The Next Republican Party
Donald Trump may have lost the 2020 election, but the movement he launched lives on. More than 74 million Americans cast their ballot for him that year, including many who have not traditionally voted for Republican candidates. If these voters leave the party en masse, it will never elect another president. Yet simply maintaining Trump's coalition won't suffice, either. If Republicans are to retake the White House in the coming years, they'll need to attract both Trump supporters and those who didn't vote for him.
A majority of voters may have tired of Trump's petulant name-calling and thin-skinned pettiness by 2020, but the speeches he gave and the policies he favored spoke to the enduring needs of an ailing America. Even though he lost the election, he increased his support among white women, Hispanics, and blacks — populations the Republican Party has struggled to court for decades. And in down-ballot races, Republican candidates did remarkably well. If American voters delivered a single message during the election, it was that they wanted Trumpism without the man himself.
Trump was a Hegelian world-historical figure — one who, in 2016, incarnated the spirit of his time and recognized the need to break with the stale policies of a Republican Party dominated by a libertarian economic ethos as well as a Democratic Party that continues to obsess over identity and flirt with anti-Americanism. Even if he couldn't fully articulate the ideas he was espousing, it was enough that he understood they were ripe for championing. And if he has self-destructed, that is just as Hegel would have predicted of him.
The Hegelian hero's life is troubled, and when history is done with him, he falls away, "like empty hulls from the kernel." But while Trump is gone, Trumpism remains. At its core, it embraces middle-of-the-road, or even left-of-center, views on economics and traditional values on social issues. It maintains a commitment to the American Dream while showing a willingness to depart from vulgar libertarianism — which insists that the answer to every social problem may be found in free markets — to achieve that dream. It rejects elite corruption while affirming working-class pride in American principles. It is what I call "progressive conservatism," and it is the hidden yet ever-recurring driver of Republican politics in America.
A new Republican Party, shorn of Trump but faithful to some of the priorities he brought to the fore, has a unique opportunity to unify the country. To make good on this promise, Republicans will need to return to the party's tradition of progressive conservatism.
WHAT IS PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATISM?
Edmund Burke was the founder of modern conservatism, but he wasn't a reactionary. He supported the post-1689 British constitution, backed Catholic emancipation in Ireland, and urged conciliation when the American colonists were on the verge of revolt. It's not enough to look back, he thought, because society must incorporate a principle of progress: "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation," he once declared. Like all progressives, Burke also loathed corruption in government, famously prosecuting Warren Hastings for exploiting his office as governor of Bengal.
But if he wasn't a reactionary, neither was he a modern progressive who scorns the past. For Burke, it was crucial to keep in mind one's heritage when charting a course for the future. "People will not look forward to posterity," he cautioned, "who never look backward to their ancestors." He was, in short, a progressive conservative.
Readers won't find abstract theories of government in Burke's writings. Instead, he believed a statesman should be guided by his sense of his country's identity, the circumstances before him, the people to be persuaded, and the obstacles to be overcome. He believed Britain should make peace with the American colonists not because he agreed with their principles, but because he thought it imprudent for Britain to make war upon them. Questions of sovereignty and inalienable rights were quite beside the point.
During the 19th century, a distinct school of progressive conservatism arose in Burke's wake. Benjamin Disraeli created the modern Tory Party in the 1840s by opposing the free-trade policies of Robert Peel's Conservative Party.
Right-left distinctions often make little sense when imposed on the past, but to the extent they do, Disraeli was to the left of Peel. While Disraeli's fellow conservatives wanted nothing to do with the English Radicals, Disraeli himself signaled a certain sympathy toward them. He acknowledged that he "did not approve of the remedy suggested by the Chartists" but added that "it did not follow [that his party] should not attempt to cure the disease complained of." The year Friedrich Engels shocked readers with his description of the wretchedness of London's East End in The Condition of the Working Class in England, Disraeli wrote no less passionately about economic inequality in Sybil, observing that England was divided into two nations
between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets....THE RICH AND THE POOR.
Disraeli believed free-market orthodoxies had lost sight of the plight of the forgotten classes, which included not only Britain's farmers, but also its industrial workers in the new factory towns. As prime minister, he built an alliance between the country's farmers and the then-disenfranchised poor, in part by extending the franchise to all adult male heads of households through the 1867 Reform Bill. Since electoral reform was going to happen anyway, some thought his strategy cynical. Yet it was simply an application of the ideas Disraeli had put forth years before. And in stealing the issue from William Gladstone's Liberals, Disraeli had "dished the Whigs."
Disraeli was also a nationalist who understood that this imposed upon his party a duty to promote the well-being of all his fellow citizens, not simply a favored few:
I have always considered that the Tory party was the national party of England. It is not formed of a combination of oligarchs and philosophers who practise on the sectarian prejudices of a portion of the people. It is formed of all classes, from the highest to the most homely, and it upholds a series of institutions that are in theory, and ought to be in practice, an embodiment of the national requirements and the security of the national rights.
What Disraeli created was a socially conservative and economically liberal Tory Party — a model for Trump and a post-Trump Republican Party.
THE AMERICAN PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE
Whatever American progressive conservatism might be, it is not a Tory movement; our roots in the American Revolution run far too deep for that. Like its British archetype, the American progressive conservative is a nationalist, and one cannot be an American nationalist without taking pride in and adhering to our founding ideals. But if that implies support for liberalism, it does not make the progressive conservative a libertarian; those founding ideals were of equality and liberty, and neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution enacted Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Heather Richardson have identified a cyclical pattern in Republican Party policies. After a period of liberalism (which I prefer to call "progressive conservatism"), the party reverts to right-wing dogmas and allies itself with big business, followed by a return to progressive conservatism. So it has been in the Republican Party's four progressive-conservative moments, when it was led by Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Donald Trump.
Lionel Trilling wrote that each poet's invocation of a tradition changes the tradition itself, so that it is never fixed; the same is true of the American tradition of progressive conservatism. For Lincoln, it meant a society where artificial barriers are removed and everyone is permitted to rise. For Roosevelt and Eisenhower, it also meant a safety net for those who, through no fault of their own, were unable to get ahead. For Trump, it was a determination to take on a corrupt establishment that had unjustly made itself wealthy and America immobile. At each turning, progressive conservatism renewed itself while remaining faithful to the idea of the American Dream.
THE FIRST TURNING
Just about every American politician has tried to wrap himself in the mantle of our 16th president, but Lincoln is best seen as a progressive conservative. He came to politics as a Whig who supported "internal improvements" (federal support for infrastructure projects) and high tariffs to pay for them. In office, he supported an income tax, the transcontinental railway, land-grant colleges, a Legal Tender Act, and free land for farmers under the Homestead Act. Quite apart from the Civil War, his domestic policies made him one of the most consequential American presidents. These ideas were all born of progressive conservatism, but what made Lincoln the movement's American founder was his invention of the American Dream.
The tale began when Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon, gave him a copy of George Fitzhugh's Sociology for the South. Fitzhugh was a Virginian who defended slavery, and in doing so advanced a vision of fixed social classes that came to be called the "mudsill" theory. The mudsill is the base of a building, the bare earth above which mansions are erected to be inhabited by "superior" people — the carriers of civilization. Every social structure must have its substratum, wrote Fitzhugh, and in the South, this meant slavery.
The mudsill theory infuriated Lincoln, and he responded to it in an 1859 speech at a Wisconsin Agricultural Fair. In so doing, he infused American conservatism with the promise of economic and social mobility. The mudsill theory posited that workers must be uneducated, that the perfect worker would be no better than a blind horse. "But free labor says no!" thundered Lincoln:
The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor — the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all — gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all.
Lincoln revered the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson. He once told a gathering at Independence Hall, "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence." Jefferson's Declaration had announced to the world an abstract truth about equality, applicable to all men and all times. Lincoln breathed new meaning into that Declaration for a new generation of Americans.
Lincoln recognized that Jefferson's egalitarianism was incompatible with the institution of slavery. He also embraced a different understanding of why equality mattered. More than an abstract truth, Lincoln believed that equality was also a guarantee of social mobility for all Americans:
This progress by which the poor, honest, industrious, and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on his own account...is that progress that human nature is entitled to, is that improvement in condition that is intended to be secured by those institutions under which we live, is the great principle for which this government was really formed.
Jefferson had spoken of a natural aristocracy, a society in which the most gifted and able might rise to the top. But for him, this was simply a happy byproduct of equality. For Lincoln, equality meant more than that: The central idea of American equality, as expressed in the Declaration, was the promise of income mobility and a faith in the ability of people to rise to a higher station in life. There was nothing base about labor to Lincoln, as Fitzhugh had believed. Instead, what was ignoble was the leisured aristocratic class's disdain for work. That was what the Declaration's celebration of equality meant to Lincoln, and his ideal of economic mobility and self-improvement has come down to us as the American Dream.
THE SECOND TURNING
A post-Lincoln Republican Party emerged during the Gilded Age — a time of great fortunes and enormous wealth inequalities. Abandoning Lincoln's progressive agenda and the work of racial justice in the South, the party instead allied itself with big business and touted laissez-faire economics. The Gilded Age was also a period of massive civil unrest, with the Haymarket Riot, the Pullman Strike, and the assassination of James Garfield. Behind these disturbances, Republicans saw the specter of communism; every government effort to regulate business was considered suspect.
A progressive movement nevertheless arose, through the workers' unions in the cities and the Granger and Farmers' Alliance movements in agrarian regions. The latter groups argued that the government should regulate the monopoly rates that railways charged to carry grain and produce. In 1892, the People's Party ran on a progressive platform and won 22 electoral votes from farming states in the West. In 1896, the Democrats embraced a progressive platform under William Jennings Bryan and won 176 electoral votes in farming states and the South.
Conservative Republicans characterized this talk as un-American class warfare. But soon a younger group of liberal Republicans, including Theodore Roosevelt, began to embrace more progressive policies. This included an attack on the corruption that, from the time of the Grant administration between 1869 and 1877, had badly tarnished the party. Roosevelt thus began his political career as an anti-corruption, "good government" urban reformer who opposed Democratic patronage machines.
The progressives believed that, in an age of rising economic inequalities, America had become immobile. They blamed this on large, monopolistic holding companies ("trusts") and the way in which their money had corrupted politics. Radical reformers like Louis Brandeis wanted to break up the trusts, but conservatives like Roosevelt thought the answer lay in prudent campaign-finance-reform laws and safety regulations. In doing so, he called himself both a "progressive" and a "conservative":
Those of us who believe in Progressive Nationalism are sometimes dismissed with the statement that we are "radicals." So we are; we are radicals in such matters as eliminating special privilege and securing genuine popular rule, the genuine rule of the democracy. But we are not overmuch concerned with matters of mere terminology. We are not in the least afraid of the word "conservative," and, wherever there is any reason for caution, we are not only content but desirous to make progress slowly and in a cautious, conservative manner.
Roosevelt's successor, William Howard Taft, continued and expanded his antitrust agenda. Nevertheless, Roosevelt felt that Taft had abandoned Lincoln's policies, so he made economic and social mobility a principal theme of his 1910 "New Nationalism" speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. Quoting from Lincoln's Wisconsin speech among others, Roosevelt observed that "in every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity." He spoke of the "conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess," and condemned the crony capitalism that entrenched the well-connected elite.
When he failed to secure the Republican nomination in 1912, Roosevelt bolted from the party to run as the progressive (Bull Moose) candidate for the presidency. He railed against the Republican Party's tendency "to fossilize, to become mere ultra-conservative reactionaries, to reject and oppose all progress." His new party's platform pledged "to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics" and proposed an ambitious social-welfare agenda that included safety and health standards, minimum-wage laws, the prohibition of child labor, an eight-hour working day, and a national old-age security and health system.
The split in the Republican Party doomed it to defeat in 1912. The two progressive candidates — Roosevelt from the right and Woodrow Wilson from the left — polled 10 million votes between them to Taft's 3.5 million votes. Had the Republicans managed to stay united as a single progressive-conservative party, they would have defeated Wilson. But with the conservatives divided among themselves, the party lost. The pattern would appear again in 1992, when a progressive Ross Perot siphoned votes away from a conservative George H. W. Bush, to the benefit of the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton.
THE THIRD TURNING
After the First World War, the Republican Party shifted rightward again with leaders like Calvin Coolidge, whom historically minded right-wingers regard as the ne plus ultra of conservatism. Thereafter, the New Deal hardened Republicans into a right-wing party in opposition to what they saw as a socialist administration. That strategy was short-sighted, since it relegated Republicans to minority status until the party learned to live with the New Deal.
In some ways, Franklin Roosevelt can be seen as a progressive conservative. In 1932, he was endorsed by four Republican senators: George Norris of Nebraska, Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, Hiram Johnson of California, and Bronson Cutting of New Mexico. Brain trusters Henry Wallace and Harold Ickes joined the administration as progressive Republicans. They knew, as did the rest of the country, that the economic crisis required drastic change — the kind only Roosevelt pledged to provide. He did so not as a socialist, but rather as a crisis manager, and in preserving the economy, he saved the country from far worse alternatives. That was how he saw himself, complaining to Felix Frankfurter in 1937 that he was "the best friend the profit system ever had."
When he first took office, on March 4, 1933, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen 90% from its 1929 high. New capital investments had declined by 95%. There had been thousands of bank failures, wiping out 9 million individual bank accounts. Nearly every state had to close some of its banks, and farm income had fallen by 50%. Local governments couldn't pay their teachers, and nearly half the country's homes were in danger of foreclosure. In many states, people went hungry. The best estimates put the unemployment rate at nearly 25%. When the Soviet Union's trade office in New York invited 6,000 skilled workers to go to Russia, 100,000 Americans applied.
Voters wanted radical change, and Coolidge's free-market policies were not on the table. What was were the darker alternatives offered by Huey Long and the anti-Semitic Father Coughlin, as well as the full-employment policies of fascism and communism. Americans didn't go down those paths, and we have arch-Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, not the Republicans of the period, to thank for it.
As president, Roosevelt enacted laws that Republicans found impossible to repeal while presiding over an astonishing economic recovery. The GDP, which had declined by 12.9% in 1932, grew by an average of more than 10% each year from 1934 to 1936. In perhaps the greatest act of American presidential statesmanship, Roosevelt lifted his country out of its deep isolationism and provided the leadership necessary to save our republic. It's hardly surprising that the Republican Party lost four straight presidential elections post-1932. After the last defeat, Republican senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., was moved to ask (in the title of an essay), "Does the Republican Party Have a Future?" Lodge's answer was "yes," but only if Republicans returned to their progressive roots as the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
The party did just that, in nominating and electing Dwight Eisenhower. To do so, moderate leaders like Lodge and Thomas Dewey had to defeat the conservatives who sought to undo the New Deal and thought that their candidate, Robert Taft, had wrapped up the nomination. Taft lost, of course, and Eisenhower went on to win 55% of the vote in 1952 and 58% in 1956. The Democrat, Adlai Stevenson, won only nine states in 1952 and seven in 1956, all of them south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Eisenhower called himself a "modern Republican," but the "progressive conservative" label is more apt. He resisted calls to eliminate New Deal programs, and in some cases, he oversaw their expansion. He created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and extended the coverage of Social Security by 10.5 million people, including farmers, the self-employed, domestic workers, and state and local officials. He staved off the threat of unemployment with the interstate highway system — the greatest internal-improvements program in American history — and together with Canada opened the St. Lawrence Seaway, which permitted Great Lakes tankers to reach ports across the world.
In 1954, Eisenhower sought an expanded federal role in health care. He claimed he didn't want "socialized medicine" but worried that the rising cost of health care would bankrupt many Americans. What he proposed was a government re-insurance program to encourage private insurance companies to guarantee policies for low-income and high-risk groups; where the primary insurer would deny coverage, the re-insurance fund would take over and bear the cost.
It was a sensible idea — in fact, several states would adopt it decades later in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. But Eisenhower's proposal was killed by conservative Republicans in the House who didn't want any federal role in health insurance. The party lost control of both the House and the Senate in the election that followed. After the defeat, an angered Eisenhower told his press secretary that he wanted to create a progressive Republican Party, and that "[i]f the right wing wants a fight, they're going to get it...either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won't be with them anymore."
No wars were started on Eisenhower's watch. He saw how wasteful the arms race was and bemoaned the fact that a heavy bomber cost as much as 30 new brick schools: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." He sought an arms deal with the Soviet Union and told the United Nations of his willingness to put the American nuclear arsenal under the supervision of an international agency. The proposal went nowhere, but he continued to seek a test-ban treaty throughout his presidency. In his farewell address, he warned of the way in which the military and the arms industry pressured the government for more weapons spending, memorably dubbing the arrangement the "military-industrial complex."
Eisenhower also had a progressive record on civil rights. In his first State of the Union address, he announced that he would end segregation in the District of Columbia, the federal government, and the armed forces. Harry Truman remarked that "poor Ike" didn't know what he was up against — "he'll say do this! do that! And nothing will happen" — but that's not how it turned out. Though Truman ordered the military desegregated, it was Eisenhower who made it happen.
The Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education ended judicially sanctioned segregation, and Eisenhower deserves much of the credit, both for appointing Earl Warren to the Court and for sending his assistant attorney general to argue that public segregation was unconstitutional. Eisenhower's subsequent Supreme Court appointments would vote to uphold the Brown decision, and many of the federal judges in the South who bravely enforced the civil-rights laws — including John Minor Wisdom and Frank Johnson — were Eisenhower Republicans. When state and local officials resisted a federal court order to desegregate, Eisenhower sent the army to Little Rock's Central High School; the rioters ultimately retreated before the drawn bayonets of the 101st Airborne Division. Finally, when sit-in demonstrations began in 1960, Eisenhower took the side of the protestors: If Woolworth's invited African Americans to shop at their stores, he argued, it should also seat them for lunch.
At Eisenhower's urging, the 85th Congress passed the first civil-rights legislation in 82 years. African Americans were disenfranchised in most of the Southern states at the time, and the statute banned the suppression of voting rights in federal elections. Eisenhower also wanted judges to rule on whether this had been done, but Lyndon Johnson and his fellow Southerners undermined the provision by giving the accused the right to a jury trial; they knew a jury of white Southerners would never vote to convict one of their own. Eisenhower was furious about the change and threatened to veto the legislation, but African American leaders persuaded him to sign it as better than nothing. They knew that the GOP was the party of civil rights.
While Eisenhower's progressive credentials are undeniable, he was also a conservative whose 1956 Economic Report was a staunch defense of free-market principles. He recognized that welfare programs cannot sustain themselves without the money to pay for them, and he knew that low-wage earners would benefit more from a faster growth rate in the nation's income than from redistributing existing national wealth in their favor.
Eisenhower had staked out what Schlesinger called the "vital center" in American politics — the place where free-market principles are tempered by a safety net for those left behind. And that was the secret of his popularity. As his undersecretary of labor Arthur Larson put it, "in politics — as in chess — the man who holds the center holds a position of almost unbeatable strength."
Eisenhower was America's most admired man from 1952 to 1960, and while in office he enjoyed a 65% average approval rating. He was a progressive conservative who showed there was no going back on the New Deal. His were the "Fabulous Fifties" — a period of enormous prosperity. Wages were up, inflation was down, and Americans went out and bought things — homes, cars, consumer appliances — that their parents could never have afforded. They moved into dream homes with plate-glass windows and drove dream cars with big fins. By 1960, nearly 90% of homes had a television set, and people watched shows like Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver — shows we're supposed to scorn today.
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith told us that the pursuit of private wealth was wasteful, but no one missed being poor. Intellectuals called it the "Age of Anxiety," but everyone else felt good about America. We had become a rich middle-class country with a great deal more income equality and mobility than exists today; and if racial and gender differences were greater then, we had the sense that things were getting better for everyone — a sense we sorely lack today. The social problems people complained of were laughably trivial — lurid comic books, juvenile delinquents in black leather jackets, "Elvis the Pelvis." The real pathologies of today, the crime and the broken homes, were far less troubling then. Families were stable and divorce rates were low. Births to unmarried mothers, which are now at 40%, were at only 5% in the 1950s.
While in office, Eisenhower balanced the budget and presided over eight years of peace and prosperity — the only president who had done so since George Washington. But when a hip John Kennedy was elected, we were asked to forget how great the 1950s had been. Those dream homes were made of ticky-tacky and those dream cars were Unsafe at Any Speed. The '50s were a time of soulless conformity and dull repression, of inauthentic men in gray flannel suits. It was nothing of the sort, of course, and it did not take long before the limits of hipness were evident, in Vietnam and the era's assassinations and riots. The 1960s did indeed transform America, but not always for the better, and we're permitted to remember Eisenhower's presidency as a halcyon time before it all went south.
THE FOURTH TURNING
Right-wing conservatives like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley were also happy to see the Eisenhower era in the rearview mirror. They decried "me-too" liberal Republicanism and, along with Phyllis Schlafly, wanted the party to offer A Choice Not an Echo. That's what Goldwater gave them in 1964, and while his run proved a crushing electoral defeat, it also marked the birth of a new conservative movement.
The Goldwaterites had shown how the conservative faithful could defeat GOP moderates like Henry Cabot Lodge for the nomination. In their think tanks and magazines, they presented themselves as the intellectual voice of the Republican Party. They didn't take the Republican presidents along with them, however. Over the course of the next 40 years, Republicans elected four presidents, and while all were right of center, none wanted to take on the Democrats over welfare policies or the New Deal. Their election had made them the leaders of the free world, and they were content to trade away domestic policies to the Democrats in return for free rein in foreign affairs. The only Republican president of the past half-century whose head wasn't turned by the idea of being such a leader was Donald Trump, who was chiefly interested in domestic issues and evidently bored out of his skull by his NATO allies.
Trump was also a different kind of Republican when it came to domestic policies. In 2016, 17 serious candidates sought the Republican presidential nomination — some as right-wingers, some as religious conservatives. But only Trump ran as a progressive conservative. Early on it became clear that, unlike the others, he wasn't an orthodox conservative and wasn't going to trench on government entitlement programs. As Disraeli had before him, he reached out to a forgotten class of voters who had not shared in the gains of the rising economy. Like Disraeli, too, he argued that the duty to care for one's fellow citizens arose from the logic of nationalism and a sense of fraternity with them. Finally Trump, like Disraeli, looked beyond abstract principles to see how people really fared. Both men parted company with free-market orthodoxy and gestured toward a new party that was conservative in its nationalism and progressive in its concern for those left behind.
This is the secret code to American politics, and if it didn't work in 2020, it's because it wasn't on the ballot. It was a plague year, with riots in the streets — a year not to be repeated. Additionally, while Trump had run as a progressive conservative in 2016, he didn't govern like one. For two years, the Republicans controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, but that unity was illusory; the agenda was set largely by conservative-minded lawmakers. All that Trump got out of Congress during his term were the 2017 amendments to the tax code. These were certainly welcome and helped spur an economic recovery, but they were the product of free-market orthodoxy, and they left in place the loopholes of a lengthy tax code through which America's wealthy could shelter their income. Trump had campaigned on a pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something "beautiful," but that didn't happen, either. A modest start was made with regulatory cutbacks, but in the end, all he accomplished was a reduction in the program's rate of growth.
Trump's illiberal populism and shameful encouragement of the January 2021 riot at the Capitol was also a betrayal of progressive conservatism. Like Disraeli — and like Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Eisenhower — the progressive conservative is a nationalist, and American nationalism is necessarily a liberal creed. That's because the liberal ideals of the founders are the icons of our American identity. What makes Americans of us is our adherence to those ideals, and anti-liberal American nationalism is therefore self-defeating — as Trump discovered in 2020 and 2021.
AMERICA'S GOVERNING PARTY
With Trump, progressive conservatism was a revolution, interrupted. But while the man himself may be gone, the ideas he brought to the party will remain, and will form the basis for a Republican revival. In time, we'll forget Trump's shabby final days and instead recall the three principles that saw him elected in 2016.
First, he told us he was a different kind of Republican — one who said that whoever you are and wherever you live, you should be able to get ahead and know that your children will have it better than you did. That is the American Dream, and Trump made clear he believed Republicans have a duty to see it happen. Second, he promised to end the corruption of interest groups and elites who line their pockets while ignoring everyone beneath them. Third, he told us of his pride in America, his belief that our country is a beacon to the world that has always surmounted its difficulties and will continue to do so well into the future.
Trump was obviously not the ideal messenger for any of these principles, but together, they constitute an American progressive conservatism that represents the best of our traditions. Like the key that fits the slot, like the bolt that slides itself into place, their rightness is intuitively felt. Regardless of what voters thought of Trump, those who love our country will happily gather under their folds.
In 2016, many of the people who sat atop both parties told us it wouldn't end well if we elected him. Perhaps so, we said, but it's so much better than what you have to offer. It turns out we were both right.
What began in innocence for Trump's supporters led down a path littered with betrayals and unseemly compromises. French intellectual Charles Péguy understood how it happens. After defending Alfred Dreyfus, he found himself allied to a band of unscrupulous and opportunistic politicians. "Everything begins in mystique and ends in politics," he wrote. But the dreams never quite die, and without fully understanding it, we continue to yearn for something we lost along the way. What we lost was purity.
For Americans, purity is the dream of republican virtue, of a country free from baseness and corruption, a shining city on a hill peopled by secret romantics who are hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Our heroes aren't kings or princes, but common folk, the knights-errant of the cattle trail and the mean streets in search of their private grail. While surrounded by cynics, they keep their integrity, like John Wayne in Stagecoach and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.
Purity is in short supply today. On both the left and the right, intellectuals reject the founders' principles and court illiberalism. Our dominant culture is transgressive and even anti-American. We'll not see another movie like Apollo 13; in a remake, the astronauts would die upon re-entry. In a new version of Band of Brothers, the men of Easy Company would be racists whose deaths we'd be asked to cheer. Father O'Malley would be revealed to be a child molester in Going My Way II. June would divorce Ward in a reboot of Leave it to Beaver.
This cynicism won't last. In America, just when you think things can't get any worse, they don't. We're poised for a revival that affirms America's essential goodness and the virtue of its founding principles, and it is for progressive conservatives to make this happen. We'll not ask you to ally yourselves with shabby teachers' unions or racial partisans, with corporate-welfare bums or dogmatic libertarians, or with anything that degrades a human being. Instead, we'll insist on recognizing the dignity of every American, and embrace the duty to see that all might flourish. That is how the Republican Party will become America's natural governing party in the years to come.