“Trumpism” – What Is It All About

Trumpism is political ideology, style of governance, political movement and set of mechanisms for acquiring and keeping power that are associated with United States president Donald Trump and his political base. It is an American politics version of the right-wing to far-right, national-populist sentiment seen in multiple nations worldwide and holds some aspects of illiberal democracy.


Trumpism started its development predominantly during Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. It denotes a populist political method that suggests nationalistic answers to complex political, economic, and social problems. These inclinations are refracted into such policy preferences as immigration restrictionism, trade protectionism, reluctance to enter into foreign entanglements, and opposition to entitlement reform.


As a political method, populism is not driven by any particular ideology. Former National Security Advisor and former close Trump advisor John Bolton states this is true about Trump, disputing that “Trumpism” even exists in any meaningful philosophical sense, emphasizing that “[t]he man does not have a philosophy. And people can try and draw lines between the dots of his decisions. They will fail.”


Trumpism differs from classical Abraham LincolnRepublicanism in many ways regarding free trade, immigration, equality, checks and balances in federal government, and the separation of church and state. Peter J. Katzenstein of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center believes that Trumpism rests on three pillars, namely nationalism, religion and race.

The roots of Trumpism in the United States can be traced to the Jacksonian era according to scholars Walter Russell Mead, Peter Katzenstein and Edwin Kent Morris. Mead, a noted historian and distinguished fellow at the conservative-leaning Hudson Institute acknowledges that the Jacksonians were often a xenophobic, “whites only” political movement.

Andrew Jackson’s followers felt he was one of them, enthusiastically supporting his defiance of politically correct norms of the nineteenth century and even constitutional law when they stood in the way of public policy popular among his followers.

Jackson ignored the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Worcester v. Georgia and initiated the forced Cherokee removal from their treaty protected lands to benefit white locals at the cost of between 2,000 and 6,000 dead Cherokee men, women, and children.

Notwithstanding such cases of Jacksonian inhumanity, Mead’s view is that Jacksonianism provides the historical precedent explaining the movement of followers of Trump, marrying grass-roots disdain for elites, deep suspicion of overseas entanglements, and obsession with American power and sovereignty.

Mead thinks this “hunger in America for a Jacksonian figure” drives followers towards Trump but cautions that historically “he is not the second coming of Andrew Jackson”, observing that “his proposals tended to be pretty vague and often contradictory”, exhibiting the common weakness of newly elected populist leaders, commenting early in his presidency that “now he has the difficulty of, you know, ‘How do you govern?”

Michelle Goldberg, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, compares “the spirit of Trumpism” to classical fascist themes.

The “mobilizing vision” of fascism is of “the national community rising phoenix-like after a period of encroaching decadence which all but destroyed it”, which “sounds a lot like MAGA” (Make America Great Again) according to Goldberg.


Similarly, like the Trump movement, fascism sees a “need for authority by natural chiefs (always male), culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s historical destiny.” They believe in “the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason.”


George Will, another opinion writer, also notes similarities, although he finds fascism “more interesting”, stating that fascism and Trumpism are both “a mood masquerading as a doctrine.” National unity is based “on shared domestic dreads” such as the media (“enemies of the people”), “elites” and “globalists” replacing the fascist’s “Jews” in the case of Trump. Solutions coming not from tedious “incrementalism and conciliation” but from an “unfettered leader” proclaiming “only I can fix it.”


The political base is kept entertained with mass rallies, that inevitably created a contempt “for the led” by the strongman. Both are based on machismo, in the case of Trumpism, “appeals to those in thrall to country-music manliness: ‘We’re truck-driving, beer-drinking, big-chested Americans too freedom-loving to let any itsy-bitsy virus make us wear masks.’