Although President-Elect Donald Trump may have been insincere, when he insisted that he was only the “messenger” and not the personal cause of his sudden rise to political prominence over the last year, he was correct to say it. His election marks the long overdue arrival of “Buchananism” to the center of American politics.
Over the last twenty-four years, I have heard Pat Buchanan referred to by name and vilified. He embarrassed his party, in 1992, when he spoke these plain words that track prophetically with the direction our country has taken since:

Mr. Clinton, however, has a different agenda.
At its top is unrestricted abortion on demand. When the Irish-Catholic governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, asked to say a few words on behalf of the 25 million unborn children destroyed since Roe v. Wade, Bob Casey was told there was no place for him at the podium at Bill Clinton’s convention, no room at the inn.
Yet a militant leader of the homosexual rights movement could rise at that same convention and say: “Bill Clinton and Al Gore represent the most pro-lesbian and pro-gay ticket in history.” And so they do.
Bill Clinton says he supports school choice – but only for state-run schools. Parents who send their children to Christian schools, or private schools, or Jewish schools, or Catholic schools need not apply.
Elect me, and you get two for the price of one, Mr. Clinton says of his lawyer-spouse. And what does Hillary believe? Well, Hillary believes that 12-year-olds should have the right to sue their parents, and Hillary has compared marriage and the family as institutions to slavery and life on an Indian reservation.
Well, speak for yourself, Hillary.
This, my friends, is radical feminism. The agenda that Clinton & Clinton would impose on America – abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units – that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America needs. It is not the kind of change America wants. And it is not the kind of change we can abide in a nation that we still call God’s country.

Our country was in a “Culture War,” he declared, and though most of his auditors seemed incapable of understanding what that meant, except in terms of partisan politics, it is clear that he meant our political arguments are no longer about alternative prudential paths within politics as the “art of the possible.” Rather, the clashes in our politics have come to regard the very definition of what it means to be a person, what it means to be man and woman, husband and wife, what it means to be a political animal, and to be part of a nation and a country.
Since that time, as I say, Buchanan has been attacked by name, mostly by those in his own party, while only the Southern Poverty Law Center on the Left seemed any longer to register, not to say hear, his words.
Since Trump’s rise last spring, however, I have sometimes noticed a remarkable change of vocabulary among the conservative pundits so used to keeping Buchanan at arm’s length. In straining to make sense of Trump’s enthusiastic incoherencies, they reached up to the heavens of thought for a word to comprehend it all and came down with a simple, but new, one: “Buchananism.”
That sounds right to me. Buchananism tells us a country is a real thing, not just an administrative unit and place holder until the global superstate can unite us all in perpetual peace and harmony. It is an enterprise good for its own sake and in whose life and perpetuation we ought, by our love, to be engaged.
Buchananism tells us that liberty, including the liberty of a free market, is an essential good of national life, but one that should be directed to the national interest and, above and beyond that, to the interest of all of us as creatures of God responsible to Him and destined for eternal life in Him.
Buchananism tells us, therefore, that the State is not a scientist in the laboratory charged with performing experiments in hopes of modifying the nature of its subjects. The State is also not a midwife intended to lead its people out of the contained womb of their country into an airy, placeless global market, where each of us becomes just one more economic unit, detached from every love and at the service of the enrichment of the elite.
Further, Buchananism tells us the State is not a nanny. Government exists to secure the common good of its people and to accomplish those aspects of that good which could otherwise not be secured; but it does not exist to drive out the folk ways, the free associations, the civil societies, and above all the religious institutions that help each individual to become a person fitted for self government and social life. It does not, I say, exist to become a substitute religion and a substitute conscience for a people that has lost the real thing.
A culture is not something from which mature individuals are to be weened; it is rather the whole way of life that expresses a people’s perception of what transcends them and helps them to attain to it.
The reasons our countrymen have turned out in such great numbers in support of Donald Trump sound, indeed, like the platform of Buchananism: an end to open borders and an immigration policy that serves the interest of a few at the expense of the country as a people, culture, and organic whole; a relativization of the free market to ensure that it serves the interest of the country rather than the globe-trotting enrichment of our deracinated, “meritocratic” elite; and a rejection of the mind-bending social engineering, sexual libertarianism, and abortion regime celebrated by Obama, Clinton, and their minions as the final frontier of human “freedom.”
I expected to sit down to write this morning to lament that our country is too far gone. If the Supreme Court has inscribed a heinous new morality in our laws, most of our country was there, in practice, beforehand. If we do not like being the plebes of technocrats, we also can scarcely imagine anymore any other possible way.
I expected to sit down to write this morning about the dreary, failed — the inevitably failing — but time and again victorious liberal vision of the Clintons. Hillary Clinton’s early speeches were full of bromides to which liberalism could never give real substance. She proclaimed politics the art of the “hitherto thought impossible,” and promised to bring us into some new age, where the childish spirituality of Christianity could be left behind for the mature liberty of a materialist and atomized, individualistic dream. Long ago, however, the Left accepted the failure of its economic dreams of utopia and settled for getting rich in the global market and seeking “transcendence” by eliminating every limit to moral and sexual responsibility. In the ‘sixties, the Clintons and their whole narcissistic generation took sexual license, contraception, and abortion as mere “symbols” of a larger quest for liberation and individual “self-actualization.” But the liberal imagination has failed long since. It has settled for making what Oscar Wilde called “the New Hedonism” not merely a symbol but the sole actual fact of its utopia. And this, I had expected to write, would guide the next four years, as a second Clinton administration further “liberalized” markets and sought further to “liberate” human beings from their nature and for the free “expression” of their subjective peculiarities. A dull, lonely, listless, and impoverished utopia, if there ever was one; plenty of Christians could look forward to another term of being “punched down” as “bigots.”
But I do not have to write of these things this morning, though I am sure I’ll be given occasion to down the road, as I have so frequently in the past. No, rather, I find myself remarking with amazement that the principles of Pat Buchanan seem to have come from the modest primary victories of 1992 and 1996, through the failure of the Reform Party in 2000, and on through the long self-destructive triumphalism of the second Bush administration, to a sudden resurgence in 2016.
How an aging New York playboy given to outrageous vulgarities and possessing all the rhetorical suavity of an epileptic seizure managed to bring those principles over the finish line to victory I do not understand. But it has been a long time coming, and I am pleased to see it. We are on the cusp of a Trump administration, but it is not “Trumpism” that has triumphed. Rather the long simmering righteous indignation of those peasants with pitchforks to whom Buchanan first gave voice, those who long since found their doctrine — Buchananism — have at last found their candidate. We have chosen our president.

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James Matthew Wilson
James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on subjects ranging from art, ethics, and politics, to meter and poetic form, from the importance of local culture to the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty. Wilson is also a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, and The American Conservative. He has published five books, including most recently, a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Raised in the Great Lakes State, baptised in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, seasoned by summers on Lake Wawasee (Indiana), and educated under the Golden Dome, Wilson is scion of a family of Hoosiers dating back to the early nineteenth century, and an offspring of Southside Chicago Poles whose tavern kept the city wet through the Depression (and prohibition) years.  He now lives under the same sentence of reluctant exile as many another native son of the Midwest, but has dug himself in for good on the margins of the Main Line in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife, dangerous daughter, and saintly sons. For information on Wilson's scholarship and a selection of his published work, click here. See books written and recommended by James Matthew Wilson.


  1. Oh Lord. Is FPR really going down this path? Christian America long ago abdicated any moral authority. Shame on whoever wrote this garbage.

  2. A better term than Buchananism is instead paleoconservatism of which Chronicles magazine is the flagship.

    Btw, nice article.

  3. I’ll go ahead and coin the term Buchananalia for this phenomenon. Oh, apropos of which, just tonight:

    “Asked by Stahl if he personally supports marriage equality, Trump replied, ‘It’s irrelevant because it was already settled. It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done.’ He went to clarify that even he were to appoint a judge who opposes marriage equality, the issue has been ‘settled’ and he’s ‘fine with that.'”

    A person could be forgiven for thinking that Trump’s ‘victory’ heralded the resurgence less of a Christian nationalism than of a racial nationalism that, while overlapping significantly with the former is hopefully not (yet) coextensive with it.

  4. Anyone who reads the “arrival” of anything at the “center” of American politics into this election is delusional. Trump get less votes than Clinton. Neither of them got a majority. About half the voters had to hold their nose at whoever they voted for. This was not a mandate for anything. This was not a shift in voter priorities or sentiments. This was a pick your poison election.

    That said, Jordan Smith clearly hasn’t been reading Front Porch much, coming with this “whoever” remark. I seldom agree with Wilson, but he’s certainly a familiar face and name here. Christian America is an oxymoron, but I wouldn’t subscribe to the notion that Christianity has abdicated any moral authority, or that American is totally without any either.

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