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Columnists discuss Trump’s election

| Friday, March 24, 2017

In a discussion entitled “What does Trump’s election mean?” held Thursday night at the Hesburgh Center for International Relations, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and Wall Street Journal columnist William Galston discussed the reasons behind Donald Trump’s election, as well as its implications.

“The beauty of it is that you can reasonably link it to anything you please,” said Douthat.

Douthat, a self-described “conservative writing at a liberal paper,” said there were three tensions that helped Trump get elected.

“First, there was a tension within the Republican Party between ideological conservatism and populism,” he said.

Douthat described how there has always been a battle in the Republican Party between ideological conservatives and “heartland populists.” He said this election marked the occasion where the latter overtook the former.

“The party wanted to move in a libertarian direction, the heartland wanted a populist, right wing welfare state,” he said. “There was a split between what voters and party elites wanted. Large swathes of the electorate did not want a conservative.”

Douthat’s second tension was within the Democratic coalition. He said there have been two main forces on the American left in recent years: cosmopolitanism — or globalization — and egalitarianism.

“There was this idea that liberalism didn’t have to pick,” he said.

Douthat said this approach didn’t work, and many egalitarian voters went for Trump.

Finally, Douthat said, Trump benefited from a tension within western civilization itself — the idea that the end of the Cold War represented the triumph of liberal democracy and “the end of history” with “natural human discontent and boredom with stagnation.” Douthat specifically pointed to economic stagnation as a driving factor behind Trump’s win.

“There was a willingness to upset the apple card,” he said.

The conversation then turned to Galston, a self-described “liberal working at a conservative paper.”

“The U.S. was part of a much broader populist trend,” he said. “The result was populist with American characteristics.”

Galston pointed to economics as the driving factor behind Trump’s victory, and noted the American economy has been in a state of recovery since the mid-2009.

“For middle-class Americans, this is a lost decade,” he said.

Galston also noted that median household incomes haven’t risen since 1999.

“For middle-class Americans, this has been a lost generation,” he said. “The American Dream is this idea that you live a little better than you started, but your children live much better than you did. Now, the American Dream is less credible.”

Galston also discussed how America’s global role factored into the election. He described Trump’s ability to tap into feelings that other countries have taken advantage of the United States through trade and alliances.

“There was a sense that Uncle Sam has become Uncle Sucker,” he said.

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