“Is ‘right-wing progressivism’ too much of an oxymoron?” one member recently asked. “Because that’s kind of how I see the Trump movement.” In response, another member said “In this case it is. There are quite a fair number of Trump supporters who are in that situation reluctantly, who are in no way progressives. Give credit to these people, they honestly see Hillary as worse, and putting them down for taking that view won’t persuade them otherwise.” Reluctant supporters strike me as quite different, though, from enthusiastic supporters. It’s not hard to argue that Trump is a “right wing” progressive. But Trump also strikes so many people as anti-progressive. Why is this?
“Progress” as such, beyond the bare minimum necessary to sustain a Christian worldview (the Christian story inevitably gives history some direction), is not something I really believe in. Sure, I call technological improvements “advancements” or “progress,” because that’s what everybody calls them. But the vision of history progressing toward some secular goal is not one I believe in. The idea that it’s the proper function of the State to promote this “progress” is one I believe in even less.
I don’t think Trump is an ideologue, but I think his very deep intuition is that the State, if run successfully, should be an instrument of “progress.” Not social-justice-warrior “progress,” but “real progress,” “successful progress,” “patriotic progress,” “American progress.” I don’t think Trump is capable of questioning this intuition, just as many of us have other intuitions we cannot, or do not, question.
But if what you hate about modern progressives isn’t bare-bones progressivism as such (the State facilitating this “progress” rather than standing aside so people can freely associate according to their own notions of “progress” or lack thereof), but something else, then I think it’s possible to see Trump as an anti-progressive.
If you think the worst thing about progressives is that they’re cry-bullies, and that it’s their cry-bullying — not their centralizing — that’s destroying America, then the fact that Trump can beat cry-bullies at their own game makes him anti-progressive.
If you think the worst thing about progressives is that they punish normalcy, masculinity, majority status, and success, and you think Trump champions normalcy, masculinity, majority status, and success, then Trump seems anti-progressive to you. And if you think the worst thing about progressives is their anti-Americanism, then Trump’s stated interest in making deals that put America first is also anti-progressive.
I think it’s possible for forms of progressivism to be anti-SJW, pro-virility, pro-normalcy, pro-majority, pro-success (though only for limited values of success, since it’s impossible to anticipate – thus encourage – success in all its forms), and pro-American. So if you see Trump as the avatar of all those things, I understand it, but that won’t convince me he’s not a progressive. After all, consider America’s own early progressives, like Teddy Roosevelt.
Many Americans admire Teddy Roosevelt, though. Once I was able to divorce awe for the man himself from his politics, I found I could not admire his politics. But it doesn’t surprise me that others can.
Given the options currently available, it’s perhaps not surprising that some who’d oppose even TR-style progressivism are supporting Trump. Some may support Trump because they believe his kind of progressivism as president would be so obnoxious that Americans would finally get serious about dismantling progressivism. Many more may believe that, once current progressive pieties are attacked, the rest of the progressive edifice will become more vulnerable. And many may have simply resigned themselves to the existence of the progressive edifice, believing all that is possible now is to remodel the edifice slightly so that it at least works better for regular Americans.
That people support Trump for anti-progressive reasons does not convince me that Trump is not a progressive. But neither does Trump’s progressivism mean that these anti-progressive reasons don’t exist.