The American Right in the Age of Trump

By

TIME: 17.30-18.30, 20th February 2017

VENUE: Committee Room 16, Houses of Parliament

SPEAKER: Yuval Levin

CHAIR: David Davies MP

David Davies MP: My name is David Davies, I’m the chairman of the Welsh Affairs select committee, MP for Monmouth for about 12 years and I’m very pleased to say one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign in Wales. I think what’s happening at the moment is very exciting in terms in the population throughout the developed suddenly realising, yes they can actually bring about the change they want. They don’t have to listen to what the BBC or the media is telling them the whole time. I don’t know very much about Mr. Trump, no doubt Mr. Levin is going to inform us now. I do know a lot of the people bitching and whining about him outside. Frankly the fact that they’re so angry about it is cheering me up immensely. He was democratically elected. We may not agree with everything he says, we in the UK of course, but I respect leaders of all sorts of nations and I will say this: I think the human rights record in America is absolutely outstanding and the 6 or 7 countries on that list of so called Muslim counties he was not trying to actually ban at all. All have much worse records in dealing with women’s right, with the rights of people who are Jewish and the rights of Muslims who come for minority sects. You only have to look at you Shia Muslims are treated in Sunni countries or Sunni Muslims in Shia countries or how Yemeni Muslims are treated in either Sunni or Shia countries or how Christians are treated throughout many countries in the Middle East or Africa to understand that try and compare Donald Trump or anyone frankly in any of the countries of Europe with these fascists is outrageous and wrong. We may not agree with everything he’s saying or doing but I personally respect him. He was elected as a leader and fully support him being invited to the United Kingdom and I’m sure we’re going to be able to carry on doing trade deals and having the relationship we’ve always had with America and I’d say the same if he was a democrat president as well. Over to you sir we look very much forward to hearing from you.

Yuval Levin: Well thank you very much. Thanks for hosting me, I appreciate it, it’s humbling to be here. It’s a historic day here too, along similar line to what I’m getting at. It’s quite a pleasure to be here. I’ll tell you who I am to begin with and walk you through a few thoughts about Donald Trump effect on the American right. On American conservativism, on the Republican Party and of course these will necessarily be early observations. He’s been president for all of 4 weeks we have to remind ourselves in Washington. It’s felt like a long time to him and to others but its only beginning. I come from the American right, I’m a scholar and journalist and writer and former government official on the right. I worked for George W Bush when he was president, I’ve worked for various Republican members of congress. Over the last few years I’ve been the editor of a policy journal in America called Policy Affairs which tries to articulate a policy vision for Conservatives in the United States. We too have had our differences with Mr. Trump in some respects, but we also look for opportunities in the Trump era. In a sense I want to give you a sense an idea of the American right of what those opportunities and what some dangers might look like and really of what might be expected in the next few tears. Taken with a grain of salt, if I were here a year ago I would not have told you to expect Mr. Trump would be elected president so take my advice for what it’s worth. But I can give you a sense of what things look like on the American right and then we can see what you would like to talk about. The 2016 election certainly hit American politics like massive earthquake, in retrospect people can point all kind of signs that something like it was coming, but in fact no one saw it coming and no one can say what kind of implications in will have and for the right in the particular in the US the election leaves behind a powerful sense that enormous changes come and yet also a very powerful uncertainty of just what this change entails. In a sense the situation of the left is much simpler. They are anti-Trump now they know exactly where they need to be wherever he’s not. In a sense that creating problems for them its moving them to double down on some of the mistakes and failures that led them to lose this election in the first place, but you can see why and it’s not all that hard to understand. The situation of the right is much more complicated and the lessons of Trump, of his successes and of the way he appealed to voters are going to be much more challenging for conservative in the US to digest and think about. I would argue that Trump is likely to be much more transformative right than of American politics in general and in a sense the most consequential and unusual aspect of last year’s election was Trump’s winning the Republican primary. More so than his winning the General election, in the sense that his General election victory in November was a Republican General election victory. He won very narrowly. He was running against quite a weak democratic candidate, an unusually weak one. He actually lost the popular vote to her, she actually won 3 million more votes than he did, but because of the nature of the election system he was able to win Electoral College victory by adding together a series of narrow victories in key states. That impressive and important, bit in itself it didn’t point the way for the massive realignment in American politics. Trump won by harnessing the pre-existing Republican coalition and then adding to it some voter who are frequently swing voters in American politics. White working class voters in the upper mid-west of the US. Those voters backed Bill Clinton, they backed George Bush, the backed Barack Obama and they backed Donald Trump. They are frequently swing voters in American elections. Not many such voters in what is now very partisan American electorate. In a sense you might say the bulk of those voters were pretty likely to vote for the Republican candidate against Clinton in this election. Put it another way if you look at the exit polling about 94% of Trump’s voters had voted for Romney in 2012. That too was a close election that went the other way. The difference was made by these swing voters, but Trump won in the way that Republicans win when they do. So while his election certainly harbours the potential for some enormous changes in American politics. His General Election victory in itself was not evidence of those changes. So the question is really how did Trump reach the point of being the Republican nominee and therefore in effect putting himself in the position of potentially transforming the American Right? The changes that the country’s seen in recent years are evidenced less by the fact that Trump won the election than that he was the nominee for this election. Something dramatic happened on the American right. Something similar happened on the American left were an avowedly Socialist Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders very nearly won the Democratic primary. Sanders didn’t win because the election rules are different in the two parties. He won 45%of the vote in the Democratic primaries. Trump won 43% in the Republican primaries and what accounts for his having won is differences in the way the two parties chose their leaders. Both of them were unusually strong insurgent candidates in the two parties. So where did this come from? How did this happen? What might it mean? I’ll give you a few general thoughts. I would say that Trump’s insurgent takeover of the Republican party and his victory in the General Election in some way constitute the culmination of a series of institutional breakdowns across American society that have been on the way for decades. Breakdowns that have left the public at least large swaths of it deeply mistrustful of large institutions. Deeply dissatisfied with the political system that have left large parts of the public alienated in a profound way from American life. There was a deep alienation at the core of Trump’s message to voters. He channelled it, he acknowledged it in a ways that politicians in the US in both parties tend to try not to acknowledge and ignore it when they can. Trump spoke to it directly saw that it existed and said “I see that it exist.” For a long time now in our politics that alienation has been present but has been denied by the political leadership class in both of our major parties. It’s happened really since the beginning of the 21st century. If you look at the 2000 election 16 years before Trump’s election you would have found a sitting Vice President, Al Gore, the Democrat and the governor of the US’s second large state running against each other in what now would seem to us a very traditional Republican race. They both presented themselves as fine, upstanding, family men. They ran a remarkably civil campaign. In part because the two parties were offering the country fairly plausible left and right –wing paths forward. What they understood to be meeting America’s 21st century challenges. Both parties understood these challenges as something like governing at the end of history. They centred on how best to allocate the gains of the modernising economy and how best to enable stability and democratisation in a world that had become unmoored from its Cold War constraints. Look at George W Bush’s first speech to congress in February 2001 you’d find yourself in an alternate universe. Bush told the congress that America had put a balanced budget, big surpluses, peace with its neighbours and the questions were how not waste opportunities. This was really were American politics was in 2000. Just a year later Bush’s second address to congress in January of 2002 the world had changed dramatically. The 9/11 attacks had launched an era of insecurity and chaos. A recession had taken hold and in many ways the foundations of common life had seemed a lot shakier. History had refused to end somehow because, as we see in retrospect, it never was on its way to ending. We couldn’t see it then, but that dark turn really should have marked the end of the illusions of the 1990’s in American politics. Particularly the illusion shared by many Western elites that the process of cultural and economic liberalisation that had marked the final decades of the 20th century combined with the end of the Cold War would finally mean a kind of triumph for progressive liberal democracy around the world. The achievement at last of the future that our Elites had dreamed of. In fact that is not what the progress of liberalisation made possible and it’s not what the end of the Cold War made possible. Instead they brought about a resurgence of some long submerged forces around the West. Nationalism and populism, ethnic tensions, economic resentment. Those would be the kinds of challenges that the post-Cold war world would have to think about. Those are the kinds of challenges that have certainly tormented American politics in the 21st century and to this day our leaders have not figured out how to govern amid these challenges of the post-Cold War era of the 21st century. Global instability, rising threats, weak growth at home for a lot of nations, yielding economic insecurity. Daunting public fiscal challenges in the west, a culture at war with itself and the continuing fracturing and fragmentation of family and community in social institutions. Cultural elites around the world have made the mistake of treating problems like these as threats to their dream of governing at the end of history rather than as threats to the actual, physical and fiscal and economic security of their particular citizens. They’ve not grasped that their expectations at the beginning of the century were mistaken, were a failure to appreciate the downsides of how societies had long been changing. So they’ve traded their people’s frustrations as part of the problem rather than a reason to rethink some of the premises. Our politics in America and I think this is true around the west has been shaped by a period of the public telling their leader something they didn’t want to hear and those leaders responding by looking for way to get voters to shut up. Increasingly voters are refusing to do that. We can see that dynamic here in the UK of course in the Brexit debate. We can see it in the politics of much of Western Europe. In America it has been perhaps most prevalent before last year’s election in our immigration debate. Almost from the beginning of the 21st century where a broad cosmopolitan coalition has over and over tried to roll over opposition to any kind of increased immigration and has tried to fudge distinctions, to muddle difference and to treat any opposition as routed in racism. Those efforts did enormous harm to America’s political culture and persuaded a lot of voters that their leader were liars who despised them. But those leaders haven’t really grasped what they’ve done. Having acted on a kind of inertia from an era that they haven’t perceived has ended. And that very wide disorientation of the elites have left both parties in a kind of drift. Unable to offer very much else except nostalgia for some major 20th century high points and unable to offer solutions to the kind of dissatisfaction to their voters. 15 years after the dream of governing at the end of history should have been shattered. The best America’s elites could offer was running George Bush’s brother and Bill Clinton’s wife against each other. The two of them perfectly embodied the widespread and implicit wish that we could be back in 2001 again. They reeked of the past or at least the past’s way of imagining the future. They both seemed terribly disoriented by the world that they were made to inhabit. This drift, at times this real contempt portrayed by their leaders has left a lot of voters frustrated and angry in America and what Donald Trump understood in 2016 was the unwillingness of leaders in both parties in the United States even to acknowledge these problems had created an enormous opportunity to appeal to these voters simply by acknowledging their frustrations, as true, as meaningful, as legitimate even without offering ways to address it. His diagnoses were always more important to his appeal than his prescriptions which even a lot of his voters never took seriously. He grasped something about what decades of fracture had done to America’s political culture. He saw that by 2016 alienation, as such, was an enormously powerful force in our country and that identifying alienated voters can matter even more than offering concrete answers to their worries. Trump did offer more than that, he offered more than acknowledging frustration. He offered also a kind of connection with a sense of loss that a lot of voters felt. A sense of loss about what America had been. Think of his great slogan “Make America Great Again” it’s really the “again” that appealed to voters. There’s no doubt that his appeals to American greatness struck a kind of patriotic nerve among some of his supporters and was certainly received in some quarters as a much-needed call to restore the country’s dignity and strength in a globalising era. In this respect it certainly did appeal to some sentiments and to some voters that are frequently drawn to conservative politics in America, but what was new about Trump’s appeal, what ultimately seemed most powerful about it had much more to do with the kind of resentment that formed only a very partial reaction against the character of liberalism in 21st century America. It was a reaction surely in the name of the honour of some citizens who today’s elite treat with contempt, some workers that today’s economy treats as dispensable, so traditions that today’s culture treats as primitive. But it was a partial reaction because Trump generally challenged their frustrations but not their aspirations. He shared the resentments of these voters much more than their commitments, let alone their pieties or their devotions. And so he tended to translate their yearnings into alienation of the kind that drew many more voters to him. In this sense he exacerbated the alienation that was already present so powerfully in American politics now. Alienation can sometimes make for a very powerful organising principle for an electoral coalition. Especially when it translates into hostility more than apathy. But alienation does not make for a natural organising principle for a governing coalition. The sense of lacking a stake in the nation’s governing institutions, the feeling that those institutions are remote or unresponsive makes it hard to know what to do when they fall into your possession. And in a sense that’s the open question we face now as Donald Trump’s presidency begins. What’s he going to do with what’s fallen into his hands? And just what to do with that power is a question that Trump and the Republican congress are going to need to answer together. So it is, in a sense, a question for the American right as a whole. But conservatives are thoroughly unsure about how to approach that question. In the wake of the election a lot of people on the right in American are really unsure about whether they’ve won or lost. On the one hand the vote certainly went very well for the American right. The Republican Party which in large part has been an instrument of conservative ideas now since the 1970s is as strong as it has been in a century. The Democrats, which have long been the scourge of conservative ideas in American politics are weaker than they’ve really been at any point since the birth of American progressivism more than 100 years ago. Republicans not only hold the presidency, they also hold both houses of congress at the same time, although they did lose seats in both houses. They hold 33 of 50 governorships in America. They control 67 of 98 state legislative chambers in America, the most that they’ve held at that level since the party was founded in the 1850s. All of this builds on a trend that reaches back 10 years or so. It didn’t start with Trump but it certainly now stands to be defined by Trump. The new president himself may not be quite a conservative but the vast majority of these other elected officials are and most of Trump’s appointees have been too. So this has certainly left conservatives with a power to peruse their policy to a degree unmatched since the birth of the modern conservative movement in American politics. But on the other hand 2016 was not, on the whole, a time of triumph for American conservatism. The Republican Party’s almost unprecedented hold on power comes in a year and really has come in part through the very process that’s left the conservative movement in American politics with weaker hold on the party than it’s had since the 1970s. Trump not only didn’t run as a conservative in American terms. He ran in a way that highlighted the limits if conservatism power within the republican coalition and really in national politics beyond. He ignored, he derided a lot of conservative litmus tests at times during the campaign and offered instead a vigorous populist appeal and of course he soundly defeated no more than 15 plainly conservative opponents in the primaries. When he clinched the nomination in May of last year he made this implication of his win very explicit. He said to an interviewer: “This is called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party.” This election and really the past several elections in America should lead conservatives worried really about the appeal of the case that we tended to make to the country and about the pertinence of our views and our arguments to combat contemporary American problems. In this sense the challenge that 2016 and 2017 present to conservative in particular is not exactly a function of questions about Donald Trump’s character or his personal fitness for the presidency, although those questions certainly should concern all Americans and people around the world. The distinct additional challenge for conservativism in America is a function of the way his victory highlighted the weakness of self-understanding of conservatives as the masters and possessors of the American right and the Republican Party. And should concern us about the policies and ideas and ideal that conservatives have tried to champion and so this election has left the American right in a position to pursue the policy agenda that we’ve trumpeted for years and yet should also leave us in a position to worry about whether that agenda really speaks to the problems of this moment. It’s a time that should leave us on the right in America asking hard questions, which is not what generally happens when you win a big election. So where is the right headed then given all this? With that question it seems the last year has been a kind of wake-up call. American conservatives and conservativism over the past 30 years was too detached for the concerns of working class Americans, too dogmatic, too abstract. In sense you might say it kept repeating the ends of Ronald Reagan’s sentences but it had long forgotten how they started. Voters got bored of it. It’s simply a fact that sheer boredom with what the American right was saying to them meant a lot of voters voted for Donald Trump. But what that wake-up call really amounts too is very far from clear. The new president and congress are not on the same page on many foreign policy and domestic questions and the coming years are likely to see a real struggle both to define a world view and a substantive policy agenda of the right in America. To begin with that struggle could well result in an extended period of dysfunction. You might turn on the news these days and see what I mean. The new administration has done its best to give the impression of intense activity as it gets started but so far it’s actually done very little and many of the executive actions have basically involve instructing executive agency to report on possible future steps. There’s been a lot of hyper-overreaction to a lot of these things in American politics. The American news media is certainly in a state of hysteria, but so far in fact not much has happened one way or the other. At the same time, in congress, the Republican majority has been off to a very slow start. A month into Obama’s presidency in 2009 he had already signed a $1 trillion stimulus package bill enacted by a Democratic congress. A month into Trump’s presidency, the congress has sent him no significant legislation and it’s not particularly close to sending him any. The legislation that is being formed more slowly meanwhile is largely checking off some long standing items on the Republican to-do list: healthcare, tax reform and potentially an immigration measure. All of which have been on the table for some time and now potentially can get to the president’s desk from the congressional agenda. These can be very significant but they don’t tell us all that much about where the right is headed. There’s not much about them that is new for Republicans in Washington. A deeper question is about whether Trump’s more populist approach to economics will change the way that the American right thinks about its goals. Focussing more on worker protections than on overall growth, maybe pointing the way toward a transformation or modernisation of the American welfare state, but Trump is not exactly articulated what he could perhaps enable or abide. But the deepest question of all will have to do with whether Trump’s revival of a more assertive nationalism will be taken up by the American right and turned into a more broad approach: on immigration, on trade and perhaps most importantly regarding America’s international position. I’ll close with a thought on each of these. Domestically my thought in this very early stage is that the right will change its approach in the coming years in some very important ways and here what Trump has offered is not a new approach, but clear evidence of the exhaustion of the old approach and what’s required in a conservative domestic and economic agenda that speaks to the concerns of middle and working class families. This points to a less libertarian right in America, maybe a more communitarian right, a more nationalist right. It suggests that conservatives could be moved to direct their efforts to apply their principal to efforts that direct workers and families that have been left behind by the 21st century economy. This doesn’t mean that Trump will offer answers here in some respects he is a symptom rather than a cure for the problems that have to be taken up. But Trump in a sense has written a check that only Republicans and traditional conservatives can help him cash and the pressure to do that could yield some good over time driving a modernisation of the conservative policy agenda that forces them to confront some realities of American life, of life in West in the 21st century. That our politics has tried its best to avoid for some time. Internationally or rather with regard to America’s role in the world I think there’s less of a silver lining to look for and the picture is disconcerting in some important ways. Here too I think Trump is also the exhaustion of an old order than realty the emergence of a new one. But Trump’s rise is revealed and sharpened a loss of support in the American world older and foreign policy thinking. That lack of coherence is long standing, it didn’t start with Trump and it’s also striking. It’s important to see the American foreign policy has lacked an organising principle for most of the 21st century. If you were to ask a member of congress in either party, heavily involved in foreign policy, what the United States wants out of its relationship with China or with its involvement in the Middle East or what it’s trying to achieve in its own hemisphere of what it wants its alliance with Europe to look like no one could give you an answer. No one could have given you an answer in the last 15 years. This has been masked some by the imperative to respond to the 9/11 attacks in the last decade and by the Iraq War and its aftermath. But it seems to me there hasn’t been a framework about how to deal with the world in American foreign policy since the beginning of the 21st century. The only real theory of international relations that’s had nay grasp on American policy makers since the end of the Cold War has been exactly the kind of end of history framework that’s been proved inadequate by political developments in almost every western country in the past few years. Nothing that could fairly be described as a coherent theory of international affairs has taken its place. That chaos has been masked for a time. That its implication have been marked for a time by the sheer inertia by the institutions, the assumptions, and the instincts of late 20th century internationalism. In America, like in a lot of the West policy such as the commitment to the NATO alliance and having to sacrifice something for maintenance of the global order, instinct to build coalitions to combat terrorism. These have persisted even though international leaders have rarely made convincing arguments in their defence. The danger is that Trump breaks that inertia and exposes us to the true consequences of the lack of coherence of contemporary internationalism. He has no instinctive commitment to American leadership or really the institutions of the post-World War Two order, let alone the post-Cold War order. I would say my fear is that Trump lacks even an instinctive fear of chaos to inform any decision making about the world. At the very least his rise, his election mean that the American right will become far less traditionally internationalist and the left for its own reasons has been moving in a more isolationist direction too so that even leaving aside Trump’s affinity for strong men, his frankly bizarre kinship with the Russian regime. All of this bodes ill for the peace of the world. So I would say in concluding that it simply has to be repeated that it’s very early. These are all general impressions of what has not been a worked out worldview but what has been of beginning to be a set of policies, a set of positions, a set of instincts. Trump was been president for all of 4 weeks, he’s been present really as a political force in American life for only a year or so and a great deal of what happened over that year has been unexpected and unpredictable. So what I’m offering you here is a general sense gleaned from within the American right but to be taken only for what it’s worth. There’s no question that the right in America and American politics in general are entering a period of profound change and transition. But there is very much a question of what it is leading into and where the change is heading. We can learn a lot from what this election revealed, we can learn something from what the beginning of Trump’s administration suggests. But all we have is really this general outline that suggests that in good ways and bad we are going to be living through very interesting times in America over the next few years.

Audience Member: Thanks you very much for that. You say that he’s [Inaudible] but what I can’t understand is why he comes out with statements about women for example which are bound to cause antagonism and bound to adversely affect what he wants to do. What in heaven’s name went through his mind?

Yuval Levin: Well it’s a very fine question and I can’t begin to tell you what goes through his mind, but really not just about women though. I do think that an important part of what led some people to question what’s going through his mind. Trump’s success really suggests that there’s an enormous opportunity for a certain kind of populism in American politics and it could do a lot of good. The grave danger is that it become discredited due to Trump’s character, his personality. That the good he stands to do not only fails to be achieved but becomes discredited as an idea becomes associated with a person who, I’m afraid to say, appears to be a disordered personality. This is not an illusion, this is not something people say who dislike him or voted against him. I know now a lot of people who work closely with Trump all the time and there’s a problem there that needs to be taken very seriously. I think on symptom of it was at times how he seemed uncontrolled in the way that he spoke to the public. It’s not the only sign of trouble and so as my more formal remarks here suggest I’m troubled. I see a lot of opportunities but the risk here is very grave and has a lot to do with the character of the president and ultimately the character of the individual in that office is reflected all throughout American politics. There’s not getting away from the character of the individual who is the president. It’s the nature of our system and in this situation with this individual in power I have to say, for me, it’s not good news.

Audience member: You’re in Washington I presume? You can see what’s happening to some extent. What interests me is how much the congress, the Republican members who have been voted in by their constituents. How much they are falling behind Trump, falling in support of him, I mean. How much they are likely to be obstructionist.

Yuval Levin: It’s a great question. It’s very much an open question at this point. I would say right now most Republicans in congress, and the congress is very dominated by Republicans, are inclined to fall behind Trump. Their inclination is to support him he’s won a national election, which Republicans have had trouble doing after all for some time. And not only that but Trump has a real hold over their voters and they see that. Now it has to be said most Republican members of congress won in their district or in their state by a bigger margin than Trump did. That’s true of all the Republican senators who ran this year they all ran ahead of Trump. But for now most of them are all behaving in a way that suggests that they are awed by the hold he has over their voters. They didn’t expect him to be able to do this, these are professional politicians. They believe they understand the electorate and the business they’re in. None of them, almost none of them expected Trump to win the Republican nomination and then very few of them thought he would win the General election. And so they come into this period having been humbled and so are inclined, at first, to see where he heads and try and support him. There are certainly some exceptions to that, especially when it comes to international affairs where you see people like John McCain, Marco Rubio really stake out resistance to Trump’s inclinations in foreign affairs. But for now I’ve been very struck by the general inclination in congress to fall behind him. It’s hard see if that will last, it’s early days, but that seems to me to be the way that things are starting out.

Audience member: If Trump fails to deliver on his policies to his population where can any political party best place themselves to win support from that population?

Yuval Levin: It’s a great question. I think one lesson of this election for both parties it seems to me is they need to speak more forthrightly to the Americans who have been left behind by the 21st century economy. They can’t keep saying “this will work out” and they can’t remain where they’ve been on some key issues including, I think, especially immigration and perhaps trade. It’s not at all clear to me that this is what the parties are learning from this situation. Republicans in a sense may have to learn that lesson, Trump is the President. Democrats have reacted to this election in way that’s very understandable but may end up being very counter-productive for them. They are the anti-Trump party. There is a majority of the public in America now that’s uncomfortable in different ways with Trump. His approval ratings are in the low 40s so you can see why Democrats would see that as a way forward. It’s a natural thing for them to do. But it does seem to me that for now they are not yet trying to learn the lessons that this election might teach them. How could they do better in those areas where real swing voters are in the upper mid-west? How could they offer an economic agenda that speaks more to people in these areas and they could. There is no question that a fair amount of what the left has to offer would speak to these voters quite likely more than what the right has to offer on straight forward economic policy. That is how to think about the welfare state and what it ought to do and what its purpose ought to be. It seems to me that the Democrats are doubling down on their identity of the party of the emerging American elite. Id that continues that strikes me as quite a mistake, there too its early days there are certainly Democrats who see the challenge who see the opportunity. For Republicans I think it’s an opportunity for learning from the experience of Trump what problems there are to be solved. There I think there is a lot to learn. There’s less to learn about how to solve those problems, that’s just not what Trump has offered. But on the right too conservative should think what our ideas have to say to these problems. That the entire political elite in both parties ignored for most of the 21st century and now ought to be able to see after this momentous election.

Audience member: What happened to the Tea Party and does it support Trump? And will California secede from the United States?

Yuval Levin: Well, that wouldn’t work out very well for California. And secession in general has not worked out very well in American history. The Tea Party is a very interesting question. It seems to me that what we’ve learned over the last year is that not that the Tea Party has changed but that it never quite was what people thought it was. And this related to the question of how the congress is falling in line behind the President. Trump’s strongest supporters early on in the Republican primaries when there were many other options were exactly the voters who had sent Tea Party members to congress. It’s those member who have in some ways been the most dogmatic conservatives in politics over the last few years. It’s those members who saw their own voters turn out not to be quite what they thought they were. One thing we’ve learned, it seems to me, is that the Tea Party was less about what its leaders proposed to do and more about the tone of frustration that its leaders were able to channel into American politics. You can see the kind of transformation of some of the culture that has raised up the Tea Party Fox news or talk radio that has been very important for older voters suddenly switched from being a Tea Party voice to a Donald Trump voice. It was a response to what was going on on the ground. It was not driving voters it was responding to voters. A kind of panicked recognition of where those voters were. So I think those member of congress who could have been thought of as representing that Tea Party electorate are ones who have the greatest challenge ahead of them in the age of Trump. Trump disagrees with them very profoundly on a lot of the important things they ran on. He has no interest in balancing the federal budget. No real concern for the sustainability of the welfare state. He doesn’t talk about smaller government, in a lot of ways he talks about larger government. And so the question is why did that speak to voters? What does this tell members of congress? I think that’s something to watch over the next few years.

Audience member: You said, if I understood you correctly, that the right has had no coherent foreign policy doctrine in America for the last 15 years but surely at the beginning of that period during the first Bush administration there was the “Project for the New American Century”.

Yuval Levin: Think about that for a second: “Project for the New American Century.” What is that? What is the old American Century? In a sense that was an inertia project. Their argument was the logic of old Cold War foreign policy thinking should extend into the post-Cold War world. It wasn’t crazy, but it actually wasn’t a coherent approach to a post-Cold War context

Audience member: If a may just one more tiny point. Trump has spoken a lot about wanting to bring back jobs to America and putting tariffs on Chinese imports. There is a lot of infrastructure that needs to be repaired in America. Might he not try his hand in a public sphere job creation scheme?

Yuval Levin: Two great questions. I would say very briefly on the foreign policy point coherent is maybe not the right word, but it was not a coherent response to realities of global politics after the Cold War. It was an attempt to keep alive both the institutions and the arrangements and the assumptions of Cold War foreign policy in America and it was very successful. They lived until this last year they defined American foreign policy thinking until this past year almost entirely by inertia. In some way I think you’re right. There’s very likely to be a move for some kind of significant infrastructure project in America. There’s not a lot of agreement about what that would look like. The United States is a vast nation and to think about infrastructure from the centre in such a large nation can be very difficult. This is what Barack Obama tried to do when he first came in and did do. He passed a very large infrastructure bill much larger than anything really Trump can expect to do and it’s not particularly clear it had the effect that he wanted. I think there will be a lot of conservatives who have some trouble with what Trump wants to do here with respect to infrastructure, but I would expect that to be one of the things he pushes for in his first year, absolutely.

Audience Member: Thank you. What you seem to have described is an election victory which happened despite the Republican Party running [inaudible] (45:50). So if that the case going on two years, what would the Republican Party have learned about how to invest the problems which trump [inaudible] (46:01).

Yuval Levin: I think it’s a little more complicated than that. In a sense if you look at the general election Trump won a very characteristic Republican victory. His electoral coalition was the Republican electoral coalition. Almost every Republican voter voted for him. You’re certainly right to say the primaries had the feel of the party fighting this man who then won leadership of it. It was a very unusual situation. Trump won over 40% of the vote in the Republican Party in a very large field that started off with over 15 candidates and so that plurality was more than enough for him to win comfortably the nomination of the Party. I think the tension between those two things that is you had a fight over the identity of the Republican Party followed by basically republicans just voting for republican in the general election. That tension is going to persist, the question of whether things have changed and should change, or whether what’s happened is the party that has existed has been empowered is going to be a very, very different and intensely fought question in the next few years. You see it in the appointments that Trump himself is making, a lot of them are just the same people and any republican would have appoint to senior position. The administration expect the President, or at least outside the inner circle of the White House just doesn’t look all that different from what any republican administration would have looked like. The republican congress is the republican congress, it’s almost entirely the very same people who were there, a fair number of who did fight Trump in the course of 2016. So the question is, is this a victory for the Republication party or is this obvious evidence that the party needs to dramatically change? I think that you can make the case for both of those things and that will be fought out over the next few years. The fact that it will be fought out suggests to me that there will be change, there’s no way that you come out of that kind of struggle and are not changed by it and it’s inconceivable that you come would out of four years of a Trump presidency with the same American right you came into it with there will be significant changes. But it’s very hard to say just what it will look like because this struggle really will define the outcome, the fight about what American conservatism means at this point, rather than simply Trump’s vision which is just not all that worked out, it seems to me that that makes the very heart of this point that say that what the American right looks like going into the next presidential election.

Audience member: What do you think the President should do about North Korean and Iran?

Yuval Levin: You know I have absolutely no idea and I think it’s probably fair to say that he doesn’t either at this point. Now that’s not exactly meant as an insult, it’s not really obvious what the United States should do. I don’t think it’s clear where he intends to go. He’s appointed a Secretary of State and a Secretary of Defence who, it seems to me, are in quite a different place than he is as a general matter and thinking about America’s role in the world and thinking about how its alliances should work, and probably thinking about Iran in particular, I am not so sure about North Korea. But you know your question does suggest that we’ve now seen month of what has felt like intense dysfunction, almost all of which has been the result of entirely self-created problems, problems that have arisen over the course of Trump’s trying to begin, to advance an agenda. The question of what things look like when problems come at them, not from within but from without, is a very serious and troubling question in light of what we have seen in this first month.

Audience member: insofar as……….. of the anguish, frustration and anger of the American voters, and insofar as the inexorable march of technology will only succeed in throwing more people out of work………. and if they feel like what happened in Europe where some of the frustrations and anger are likely to give rise to the rise of the extreme right. What happens if Trump fails, whom will people turn to then, how will their frustration be expressed by…..? [Some parts inaudible] (50:22-51:21)

 Yuval Levin: it’s a great and troubling question I would say the economic and the more cultural frustrations that voters bring to the table really can’t be separated in this situation. So if you talk to economists they just can’t figure out why people are so frustrated. The unemployment rate in the United States last month was 4.8 per cent, that’s very low, full employment.

Audience member: [inaudible] (51:44)

Yuval Levin: Yeah, in a way right, at the same time as such low employment there is such low inflation and very low interest rates. These three things together are very hard to achieve. John Maynard Keynes would’ve said that we’ve discovered the secret, it’s very rare to see such things. Now there’s slow growth and there’s been slow growth for a long time and that certainly has a lot to do with the difficulties that a lot of people face, wage growth has been very slow for really the bottom two thirds of the American Labour market and economic growth in general has been slower than Americans have been used to. As you say the solutions to that are not obvious to anyone and the problems in the labour market simply aren’t driven by China, they’re driven largely by automation. Globalisation certainly had an effect on the American economy, but it had that effect largely in the 1970s and 80s. What’s happening now is not just going to China, what’s happening now is a result of a very, very efficient American industrial sector. America has more manufacturing that it did ten years ago no less, but fewer industrial jobs and as you say, nobody has a formula for solving this problem. So that certainly suggests that making lofty promises could turn out to be a big mistake. Now of course that’s what you do when you run for president of the United States but it seems to me that, just as you say, it would be easier to run into a situation where frustration or failure to achieve these aims raises a question of what comes next. I think if Trump fails, if Trump fails, the question of how is very important, if he’s perceived to have failed as a kind of disorder or dysfunction in his approach to administration, if someone could run next time on a return to normal then we are one situation. It’s imaginable, it’s a little hard to believe that you could run that way, but it’s imaginable. Basically, on the other hand a failed that looks like it was caused by resistance of the old system and the answer would have to be an even more assertive break with the past then we could see politics move much further away from the normal, familiar and traditional. I would say that this election that the feel of the end of something much more than the beginning of something new. We had two 70 year olds running for President of the United States, it really did feel like {inaudible] (54:26). Much more that – this is what the future looks like. But, that’s not to say that anybody has any answers to how to address the kind of problems that we have to help American thrive in the future. But the question to ask if the question you asked. It’s just long way of saying I wish I had an answer to it.

Audience member: Thank you. There has never been anything else quite like Trump, I doubt we will see anything quite like it. He seems very unpredictable, he just gets up has an idea and ‘right, that’s all we are going to do today’. He’s very good a scapegoating enemies, it’s the Mexicans, its Europe, it’s the EU. They’re the cause of all your problems. There are certain politicians like that, like Mussolini, was very good at finding enemies that they could point the finger at. I’m very concerned about the economic situation, the banking regulations are going to be scrapped, there could be another huge banking crisis with a trillion dollar deficit. You could have huge problems with the economy. With Trumps physiological profile what’s he going to do next?

Yuval Levin: It’s not a cheerful question, but I share your worry. Looks, the core problem is the character question. I think there is an argument to be made for a certain type of populist conservatism in American politics, the trouble is the impulsivity, the trouble is the narcissism, the trouble is a universe where he himself occupies 90%. That’s a huge problem, I have no justification to offer you for that way of being president of the United States. I think it is a huge problem that ought to worry anybody who is concerned with what falls within the power of the President of the United States, which means that it ought to worry everybody. There is certainly some promise in what Trump makes possible by the sheer disruption that he has brought to a political order that needed to be woken up, but there e is enormous danger in what Trump himself brings to the table. There’s just no way around it.

David Davies: We only have three minutes left so I suggest we have quick-fire question and answers from now on. My quick on is this, given what we are seeing in the UK at the moment could lead up to the breakup of the Labour party, could the Republican Party or the Democrat Party do the same as a result of what’s going on in the States.

Yuval Levin: I suspect not, the American constitutional system is really geared toward the making of two parties. It’s a first past the post system at every level, it survived with two parties through crises much, much larger than what we seem to be seeing now. So I would suspect that that’s not going to change.

David Davies: May I just ask for people who haven’t spoken already, you sir.

Audience member: what strategic agenda do you see behind the unprecedented pro-Russia line?

Yuval Levin: It’s a wonderful question, I wish I had an answer to it. It’s one of the most bizarre elements of all this is the unwillingness to say single bad word about Russia. I simply don’t know.

Audience member: One of the constructive things about Trump is that it forces you to ask in this post-truth society, fake news society what is truth. I’ll try to keep it short and just give one example. After 15 years of President Bush, President Obama, Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Cameron since 9/11 have assured us that Islam is a religion of peace. They’ve told us over and over again that Islam is a religion of peace, but [inaudible] (58:56)…. they’re lying to me, I won’t go through it now because we haven’t got time, but Angela Merkel and the sort of stuff that’s been going on in Germany, she’s lost control of what is true and what is untrue. [Inaudible] (59:20). Trump looks at CNN and says you are fake news and I think we are all delighted in seeing that [David Davis talking over]

Yuval Levin: There’s no denying the sheer thrill of that and it really is a kind of thrill of recognition in a sense. There are things about what we’ve heard out leaders tell us over and over that we’re simply not supposed to believe or say certain things, some of which are fairly obviously true and so I absolutely think that is an important part of the power of Trump and it’s also something at I hope will be taken away from the experience whatever becomes of it. These kinds of untouchable issues just have to be touched, it makes no sense to say that we are not allowed to express our concerns about some of the biggest problems that the country and the West face.

Audience member: Is it the assumption that Roe Verses Wade will be overturned [inaudible] (1:00:13)?

Yuval Levin: Well honestly I think it’s quite possible. So Roe Verses Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion throughout the United States, very radically all the way through the end of pregnancy. That decision has always hung on a single vote, since the 1990s, a single vote in the Supreme Court. The appointment Trump is making now will not change that, he’s replacing one opponent of Roe Verses Wade with another presumably. But if one of the more liberal justices retires, or God forbid dies, these are lifetime appointments, I do think that you could be looking at different board and therefore Roe V Wade could be overturned. I think that would be a good thing, I think Roe verses Wade is incredibly radical abortion law, if it were overturned the question of abortion would return to the states in the United States, and you could have a very wide range of abortion regimes in the US at that point. It would look at little more like what you see around the rest of the developed world. People don’t really think about how incredibly radical American abortion law is, there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the West. I do think that needs to change.

Audience member: Can Trump be impeached over his connections with Russia.

Yuval Levin: Well the impeachment power is essentially unlimited power but it can only be exercised by Congress and the Republican congress isn’t likely to impeach Trump, except under circumstances that make it absolutely unavoidable for them to do it.

Audience member: [inaudible] (1:02:02 – 1:02:57)

Yuval Levin: My own view is that the frustration runs much deeper than that, it has cultural elements. I think it’s driven by a kind of breakdown, fragmentation, fracture of institutions throughout American life, within the last half century. The breakdown of the family, the loss of faith in large institutions public and private, the breakdown of economic security for a lot of workers with low levels of skills. These things are all connected. They’re related, there’s a very deep sense in American politics that the country just isn’t what it used to be, and what people by that is that it used to be really in a time that personally most Americans don’t remember in the 50’s and 60’s. Oddly that’s the norm, that’s what’s taken to be the normal situation in America and a lot of our politics is devoted to bemoaning how things have changed since that time, when you could go downtown and get a factory job and keep it for life. The fact is that was a very, very unusual time after the war the United States was the only developed economy that was not decimated by World War Two and for a time really did bestride the world. To think of that as the norm to be dissatisfied by anything that falls short of it is really a recipe for endless frustration, but I think that’s part of what’s going on in American politics.

David Davies: Okay and finally, well I’ll tell you what, there are two people with their hands up, would you like to ask your questions together and perhaps Yuval can answer. Shall we do ladies first?

Audience member 1: With Donald Trump as President of the United States of America what do you see for means of hope for peace in the Middle East?

Audience member 2: the ideas of A. Rand, are they likely to make a comeback? I’ve been reading a lot about [inaudible] (1:04:48) 

David Davies: A. Rand and the Middle East.

Unknown: That would be an interesting thesis title.

Yuval Levin: I think I would just say no to both questions, peace in the Middle East is probably going to take more that Donal Trump, I don’t know whether we’ll be discernibly further from it but I doubt we’ll be much closer to it. I would say American politics is probably going away from Ayn Rand not toward Ayn Rand but I think there is a strong desire for solidarity that’s evidence in both the turn for Trump and the turn towards Sanders but it simply isn’t the libertarian thing. I think both parties are moving away from the rhetoric of liberty toward a rhetoric of solidarity in very clumsy ways, but I think that’s really the general direction. So I really don’t see this as an age of Ayn Rand rising.

David Davies: Ok, well thank you very much indeed.

HJS



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