But in one way Donald Trump is very conservative/Republican. In fact, he’s the “toughest” most Republicany Republican tough guy when it comes to the defense of national honor. (Or, as Trump spells it, “honer.”)
Trump constantly says America “isn’t winning” and that other countries are defeating America. He also says that America is being humiliated by trivial things. For example:
Donald Trump accuses Cuban dictator Raul Castro of ‘disrespecting’ Obama by not meeting president on Havana runway at beginning of historic visit
That might sound like a comically over-the-top thing to get offended about—and indeed Trump is comically over-the-top about everything—but it is only a matter of degrees. Here’s Townhall’s Katie Pavlich, one of the contributors to National Review’s #AgainstTrump issue, taking issue with a statement the close-to-death Fidel Castro wrote in response to Obama’s visit:
Embarrassment: Fidel Castro Publishes Scathing Letter Slamming The United States and Obama
Not only did the retired leader criticize America (including with a reference to the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which arguably says more about his inability to let go of the past than it does about U.S. policy in 2016), at the joint press conference, “Castro openly criticized the United States on human rights issues.” The humanity!
One can imagine an Iranian nationalist shouting about how President Bush called his country part of the “axis of evil.”
Of course, Obama made it even worse by admitting that he is sympathetic to the view that social welfare like universal healthcare could be a human right. It brings to mind Obama’s supposed “apology tour,” which was even criticized by 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The idea was that Obama should never admit, in his capacity of president of the United States, that the United States had ever done anything wrong.
The Heritage Foundation, in 2009, helpfully summarized 10 “apologies” that they thought “humiliated a superpower”:
[In France:] So we must be honest with ourselves. In recent years we’ve allowed our Alliance to drift. … [In Egypt:] My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. … [In Spain:] While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. … [In Washington, DC:] Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions.
How dare he say America isn’t perfect! How humiliating!
(Some Republicans also attacked Obama for bowing, as is tradition, to the Japanese emperor, and Trump actually attacked Michelle Obama for not bowing to the traditions of Saudi Arabia and “refus[ing] to wear a scarf.” )
It bears a certain logic with Trump to never apologize. Even after his staffer Corey Lewandowski was accused of grabbing a reporter, even after lied that he had never seen the reporter, and even after he was then charged with battery, he continued to stand behind him and not apologize once or force Corey to apologize. “Trump never backs down,” Slate explained with its front page headline of an article.
Fidel Castro, in feeling the need to publicly express the grievances he still hangs onto about Cold War politics, isn’t so different from a lot of conservatives. In connection with Obama’s trip to Cuba, mainstream and conservative press has been reporting much on the existence of a number of 1970’s terrorists, bank robbers and murderers of police officers, who are given asylum in Cuba. NorthJersey.com’s Mike Kelly is particularly concerned about Joanne Chesimard, aka Assata Olugbala Shakur, who was convicted of murder in 1977 (of a New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster) and acquitted of kidnapping and bank robbery earlier in the 70’s before escaping to Cuba. (The FBI put her on the Most Wanted Terrorists List in 2013 for that murder, so now she is referred to as a “terrorist” in many press reports.)
Unmentioned in all of the articles about the “fugitive terrorists” sheltered by Cuba are the names Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, anti-communist militants—and, yes, terrorists—who ended up living in the U.S.
The Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-81 was still referenced by some conservatives during negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal. Trump said that Iran’s treatment of U.S. sailors captured when their boat drifted into Iranian waters and then released a day later showed a “lack of respect.” Ted Cruz said it showed the ”weakness of Barack Obama.”
Trump’s obsession with honor and respect that never ends (his “small fingers” meme stretches back to Spy magazine in the 80’s) may help explain why he did particularly well in the South. Rod Dreher, who writes for The American Conservative, which was founded by one of the precursors to Trump, Pat Buchanan, wrote in his book How Dante Can Save Your Life:
After Father Matthew had been living here a year or so, I asked him what characteristic of the South stood out most clearly to him. He didn’t hesitate one bit, saying, “The way you all hold a grudge.”
Shame and honor in the South are topics Dreher often writes about. In another article he wrote, “To be disloyal to your people, your place, and your family is a source of shame.” Loyalty to “your place” could explain the kind of nationalistic impulse to take slight at any perceived disparaging comment about one’s country. So, too, could loyalty to “your people,” if you view “your people” as Americans. That, however, could also mean another -ism that has been animated by the Trump campaign.
The problem with being too fervent about defending one’s honor is that sometimes it ends with the defender face down in the woods with a bullet in his chest over a disagreement. Now it might end with the death of a political party.