“They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!,” announced Donald Trump in the summer of 2016. Before long, Trump was calling himself that, after appearing at a rally with Nigel Farage, one of its champions.
The association with Brexit burnished Trump’s self-styled (and utterly fabricated) reputation as a soothsayer. More importantly, the connection seemed to confirm that Trump represented something larger: a wave of conservative populism sweeping the Western world.
And yet the collapse of Brexit, yet again, reveals another, less flattering commonality. Conservative populism has utterly failed to translate the political impulses behind them into a plausible governing agenda. It is a visceral reaction against multiculturalism and modernity that has not only failed to produce concrete solutions for its supporters, but doesn’t even know what to ask for.
The political phenomenon of conservative populism has created a demand for philosophical treatises to justify it. The conservative intelligentsia has been engaged in a comic process of backfilling in high-minded arguments to support the rise of Trump. The pro-Trump media is dominated by lowbrow right-wing infotainment, like Fox News and Breitbart — media that are simple and accessible enough for Trump himself to enjoy.
But the vast apparatus of conservative intellectuals also needs essays and lectures pitched at a higher level, in order to sustain its own sense of elitism. There’s no need to raise millions of dollars for think tanks and endowed chairs if the party’s thought process begins and ends with Sean Hannity’s sock-puppet routine. The Journal of American Greatness was founded in 2016 for this specific purpose — defining a populist conservatism that would resemble whatever it is Trump is trying to do.