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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter August 30, 2018

The Fight for American Restoration: Understanding the Paradoxical Foundations of the Trump Presidency

  • Stanley Renshon EMAIL logo
From the journal The Forum


The Trump presidency was almost wholly unexpected, and remains an enigma. What are its purposes? Why has the president chosen a combative leadership style? This paper argues that the Trump presidency was born in the decades long failure of the Republican-Democratic-conservative consensus regarding the premises of “good” public policy. Trump’s surprise victory set off a maelstrom of vitriolic opposition to his presidency, by any means necessary, that forced Trump to choose between “fight or flight.” He chose to fight – not only because it is a deeply embedded element of his psychology, but also for strategic reasons associated with the basic reconstructive purpose of his presidency that I characterize as “the Politics of American Restoration.” Paradoxically, Trump – a president given to rhetorical excess and serial inexactness, wants to restore the public’s trust in government. And he wants to bring Americans together around his restorative vision while engaged in mortal political conflict with the supporters of the policy paradigms he wishes to displace. Whether and how it is possible to resolve these core paradoxes are central to the question of whether this unprecedented presidency can be successful.

Corresponding author: Stanley Renshon, PhD, Program in Political Science, City University of New York Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10016-4309, USA


This paper is a revised version of a talk delivered at New York University on May 24, 2017. The author wishes to thank members of the Oasis Club who attended and the following colleagues for their helpful responses: Fred I. Greenstein, Richard Friedman, Tom Halper, Harry Paul, Peter Lowenberg, Peter Suedfeld, Alan I. Teger, and the editors of The Forum and two anonymous reviewers.

Published Online: 2018-08-30

©2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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