Establishmentarianism and Trumpism

Donald Trump is the Republican Party establishment. This is true not merely in the sense that there must always, of necessity, be an established leading force within any nation or faction. It is true in the very sense most despised by the self-described establishment-haters who comprise the Trump cult, namely that Trump, their god, is absolutely embedded within, and inseparable from, the old guard GOP establishment. Without that establishment’s willingness to embrace him, again and again, he would never have been, and would not now be, a major factor, let alone a leading contender, in any presidential race. For he lacks the intelligence, leadership, and rhetorical skills that would be required of anyone who truly hoped to rise to electoral relevance in America today without mainstream political support.

This is not to say that the establishment in general necessarily likes Trump. They did not like John McCain either. And they despised Ronald Reagan, until he proved capable of delivering landslides. But the establishment, or the majority faction within it, certainly does see Trump as useful, in this case specifically a useful idiot, for their practical aims. That this establishment faction has exhibited extraordinarily poor judgment in so assessing Trump’s usefulness, or at least the most extreme political myopia (aka short-term self-interest), and that this poor judgment has risen to both (domestically) suicidal and (globally) murderous levels under the circumstances of 2024, does nothing to change the fact that they have embraced and endorsed him, thereby allowing Trump and “Trumpism” (aka reality-TV fakery and social media vulgarity) to become the name brand and calling card of the Republican Party for the forseeable future. 

The fantasy, harbored by Trump’s millions of cult followers, that his preeminence within the GOP indicates a radical overhaul of the party of McConnell and the megadonors — Trump himself having been one of McConnell’s personal megadonors until the year he declared his presidential candidacy — is belied by the reality of his first term in office, which may be defended as any kind of success by the cultists only on the basis of those aspects of his presidency upon which the old guard asserted primary control. That the old guard would be able to assert such control over Trump’s actions in a second term is highly questionable, and a gamble not worth taking. The fact that they are, by and large, taking that gamble, demonstrates the extent to which they believe their stranglehold on the party and the non-leftist portion of the American public is secure, as well as the extent to which they believe Trump needs them more than they need him. They are probably quite right on both points, but again, is the short-term power advantage of embracing Trump worth the long-term inevitabilities? Of course not, but that merely shows that the establishment, like its chosen man of the moment Trump, has only pragmatic advantage and personal material success in its cancerous heart, and no sense of national purpose or responsibility to history.

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