’s delusions, Trumpism is more than trade policy.
Since taking office, it’s abundantly clear that it is impossible for Trump to unite most of the country around his presidency. Liberals will always hate him no matter what he says or does.
It’s smart for Trump to play to his base when he cannot rely on appealing to everyone. He must retain some support, and the continuing enthusiasm of his voters ensures most Republicans will stay on board with him.
He might get vilified in the press for standing up for Confederate monuments, but it’s an entirely different story for the constituency that matters most to the president.