Jedediah Purdy writes: What does Donald Trump stand for?
It’s hard to tell. His inflammatory calls during the campaign to build a wall at the Mexican border and ban Muslims from entering the country were balanced by seemingly moderate positions on gay rights and health care. On trade and infrastructure, he can sound a little like a Democratic populist. Some of Trump’s voters see him as a pragmatist who would govern like a businessman (whatever that means).
Now that Trump is president-elect, pending the Electoral College vote on December 19, the question has taken on monumental importance. Trump’s Cabinet secretaries are emerging slowly. But we do know something about the people shaping the transition. Two of Trump’s close advisers have known views on some big-picture issues about the world, and if you read them, there’s a troubling commonality that goes far beyond any specific policy areas: They are our first clear view of Trumpism as an illiberal theory of politics with deep doubts about democracy.
The advisers are Steve Bannon, the right-wing media provocateur who ran Breitbart News, then Trump’s campaign, and has now been named to the influential post of “chief strategist,” a role in which he is expected to have the new president’s ear in the White House. The other is Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley libertarian who spoke at Trump’s convention, gave more than $1 million in support of his campaign and is now a member of Trump’s transition team. Although Thiel says he doesn’t intend to have a full-time position in Trump’s administration, he reportedly has been feeding the president-elect ideas from a Silicon Valley “brain trust,” and a principal at Thiel’s venture capital fund has been named to Trump’s defense transition team. The speeches and writings of these two political outsiders suggest that beyond policy, there’s something much deeper at work: an impulse to reshape the country, and the world, in a way that would change the meaning of democracy in unsettling ways—and, maybe, ultimately undermine it. [Continue reading…]