A lot of voters wanted a president with a blank ideological slate. It just so happens the people near Trump with chalk in hand come from the far corners of American conservatism. Trump may not have many convictions in his life beyond what Trump thinks is good for Trump at a given moment.
I’m not sure what he really believes. If Trump really doesn’t believe in anything except Trump, and we judge him by his recent actions, then let’s say this about him: He’ll believe whatever he thinks will work for him. He can be right wing, he can be left wing, but he is not, and probably never will be, liberal. Yes, there is a difference between liberal and left.
Liberalism as a political philosophy is not always the opposite of conservative. There is a reason the John McCain conservatives are putting the phrase “liberal order” into the public conscience. You can be a conservative who believes in liberalism. All Republican presidents in the modern era (except Trump, and maybe Nixon) would be examples. There is a reason democracy and liberal order are sometimes considered the same thing. There is a reason “liberal” and “libertarian” share the same root word.
Today the word is loaded and a lot assume it just means left-wing, but that’s not always how it’s seen in other parts of the world, or in history. America was founded on the principles of the enlightenment era. Liberalism and the American Revolution were part of the same movement. It was the shift away from the concept of the divine right of kings — the idea that the monarch could not be questioned. The constitution, as a document that guarantees citizens’ rights and creates a separation of governmental powers, is very liberal in the classical sense.
You don’t need to take a course in political philosophy to get the basic idea. Liberalism today is a huge tree of thought. What Americans usually think of as liberal is just one branch. Libertarianism is another of the many branches – one considered conservative. Political philosopher John Gray made sense of it by identifying the most common ideas in liberalism: individualist (think of independence and self-reliance), egalitarian (“all men are created equal”), meliorist (progress is good), and universalist (deep down we are all the same).
That’s a lot to unpack. So just look at one — egalitarianism. We are all created equal, and the laws of the land apply to all equally. That’s fairness, and that’s a society that doesn’t like people who think they are too big for their britches. Liberal societies don’t like leaders who think too much of themselves and stop the law applying to them fairly.
If Trump believed in liberalism he would have to believe in something that would limit him. When Trump attacks America’s courts he is saying that he is against the liberal idea that the powers of government should be separate. He is also saying, whether he realizes it or not, that he is not equal to everyone under the law. He can ignore what a court says. You can’t.
In online Trump fan communities he’s sometimes called “God-Emperor.” It’s a joke, but it only works as a joke because they know, at least on some level, he is an attack on the idea that we are all equal. They joke that he really is as big as he thinks.
Comedy does something to people who are too big for their britches. It cuts them down to size. Political cartoonists understand this. It’s why cartoonist and illustrator Ben Jennings said cartoons “remind those who seek ultimate power that they are only human.” Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression doesn’t try to accurately portray Trump. It’s an impression designed to cut him down, and people are loving it. SNL’s ratings are up.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the harshest and most insulting political impression of the modern era is Alec Baldwin’s Donald. It makes sense that America, a country founded on the liberal ideal of a nation state, would reserve its most insulting comedy for its most un-liberal leader.
So keep laughing and let yourself feel a little patriotic. It’s a reminder that Donald is still just a man and it reminds Americans of who they are as a liberal nation.