02 December 2016

Why Trump Won: The Ideology

Ideology is a slippery concept. To some it means a cluster of core moral and political values. To some it connotes a intense, even delusional devotion to some kind political principles that makes one impervious to contrary evidence. To others, it appears to be a vague or inchoate emotional attitude or worldview.

Although the first definition best captures my own conception, it seems to me that in this astonishing presidential election, an ideology in this last sense was at work. It resembles an old ideology with a long history in the Anglo-American world and on occasion seems to reappear in America. According to one historian, it emerged among English gentry during the Stuart dynasty in the 1620s-40s. These members of the gentry, whose affection and influence resided in the counties in which they lived, grew increasingly suspicious of and hostile to the Court--the monarch and all those who gravitated to it. It was the Country against the Court.


Lawrence Stone, in his Causes of the English Revolution, describes it:

“It was a vision of environmental superiority over the city; the Country was peaceful and clean, a place of grass and trees and birds, the city was ugly and dirty and noisy, a place of clattering carts and coaches, coal dust and smog, and piles of human excrement. It was also a vision of moral superiority over the Court: the Country was virtuous, the Court wicked; the Country was thrifty, the Court extravagant; the Country was honest, the Court was corrupt; the Country was chaste and heterosexual, the Court was promiscuous and homosexual; the Country sober, the Court drunken; the Country was nationalist, the Court xenophile; the Country was healthy, the Court diseased; the Country was outspoken, the Court sycophantic; the Country was the defender of old ways and old liberties, the Court the promoter of administration novelties and new tyrannical practices; the Courts solidly Protestant, even Puritan, the Court deeply tainted by popish leanings.”


This "Country" ideology served as the backdrop to the English Civil Wars of the 1640s and of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, both of which ended the Stuart dynasty's attempts at arbitrary rule without the assent of Parliament. It even persisted into the 1720s, as Whig Party adherents calling themselves "Patriots" and growing disgusted with the perceived corruption of government by their own party (Whigs in Name Only? WINOs?), began a  sustained polemical attack on Court Whigs.

The most famous collection of those verbal volleys were collected and published as Cato's Letters.


And aside from its anti-Catholicism, this "Country" ideology persists to this day in the United States. Instead of the "Country party" call it Nixon's silent majority, or Reagan's moral majority, or the Tea Party, or Trump's populist revolt. Instead of the Court, call it the establishment.


Does this election portend a triumph of the Country party? Only time will tell.


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