Today there are many Republicans who blame Trump for the de-Reaganization of the Republican Party and wistfully pine for the 1980s era of gentleman’s politics. This is, by the large, the main source of anxiety about Trump in some Republican quarters, and it is also the driving momentum of the so-called “Never Trump” movement.
I came of age in the Reagan area, and I too prefer a more civil political climate. But that is not the America we live in now. Reagan’s policies and style were perfectly calibrated to deal with the specific problems and specific political environment of the late 1970s. Today, however, a good deal of Reaganism is obsolete. Not only has stagflation disappeared and the Soviet Union collapsed but Reagan himself would be a fish out of water in the dark, roiled currents of today.
But Lincoln wouldn’t. His political environment was even more roiled than the one we have now. And Lincoln would have seen that, in this environment, an environment made by a gangster clan of Democrats like Obama and Hillary, you don’t get very far with Reagan’s gentlemanly style. In short, Trump is the man of the hour, not Reagan. Trump has the chance to do what Reagan never even dreamed about, taking a page from Lincoln and smashing the Democratic plantation.
When we consider Trump’s two big Republican “heresies”—his positions on trade and immigration—we can see that they might be heresies from Reagan’s point of view, but they were not heresies from Lincoln’s point of view. As Gabor Boritt shows in Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, Lincoln’s GOP was unabashedly protectionist and viewed tariffs as a necessary and valid economic strategy to protect American workers and American industry from mercantilist competition from European powers.
And while many progressives as well as conservatives insist that tariffs have never worked, Trump seems to be making them work, as evidenced by the recent agreement with the EU to lower its tariffs. Historically, Boritt shows that America had tariffs from Hamilton’s time through the end of the 19th century, and it was during this period that America grew most rapidly and became the largest economy in the world, surpassing Great Britain.
On immigration, too, Trump and Lincoln can be seen as generally aligned. This point is hardly obvious, but we get a vital clue about how Lincoln would have thought about today’s immigration debate but considering the position Lincoln actually took on extending civil rights—the right to full citizenship, the right to vote, the right to serve on juries—to blacks. Lincoln basically held that it is wrong for any people, anywhere, to enslave another people because slavery is wrong or, to put it philosophically, against natural right.
But natural rights are not the same as civil rights. Civil rights are the product of living in a particular community. The community is a social compact between the citizens who have formed that community. These existing citizens have the right to decide who gets to be a member of their club, and on what terms.
For this reason, Lincoln insisted that opposition to slavery and the extension of civil protections to blacks were two separate issues. Before the war Lincoln was committed to fighting only for the former; only after the war did he move tentatively in the direction of the latter.
It follows from this that Lincoln would have agreed with Trump that natives are prior to immigrants, and that natives are the ones who get to decide who is allowed to immigrate, and in what number, and on what conditions. This, by the way, applies to decisions both about legal and illegal immigration.
But hold it, the progressive will say. “America is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants are the ones who made America.” Actually, this is only a partial truth. As the founders and Lincoln all recognized, the first Americans were not immigrants. They were settlers. There’s a difference.
Immigrants are people who come individually, in families, or in small groups to a country that has already been created and established. Immigrants, one may say, are people who apply to be members of a club whose rules appeal to them. Settlers, however, are the original group that forms that community in the first place and charts out its basic rules or constitution.
Trump somehow knows all this, either through learning or just intuitively. And ironically Trump in adopting the policies of Lincoln, rather than those of Reagan, is proving that he is the first Republican since Reagan to win the support of the group once known as the “Reagan Democrats.”
Since Reagan, the GOP has unsuccessfully wooed these voters by anodyne appeals to abortion and other social issues. Trump is the first one to appeal to them both on economic and social issues, and that is why the descendants of the Reagan Democrats now have a new name: Trumpsters.
Trump is the only Republican on the scene today who actually has a chance to finish off the Democratic plantation. To do this he must re-Lincolnize the GOP. This means going further than opposing racial preferences and affirmative action. He must eliminate racial categories from the Census and promote a new civil rights act that outlaws using those categories to discriminate against any ethnic group, black, white, brown or yellow. Republicans have been talking color-blindness for a long time; it’s time to implement it.
Second, Trump must invade the Democratic plantation with creative policies that restore entrepreneurship, jobs, and opportunity to America’s barrios, ghettoes and native American reservations. Surely there are blacks, Latinos and native Americans in these godforsaken communities who would welcome a chance to learn, to improve themselves, and to prosper there.
Trump and the GOP can help this process through a bold combination of tax incentives, deregulation, arm-twisting of the kind that Trump specializes in, as well as the suspension of destructive family and social policies that encourage illegitimacy, crime and civic breakdown. The GOP already has the formula; what’s needed now are the spine and the nerve to put it into effect.
It won’t be easy. Trump needs the Republicans behind him on this because the Democrats, who are already in a fevered mode, are going to go berserk. We are likely to see a Democratic uproar echo through the halls of Congress, reverberate through the media, cause fainting spells in Hollywood, and crack the tectonic plates of the culture. Trump and the Republicans—united, calm and collected—should bring it on with the same resolve that Lincoln said, in effect, to the Democratic planters of his time: bring it on.
To be clear, the long-term goal for Trump and the GOP is not merely to improve life on the plantation. The goal, rather, is its shutdown, the panic-filled dispersion of the overseers, in short, total emancipation. Once these hellholes are permanently transformed, no longer will America be plagued by the wretched politics of white supremacy and ethnic exploitation. Whites, blacks and browns can all dream the American dream and pursue happiness not through identity politics but rather as individuals, as families, and as Americans.
Finally, we need the cleansing antidote of truth. Democrats today are not content with promoting lies; they are insistent that we collaborate and bow down to their lies. This is not a new demand. “The question recurs,” Lincoln said of the Democrats in his Cooper Union speech in February 1860, “what will satisfy them?” And Lincoln answered, “this and only this: cease to call slavery wrong and join them in calling it right. Silence will not be tolerated—we must place ourselves avowedly with them.” The enforcement of political correctness has been a Democratic strategy from Lincoln’s day to our own.
For too long conservatives and Republicans have allowed big lies to take over the culture and, in some cases, their minds. This progressive cultural hegemony has polluted our education system and our media with fake narratives and fake history. It has also created a kind of Stockholm syndrome among conservative intellectuals. “In our hearts we know we’re wrong.” But we’re not wrong. We’ve been lied to. It’s time for us to stop apologizing—we have nothing to apologize for—and go on the offensive. Truth is our deadliest weapon, if we will deploy it.
The defeat of the plantation would make Trump the first great president of the 21st century, and the GOP the worthy custodian of American ideals. With our support, Trump can bring to an end the vicious train of exploitation that the Democratic Party has wrought for nearly 200 years. What better way to rescue the principles of the founders, and to vindicate the philosophical statesmanship of Lincoln, than to sweep away this blight on the American experiment, this nightmarish interruption of the American dream?
“The fiery trial through which we pass,” Lincoln said in his Annual Message to Congress in 1862, “will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.” The point, he had already stated in his Peoria speech several years earlier, was not merely to save the Union. Rather, “If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union, but we shall have so saved it as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving.” This America worth saving is the object of our striving; it is what Lincoln termed “the last best hope on earth.”
This article is excerpted from Dinesh D’Souza’s new book Death of a Nation, out July 31. His movie of the same title opens nationwide on Friday, August 3.