The philosopher Alain Badiou was once moved to write a book called The Meaning of Sarkozy. In that text, he put the ostentatious French President in the context of a long tradition of French reaction. When people consider the rise of Donald Trump, they might do well to locate him in the histories of American populist reaction. It is wrong to underestimate the threat posed by the Trump movement, but it is vital not to see its emergence as something without precedent.
For many, Trump will only be seen as a tweeting businessman. The social media allows him to pose as a threat to establishment hegemony. Nevertheless, it is evident that there will be an accommodation between Trump and the American elite. The governing philosophy is likely to be a compromise between the instincts of one and the structures of the other.
While the history of reactionary America is a complex one, several presidential candidates have attempted to fight social progress. Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon are just two examples of individuals who sought to create a “silent majority” for reaction.
Populism is about the fashioning of a people, but it need not mean giving them authority. Populists of the right can speak for the masses without satisfying the demands they have imagined for them. Philosopher Jacques Rancière argued that populism:
“hides and reveals at the same time the great wish of oligarchy: to govern without people, which is to say without a divided people; to govern without politics.”