What if Donald Trump’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness?
America’s 45th president came to power through a diverse coalition—as represented by two of his most significant appointees, Reince Preibus, former chair of the Republican National Committee, as White House chief of staff, and Steve Bannon, alt-right supporter and former Breitbart editor, as his senior counselor. The twin poles of Trumpism.
But a house divided cannot stand for long.
Bannon became infamous as executive chair of Breitbart News, a controversial site often described (even by Bannon) as the internet platform of the alt-right. Preibus, on the other hand, chaired a GOP that portrayed itself as the keeper of universal, traditional Judeo-Christian values.
This election united unenthusiastically loyal party conservatives (who presumably supported Trump out of self-interest) with disaffected radicals convinced that Trump championed their (until now) publicly disdained ideas.
Whether Democrats, progressives, and other Americans can exploit these contradictions remains unknown—but they may not need to. Eventually, the alt-right, which demands extreme actions, may be forced to confront its untenable alliance with mainstream conservatism. In other words, Trump’s coalition may soon be working at odds with itself.
Consider, as a case study, Donald Trump’s recent decision to issue a presidential directive reinstating the so-called “Mexico City policy” (also known as the global gag rule) prohibiting US aid organizations from supporting international groups that back abortion and reproductive rights.
The dissonance of this action extends beyond the image of Trump—a white man surrounded by other white men—signing a directive that will negatively influence non-American women’s health.
For Christian conservatives like vice-president Mike Pence, restricting abortion and reproductive rights is a top priority; for other members of Trump’s base, however, defending Western nations and their borders is more important. These priorities may be incompatible.
Trump’s most radical supporters—like Richard Spencer, who once cried “Hail Trump” at a post-election rally and, more recently, was punched in the face during an interview in DC—promote a constellation of ideas that advocate white supremacy or warn of a “white genocide.” Those who believe in the potential elimination or extinction of the white race have been radicalized, as Jezebel writer Brendan O’Connor argues, by “anxiety over fertility and immigration trends.” (Notorious alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos once wrote on Breitbart that white women should eschew birth control in order “to breed enough to keep the Muslim invaders at bay.”)
By cutting US funding to organizations that support birth control, reproductive rights, and education, Trump is actually making it more likely that Muslims will reproduce, and that they’ll do so faster. I’m being a bit glib here: Despite racist rhetoric in perverse right-wing memes, Muslims are not reproducing in some kind of manic, uncontrollable fashion. The Muslim population is currently growing faster than any other religious community, but according to Pew, the Muslim fertility rate is also projected to decline over the next 40 years, settling into patterns similar to other religious communities. The presidential directive could help undermine that pattern.
More clearly, this directive drives a wedge between America and the rest of the world, and between America and the Muslim world. If America reneges on its secular and liberal values, those who espouse similar values will be handicapped. Far from empowering America to fight extremism and build robust, valuable relationships, the opposite is being accomplished.
There will be more blatant and ridiculous contradictions in the weeks and months to come. But the ways in which Trump’s “coalition” is already self-eroding are worth noting.
Alt-right and Christian conservatives may have found a common cause in Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean they truly like him, or one another. The former are focused on a narrow, civilizational identity, while the latter inevitably hold more universal priorities. What happens when someone like Mike Pence asks Trump to admit Christian refugees from a non-white, non-European nation? At best, the anti-immigrant alt-right base will balk.
Whose side will Trump take then?