The boilerplate that comes from both state and national sources is that Duke’s belief that his time has come stems from the success of Trump’s prominent nationalism as a campaign theme, which on some occasions has led to accusations of Trump stereotyping minorities and foreigners, most recently regarding parents of Muslim army officer killed in Iraq. Of course, Duke stopped apologizing long ago after failed attempts for statewide office for displaying unvarnished white supremacist views that fit as a subset.
But to allege Trump harbors nativist sentiments that connect to Duke’s racism through some current national mood on the right misses the crucial role that the follies of liberalism have contributed in making this linkage. Properly understood, naïve populism nurtured and sustained on the left has acted as a Colistin-resistant E. coli crossing over to the right.
Undoubtedly the same audience that Duke attracted in Louisiana a quarter-century ago would find Trump’s message appealing, for both preach a populist message of a Manichean world where the little guy gets the shaft. This mirrors the view from the populism’s natural home, the left, that alleges class privilege unfairly accrued by some unjustly enriches them both monetarily and in terms of societal power over others.
Naturally, this ideology overlooks the inconvenient truth that resources, where free markets prevail with no parties separately or combined able to engage in monopoly nor monopsony, accrues in proportion to the service rendered to society by the production of that good or service. Government intervention beyond any legitimate need to create multiple uncoordinated buyers or sellers distorts this relationship, privileging some by distributing greater resources than deserved by contribution and punishing others who receive less than they merit.
This blinds liberalism, which focuses on economic and related forces as defining classes in society, to the fact that government instead defines these, in a fashion far more arbitrarily dependent upon the ability of groups to wield power that bears no relationship to contribution made to society’s well-being. While conservatism rejects class-based thinking and concentrates on maximizing the ability of the individual to resist interference, allowing him to pursue voluntary ends in concert with others for each to maximize their life prospects, liberalism teaches class warfare that encourages not cooperation, but conflict, using government as the means to redress reputed grievances.
When cross-pollinated from left to right, rather than some unfairly powerful shadowy cabal disproportionately white, male, rich, and culturally traditional that government needs to take down a peg or two, populism sees government as in league with special interests using force to take without justification what others have earned. While to a certain extent redistributionist policy of government does precisely this, populism on the right personifies and personalizes it to the special interest clients involved.
So, for example, when Democrats at their national convention unapologetically present illegal aliens as examples of a constituency to support, those who live above board can become sickened that lawbreakers receive special privileges and benefits at their expenses by their suffering lower wages, job losses, and an amplified threat of terrorism, leading to antipathy of foreign, largely nonwhite, groups. By definition, liberalism scapegoats, and the populism it nourishes when grafted onto conservatism makes it too convenient for those on the right to scapegoat indiscriminately the constituencies that government favors.
Thus, the politics of resentment that Duke somewhat successfully exploited 25 years ago in Louisiana and that today nationally Trump has muscled his way into becoming spokesman for derive from an unprecedentedly virulent liberalism espoused and often imposed by the presidency, backed by allies in Congress, over the past eight years that Trump seeks. The stench of liberalism privileging certain special interests has become such that to escape this that more and more people whose instincts and inclinations favor the right have embraced populist tendencies. That conservative governing elites and their allies too often have shown lack of confidence in expounding upon or an insufficient adherence to principle in their behaviors and rhetoric only have contributed to this trend.
Nativism, jingoism, or whatever label gets applied to Trump’s appeal, which when mixed with genuine racism translates into Duke’s much smaller appeal, becomes credible only under certain circumstances. Continued unprincipled endorsement of client groups by the left in power combined with reticence to offer a principled alternative on the right has created the environment in which politicians not of the left making these appeals can become relevant in elections. But these do not define conservatism, regardless that Duke will draw few votes or whether Trump wins.
Whether a populist right retains electoral potency after 2016 depends not so much on its success but upon liberalism’s ability to hold power and the excesses that result that fuel it, and upon the willingness of principled conservatism to assert itself as an alternative.