Republicans have long criticized Democrats for dividing the country into competing grievance groups. Some now realize that the Republican analogue has been to divide the country into radically autonomous individuals based on a cartoonish misreading of libertarianism that replaces the free markets and free minds of Friedrich Hayek with the greed and hubris of Gordon Gekko. But that is changing quickly. There is a renewed emphasis on addressing America and Americans as a community characterized by fraternal bonds and mutual responsibility — what Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory.”
Mr. Trump tapped into this. Most Republicans accept his transgressive personality and his intentional tweaking of social and political norms because they see it as in service of those larger ideas. That will seem counterintuitive to Trump haters, but fiddling with tax rates, however necessary and beneficial, can’t sustain a political movement, let alone a nation. Issues of citizenship and solidarity — that is to say, asking what it means to be an American — have returned to the fore. This is partly because of Mr. Trump and partly in spite of him. What is important is that the tumult caused by his unusual candidacy and his unusual approach to governing created an environment in which an intellectual refounding of Republican politics became possible.
The three-legged stool of the new Republican majority is a pro-citizen immigration policy, a pro-worker economic policy and a foreign policy that rejects moral imperialism and its concomitant foreign wars. John Quincy Adams described just such a foreign policy when he said that America was “the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all” but “the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
Giving up on a failed policy of moral imperialism allows Republicans to focus on forming good citizens and restoring a sense of Americanism that relies upon strong ties of fellowship and belief in a shared destiny. To that end, our candidates would be well advised to ignore strategists and consultants who talk exclusively in terms of messaging tailored to statistical constructs like “disaffected Democrats with some college” or “married suburban men who drive S.U.V.s.” When it comes to politics, most people don’t want to be addressed as members of a demographic group looking for a payoff. They want to be addressed as Americans (emphasis added).