Trump’s pres­i­dency, Hunt­ing­ton’s Amer­ica

The writ­ings of the late Har­vard po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Sa­muel Hunt­ing­ton an­tic­i­pated our po­lit­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual bat­tles — and point to the coun­try we may be­come

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - CAR­LOS LOZADA Twit­ter: @Car­losLozadaWP Car­los Lozada is the nonfiction book critic of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Some­times a prophet can be right about what will come, yet torn about whether it should.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­cent speech in War­saw, in which he urged Euro­peans and Amer­i­cans to de­fend West­ern civ­i­liza­tion against vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists and bar­bar­ian hordes, in­evitably evoked Sa­muel P. Hunt­ing­ton’s “clash of civ­i­liza­tions” — the no­tion that su­per­power ri­valry would give way to bat­tles among West­ern uni­ver­sal­ism, Is­lamic mil­i­tance and Chi­nese as­sertive­ness. In a book ex­panded from his fa­mous 1993 es­say, Hunt­ing­ton de­scribed civ­i­liza­tions as the broad­est and most cru­cial level of iden­tity, en­com­pass­ing re­li­gion, val­ues, culture and his­tory. Rather than “which side are you on?” he wrote, the over­rid­ing ques­tion in the postCold War world would be “who are you?”

So when the pres­i­dent calls on the na­tions of the West to “sum­mon the courage and the will to de­fend our civ­i­liza­tion,” when he in­sists that we ac­cept only mi­grants who “share our val­ues and love our peo­ple,” and when he urges the transat­lantic al­liance to “never for­get who we are” and cling to the “bonds of his­tory, culture and mem­ory,” I imag­ine Hunt­ing­ton, who passed away in late 2008 af­ter a long ca­reer teach­ing at Har­vard University, nod­ding from be­yond.

It would be a nod of vin­di­ca­tion, per­haps, but mainly one of grim recog­ni­tion. Trump’s civ­i­liza­tional rhetoric is just one rea­son Hunt­ing­ton res­onates to­day, and it’s not even the most in­ter­est­ing one. Hunt­ing­ton’s work, span­ning the mid-20th cen­tury through the early 21st, reads as a long ar­gu­ment about Amer­ica’s mean­ing and pur­pose, one that ex­plains the ten­sions of the Trump era as well as any­thing can. Hunt­ing­ton both chron­i­cles and an­tic­i­pates Amer­ica’s fights about its found­ing premises, fights that Trump’s as­cent has ag­gra­vated. Hunt­ing­ton fore­sees — and, frankly, stokes — the rise of white na­tivism in re­sponse to His­panic im­mi­gra­tion. He cap­tures the dis­so­nance be­tween work­ing classes and elites, be­tween na­tion­al­ism and cos­mopoli­tanism, that played out in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. And he warns how pop­ulist dem­a­gogues ap­peal to alien­ated masses and then break faith with them.

This is Trump’s pres­i­dency, but even more so, it is Hunt­ing­ton’s Amer­ica. Trump may be­lieve him­self a prac­ti­cal man, ex­empt from any in­tel­lec­tual in­flu­ence, but he is the slave of a de­funct po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist.

Hunt­ing­ton’s books speak to one an­other

across the decades; you find the ori­gins of one in the unan­swered ques­tions of an­other. But they also re­veal deep con­tra­dic­tions. More than a clash of civ­i­liza­tions, a clash of Hunt­ing­tons is ev­i­dent. One Hunt­ing­ton re­gards Amer­i­cans as an ex­cep­tional peo­ple united not by blood but by creed. An­other dis­owns that idea in fa­vor of an Amer­ica that finds its essence in faith, lan­guage, culture and bor­ders. One Hunt­ing­ton views new groups and iden­ti­ties en­ter­ing the po­lit­i­cal arena as a re­vi­tal­iza­tion of Amer­i­can democ­racy. An­other con­sid­ers such iden­ti­ties per­ni­cious, anti-Amer­i­can.

These works em­body the in­tel­lec­tual and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges for the United States in, and be­yond, the Trump years. In Hunt­ing­ton’s writ­ings, idealistic vi­sions of Amer­ica min­gle with its basest im­pulses, and elo­quent de­fenses of U.S. val­ues be­tray a fear of the plu­ral­ism at the na­tion’s core. Which vi­sion wins out will de­ter­mine what coun­try we be­come.

To un­der­stand our cur­rent turmoil, the most rel­e­vant of Hunt­ing­ton’s books is not “The Clash of Civ­i­liza­tions and the Re­mak­ing of World Or­der” (1996) or even “Who Are We? The Chal­lenges to Amer­ica’s Na­tional Iden­tity” (2004), whose fans re­port­edly in­clude self-proclaimed white na­tion­al­ist Richard Spencer. It is the lesser­known and re­mark­ably pre­scient “Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics: The Prom­ise of Dishar­mony,” pub­lished 36 years ago.

In that work, Hunt­ing­ton points to the gap be­tween the val­ues of the Amer­i­can creed — lib­erty, equal­ity, in­di­vid­u­al­ism, democ­racy, con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism — and the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to live up to those val­ues as the cen­tral ten­sion of Amer­i­can life: “At times, this dis­so­nance is la­tent; at other times, when creedal pas­sion runs high, it is bru­tally man­i­fest, and at such times, the prom­ise of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics be­comes its cen­tral agony.”

Whether de­bat­ing health care, taxes, im­mi­gra­tion or war, Amer­i­cans in­vari­ably in­voke the found­ing val­ues to chal­lenge per­ceived in­jus­tices. Re­forms can­not merely be nec­es­sary or sen­si­ble; they must be ar­tic­u­lated and de­fended in terms of the creed. This is why Trump’s op­po­nents at­tack his poli­cies by declar­ing not only that they are wrong but that “that’s not who we are.” As Hunt­ing­ton puts it, “Amer­i­cans di­vide most sharply over what brings them to­gether.”

The book looks back to the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, the Jack­so­nian age, the Pro­gres­sive era and the 1960s as mo­ments of high creedal pas­sions, and Hunt­ing­ton’s de­scrip­tions cap­ture Amer­ica to­day. In such mo­ments, he writes, dis­con­tent is wide­spread, and au­thor­ity and ex­per­tise are ques­tioned; tra­di­tional val­ues of lib­erty, in­di­vid­u­al­ism, equal­ity and pop­u­lar con­trol of gov­ern­ment dom­i­nate pub­lic de­bates; pol­i­tics is char­ac­ter­ized by high po­lar­iza­tion and con­stant protest; hos­til­ity to­ward power, wealth and in­equal­ity grows in­tense; so­cial move­ments fo­cused on causes such as women’s rights and crim­i­nal jus­tice flour­ish; and new forms of me­dia emerge de­voted to ad­vo­cacy and ad­ver­sar­ial jour­nal­ism.

Hunt­ing­ton even pre­dicts the tim­ing of Amer­ica’s next fight: “If the pe­ri­od­ic­ity of the past pre­vails,” he writes, “a ma­jor sus­tained creedal pas­sion pe­riod will oc­cur in the sec­ond and third decades of the twenty-first cen­tury.” We’re right on sched­ule. There is a cycli­cal na­ture to our pas­sions, Hunt­ing­ton ar­gues. In­dig­na­tion can­not en­dure long, so cyn­i­cism sup­plants it, a be­lief that all are cor­rupt, and we learn to tol­er­ate the gap be­tween ideals and real­ity. (To­day we might call this the “lol noth­ing mat­ters” stage.) Even­tu­ally hypocrisy takes over and we deny the gap al­to­gether — un­til the next wave of mor­al­iz­ing. In the Trump era, moral­ism, cyn­i­cism and hypocrisy co­ex­ist. Not peace­fully.

The creed is rel­e­vant not just be­cause it pro­duces Amer­ica’s di­vi­sions and as­pi­ra­tions, but be­cause it pro­vides a spare, el­e­gant def­i­ni­tion of what it means to be Amer­i­can. It is not about eth­nic iden­tity or re­li­gious faith, Hunt­ing­ton writes, but about po­lit­i­cal be­lief. “We hold these truths to be self-ev­i­dent,” be­gins the sec­ond para­graph of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, and Hunt­ing­ton uses the line to de­fine us. “Who holds these truths? Amer­i­cans hold these truths. Who are Amer­i­cans? Peo­ple who ad­here to these truths. Na­tional iden­tity and po­lit­i­cal prin­ci­ple were in­sep­a­ra­ble.”

In this telling, the Amer­i­can Dream mat­ters most be­cause it is never ful­filled, the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of lib­erty and in­equal­ity never com­plete. Even so, “Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics” is not an en­tirely pes­simistic book. “Crit­ics say that Amer­ica is a lie be­cause its real­ity falls so short of its ideals,” Hunt­ing­ton writes in its fi­nal lines. “They are wrong. Amer­ica is not a lie; it is a dis­ap­point­ment. But it can be a dis­ap­point­ment only be­cause it is also a hope.”

Over the sub­se­quent two decades, Hunt­ing­ton lost hope. In his fi­nal book, “Who Are We?,” which he em­pha­sizes re­flects his views not just as a scholar but also as a pa­triot, Hunt­ing­ton re­vises his def­i­ni­tions of Amer­ica and Amer­i­cans. Whereas once the creed was paramount, here it is merely a byprod­uct of the An­glo-Protes­tant culture — with its English lan­guage, Chris­tian faith, work ethic and val­ues of in­di­vid­u­al­ism and dis­sent — that he now says forms the true core of Amer­i­can iden­tity.

Threat­en­ing that core, Hunt­ing­ton writes, is the ide­ol­ogy of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism; the new waves of im­mi­grants from Latin Amer­ica, es­pe­cially Mex­ico, whom Hunt­ing­ton be­lieves are less able to as­sim­i­late than past im­mi­grants; and the threat of the Spanish lan­guage, which Hunt­ing­ton treats as a dis­ease in­fect­ing the cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal in­tegrity of the United States. “There is no Amer­i­cano dream,” he as­serts. “There is only the Amer­i­can dream cre­ated by an An­gloProtes­tant so­ci­ety. Mex­i­can-Amer­i­cans will share in that dream and in that so­ci­ety only if they dream in English.”

The Hunt­ing­ton of 1981, ap­par­ently, was just wrong. When list­ing aca­demics who had — in­ac­cu­rately, he now in­sists — defined Amer­i­cans by their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs, Hunt­ing­ton quotes an un­named scholar who once elo­quently de­scribed Amer­i­cans as in­sep­a­ra­ble from the self-ev­i­dent truths of the Dec­la­ra­tion. Un­less you rec­og­nize the pas­sage from “Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics” or bother to check the end­notes, you have no idea he is quot­ing him­self. It’s as close to a wink as you’ll find in Hunt­ing­ton’s an­gri­est book.

The prin­ci­ples of the creed are merely “mark­ers of how to or­ga­nize a so­ci­ety,” Hunt­ing­ton de­cides. “They do not de­fine the ex­tent, bound­aries, or composition of that so­ci­ety.” For that, he con­tends, you need kin and culture; you must be­long. He claims that Latin Amer­i­can im­mi­grants and their off­spring do not dis­perse through­out the coun­try as thor­oughly as past im­mi­grants, wor­ries they seek only wel­fare ben­e­fits, and warns they’ll leave be­hind fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties for na­tive work­ers. Hunt­ing­ton also traf­ficks in stereo­types, even cit­ing Mex­ico’s sup­posed “mañana syn­drome.”

Maybe Mex­i­cans are lazy ex­cept when they’re tak­ing ev­ery­one’s jobs.

I don’t know why Hunt­ing­ton changed his mind. Per­haps he thought the ab­strac­tions of the creed could no longer with­stand the din of Amer­ica’s mul­ti­plic­ity, or maybe mix­ing schol­ar­ship and pa­tri­o­tism does a dis­ser­vice to both. Ei­ther way, any­one ar­gu­ing for bor­der walls and de­por­ta­tion forces will find much to like in this new in­car­na­tion, be­cause Hunt­ing­ton de­scribes the His­panic threat with mil­i­taris­tic im­agery. “Mex­i­can im­mi­gra­tion is lead­ing to­ward the de­mo­graphic re­con­quista of ar­eas Amer­i­cans took from Mex­ico by force in the 1830s and 1840s,” he writes, stat­ing that the United States is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an “il­le­gal de­mo­graphic in­va­sion.”

Hunt­ing­ton blames pli­ant politi­cians and in­tel­lec­tual elites who up­hold di­ver­sity as the new prime Amer­i­can value, largely be­cause of their mis­guided guilt to­ward vic­tims of al­leged op­pres­sion. So they en­cour­age mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism over a more tra­di­tional Amer­i­can iden­tity, he says, and they em­brace free trade and por­ous bor­ders de­spite the pub­lic’s pro­tec­tion­ist pref­er­ences. It is an un­canny pre­view of the bat­tles of 2016. De­nounc­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism as “an­tiEuro­pean civ­i­liza­tion,” Hunt­ing­ton calls for a re­newed na­tion­al­ism de­voted to pre­serv­ing and en­hanc­ing “those qual­i­ties that have defined Amer­ica since its found­ing.”

Lit­tle won­der that, long be­fore Trump cul­ti­vated the alt-right and Hil­lary Clin­ton de­nounced the “de­plorables” in our midst, Hunt­ing­ton fore­saw a back­lash against mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism from white Amer­i­cans. “One very plau­si­ble re­ac­tion would be the emer­gence of ex­clu­sivist so­ciopo­lit­i­cal move­ments,” he writes, “com­posed largely but not only of white males, pri­mar­ily work­ing­class and mid­dle-class, protest­ing and at­tempt­ing to stop or re­verse these changes and what they be­lieve, ac­cu­rately or not, to be the diminu­tion of their so­cial and eco­nomic sta­tus, their loss of jobs to im­mi­grants and for­eign coun­tries, the per­ver­sion of their culture, the dis­place­ment of their lan­guage, and the ero­sion or even evap­o­ra­tion of the his­tor­i­cal iden­tity of their coun­try. Such move­ments would be both racially and cul­tur­ally in­spired and could be an­tiHis­panic, anti-black, and anti-im­mi­gra­tion.” The more ex­treme ele­ments in such move­ments, Hunt­ing­ton notes, fear “the re­place­ment of the white culture that made Amer­ica great by black or brown cul­tures that are . . . in their view, in­tel­lec­tu­ally and morally in­fe­rior.”

Yes, in 2004, Hunt­ing­ton warned of a racist tide fo­cused on pro­tect­ing that which makes Amer­ica great.

Hav­ing re­de­fined the sub­stance of Amer­i­can iden­tity, Hunt­ing­ton ties its con­tin­ued salience to war. “The Revolution pro­duced the Amer­i­can peo­ple, the Civil War the Amer­i­can na­tion, and World War II the epiphany of Amer­i­cans’ iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with their coun­try,” he writes in “Who Are We?” Born in prin­ci­ple, Amer­i­can iden­tity now sur­vives by steel. When the Soviet threat re­ceded, the United States needed a new foe, and “on Septem­ber 11, 2001,” Hunt­ing­ton de­clares, “Osama bin Laden ended Amer­ica’s search.”

This is a con­flict he had long an­tic­i­pated. In his 1996 book pro­claim­ing a clash of civ­i­liza­tions, he writes that the West will con­tinue its slow de­cline rel­a­tive to Asia and the Is­lamic world. While eco­nomic dy­namism drives Asia’s rise, pop­u­la­tion growth in Mus­lim na­tions “pro­vides re­cruits for fun­da­men­tal­ism, ter­ror­ism, in­sur­gency, and mi­gra­tion.” Much as Trump mocks politi­cians who refuse to de­cry “rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism,” Hunt­ing­ton crit­i­cizes Amer­i­can lead­ers such as Bill Clin­ton who ar­gued that the West had no quar­rel with Is­lam, only with vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists. “Four­teen hun­dred years of his­tory demon­strate oth­er­wise,” he re­marks.

Hunt­ing­ton’s clash has been car­i­ca­tured as a sin­gle-minded call to arms against Mus­lims, and cer­tainly the ar­gu­ment is nei­ther so nar­row nor so sim­ple. He is prob­a­bly more con­cerned with China and fears a “ma­jor war” if Wash­ing­ton chal­lenges Bei­jing’s rise as Asia’s hege­mon. Yet the threat Hunt­ing­ton sees from the Mus­lim world goes far be­yond ter­ror­ism or re­li­gious ex­trem­ism. He wor­ries of a broader Is­lamic resur­gence, with po­lit­i­cal Is­lam as only one part of “the much more ex­ten­sive re­vival of Is­lamic ideas, prac­tices, and rhetoric and the reded­i­ca­tion to Is­lam by Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions.” Hunt­ing­ton cites schol­ars warning of the spread of Is­lamic le­gal con­cepts in the West, de­cries the “in­hos­pitable na­ture of Is­lamic culture” for democ­racy and sug­gests that Is­lam will pre­vail in the num­bers game against Chris­tian­ity. In the long run, “Mo­hammed wins out,” he states. “Chris­tian­ity spreads pri­mar­ily by con­ver­sion, Is­lam by con­ver­sion and re­pro­duc­tion.”

The vi­sion evokes the zero-sum rhetoric of Trump po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Stephen K. Ban­non, who was a force be­hind the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s travel ban tar­get­ing Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries, and of for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael T. Flynn, who wrote a 2016 book herald­ing a multi-gen­er­a­tional U.S. con­flict against Is­lam’s “failed civ­i­liza­tion.” Hunt­ing­ton, at least, has the grace to con­sider two sides of the clash.

“The un­der­ly­ing prob­lem for the West is not Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ism,” he writes. “It is Is­lam, a dif­fer­ent civ­i­liza­tion whose peo­ple are con­vinced of the su­pe­ri­or­ity of their culture and are ob­sessed with the in­fe­ri­or­ity of their power. The prob­lem for Is­lam is not the CIA or the U.S. De­part­ment of De­fense. It is the West, a dif­fer­ent civ­i­liza­tion whose peo­ple are con­vinced of the uni­ver­sal­ity of their culture and be­lieve that their su­pe­rior, if de­clin­ing, power im­poses on them the obli­ga­tion to ex­tend that culture through­out the world.”

He does not re­gard West­ern val­ues as uni­ver­sal. They are ours alone.

While Hunt­ing­ton fore­sees an Amer­ica roiled by self-doubt, white na­tion­al­ism and en­mity against Is­lam, he does not pre­dict the rise of a Trum­p­like leader in the United States. But he would have rec­og­nized the type. Con­sider his ear­li­est books. In “Po­lit­i­cal Or­der in Changing So­ci­eties” (1968), Hunt­ing­ton ex­am­ines how Latin Amer­i­can, African and Asian coun­tries in the throes of eco­nomic mod­ern­iza­tion strug­gled to adapt their pol­i­tics and in­cor­po­rate new groups with new de­mands. The re­sult, Hunt­ing­ton ex­plains, was not po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment but “po­lit­i­cal de­cay.”

And what sort of au­thor­i­ties per­son­ify this de­cay? Across the de­vel­op­ing world, Hunt­ing­ton saw “the dom­i­nance of un­sta­ble per­son­al­is­tic lead­ers,” their gov­ern­ments rife with “bla­tant cor­rup­tion . . . ar­bi­trary in­fringe­ment of the rights and lib­er­ties of ci­ti­zens, de­clin­ing stan­dards of bu­reau­cratic ef­fi­ciency and per­for­mance, the per­va­sive alien­ation of ur­ban po­lit­i­cal groups, the loss of au­thor­ity by leg­is­la­tures and courts, and the frag­men­ta­tion and at times com­plete dis­in­te­gra­tion of broadly based po­lit­i­cal par­ties.”

These self-styled rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies thrive on di­vi­sive­ness. “The aim of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary is to po­lar­ize pol­i­tics,” Hunt­ing­ton ex­plains, “and hence he at­tempts to sim­plify, to dra­ma­tize, and to amal­ga­mate po­lit­i­cal is­sues into a sin­gle, clear-cut di­chotomy.” Such lead­ers at­tract new ru­ral vot­ers via “eth­nic and re­li­gious ap­peals” as well as eco­nomic ar­gu­ments, only to quickly be­tray their as­pi­ra­tions.

“A pop­u­lar dem­a­gogue may emerge,” Hunt­ing­ton writes, “de­velop a wide­spread but poorly or­ga­nized fol­low­ing, threaten the es­tab­lished in­ter­ests of the rich and aris­to­crats, be voted into po­lit­i­cal of­fice, and then be bought off by the very in­ter­ests which he has at­tacked.” Such in­ter­ests in­clude those of the lead­ers’ close rel­a­tives, he ex­plains, be­cause for them “no dis­tinc­tion ex­isted be­tween obli­ga­tions to the state and obli­ga­tion to the fam­ily.”

Hunt­ing­ton’s “The Sol­dier and the State” (1957), a study of civil­ian-mil­i­tary re­la­tions, is in­struc­tive on the self-re­gard of such lead­ers, es­pe­cially when the au­thor con­trasts the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of mil­i­tary of­fi­cers with the im­pe­ri­ous­ness of fas­cist strong­men. “Fas­cism em­pha­sizes the supreme power and abil­ity of the leader, and the ab­so­lute duty of sub­or­di­na­tion to his will,” Hunt­ing­ton writes. The fas­cist is in­tu­itive, with “lit­tle use or need for or­dered knowl­edge and prac­ti­cal, em­pir­i­cal re­al­ism. He cel­e­brates the tri­umph of the Will over ex­ter­nal ob­sta­cles.”

Such ob­sta­cles take the form of pop­u­lar protests against un­pop­u­lar lead­ers. To­day, some writ­ers even find so­lace in our na­tional up­heaval, ar­gu­ing that the ac­tivism and en­ergy Trump’s elec­tion has wrought will strengthen U.S. democ­racy. But in a book ti­tled “The Cri­sis of Democ­racy” (1975), Hunt­ing­ton ex­am­ines a time of sim­i­lar civic resur­gence, and is not en­cour­aged by the out­come.

“The 1960s wit­nessed a dra­matic re­newal of the demo­cratic spirit in Amer­ica,” Hunt­ing­ton writes. Not yet dis­mis­sive of iden­tity pol­i­tics, he praises the “markedly higher lev­els of self­con­scious­ness” and mo­bi­liza­tion on the part of African Amer­i­cans, Lati­nos, stu­dents and women in that era, not­ing that “the spirit of equal­ity [and] the im­pulse to ex­pose and cor­rect in­equities were abroad in the land.” The prob­lem, he ex­plains, is that the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem also be­came weighed down by pop­u­lar mis­trust, how­ever de­served, of Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions. “The vi­tal­ity of democ­racy in the 1960s,” he writes, “raised ques­tions about the gov­ern­abil­ity of democ­racy in the 1970s.”

The big­gest ques­tions in­volved the high­est of­fice. “Prob­a­bly no de­vel­op­ment of the 1960s and 1970s has greater im­port for the fu­ture of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics than the de­cline in the au­thor­ity, sta­tus, in­flu­ence, and ef­fec­tive­ness of the pres­i­dency,” Hunt­ing­ton writes. He fears that a dele­git­imized ex­ec­u­tive threat­ened not just na­tional co­he­sion but na­tional se­cu­rity. “If Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens don’t trust their gov­ern­ment, why should friendly for­eign­ers? If Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens chal­lenge the au­thor­ity of Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment, why shouldn’t un­friendly gov­ern­ments?”

Hunt­ing­ton was writ­ing in the aftermath of the Water­gate scan­dal, and now the cur­rent White House faces its own cri­sis of cred­i­bil­ity. Trump, so ob­sessed with his elec­toral vic­tory that a framed map of the 2016 re­sults was re­cently spot­ted in the White House, would do well to heed warn­ings about gov­ern­abil­ity.

“Once he is elected pres­i­dent,” Hunt­ing­ton writes, “the pres­i­dent’s elec­toral coali­tion has, in a sense, served its pur­pose. The day af­ter his elec­tion the size of his ma­jor­ity is al­most — if not en­tirely — ir­rel­e­vant to his abil­ity to gov­ern the coun­try . . . . What counts then is his abil­ity to mo­bi­lize sup­port from the lead­ers of the key in­sti­tu­tions in so­ci­ety and gov­ern­ment.”

It feels odd to write of Trump as a Hunt­ing­to­nian fig­ure. One is in­stinc­tual and anti-in­tel­lec­tual; the other was de­lib­er­ate and the­o­ret­i­cal. One com­mu­ni­cates via inar­tic­u­late bursts; the other wrote books for the ages. I imag­ine Hunt­ing­ton would be ap­pre­hen­sive about a com­man­der in chief so in­dif­fer­ent to a for­eign power’s as­sault on the U.S. elec­toral sys­tem, and one dis­play­ing so lit­tle of the work ethic and rev­er­ence for the rule of law that Hunt­ing­ton ad­mired.

What makes the pro­fes­sor a prophet for our time is not just that his vi­sion is par­tially re­flected in Trump’s mes­sage and ap­peal, but that he un­der­stood well the dan­gers of the style of pol­i­tics Trump prac­tices.

Where the pro­fes­sor and pres­i­dent come to­gether, I be­lieve, is in their nos­tal­gic and nar­row view of Amer­i­can unique­ness. Hunt­ing­ton, like Trump, wanted Amer­ica to be great, and came to long for a restora­tion of val­ues and iden­tity that he be­lieved made the coun­try not just great but a na­tion apart. How­ever, if that path in­volves clos­ing our­selves off, de­mo­niz­ing new­com­ers and de­mand­ing cul­tural fealty, then how dif­fer­ent are we, re­ally, from any­where else? The cen­tral agony of the Trump era is that rather than be­com­ing great, Amer­ica is be­com­ing un­ex­cep­tional.

And that’s not a clash of civ­i­liza­tions. It’s a civ­i­liza­tion crash­ing.


Car­los Lozada


A Mus­lim fam­ily in New York last month, near the end of Ra­madan. Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Sa­muel Hunt­ing­ton came to see Is­lam as a threat to the West­ern world, pre­dict­ing an “ex­ten­sive re­vival of Is­lamic ideas” and a “clash of civ­i­liza­tions.”

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