The Atlantic

'He Was the Nationalist Candidate'

The editor of First Things on Donald Trump and the limits of multi-cultural democracy
Source: Carlo Allegri / Reuters

As Donald Trump prepares to take office, R.R. Reno of First Things is feeling “guardedly optimistic.” The editor of the conservative, religious magazine cautiously supported the Republican’s candidacy. Reno does not believe Trump will fix what he sees as America’s frayed social contract. But he does think the incoming president will disrupt the current political system, which he considers deeply flawed.

I spoke with Reno about his outlook for the coming administration. We discussed Reno’s reasons for supporting Trump (“I was as much voting against the fantasy of open borders as I was voting for [Trump’s] policies,” he said); the alt-right (a kind of performance art, he argues); and how Christian principles should influence policy (“Americans are uniquely tempted to imagine that we are a church … This is one of the reasons why we’re such a dangerous country,” he said). At its center, though, our conversation was about the possibilities and limits of multi-cultural democracy—what makes a nation, and what’s happening to visions of a global, open-borders world.

Reno has sketched an intellectual framework for supporting Trump. As the new U.S. president translates his campaign-trail rhetoric into actual policies, this framework will be tested. It may also provide a useful way of tracking how firmly Trump comes to oppose the forces of globalization, as Reno is hoping he will.

The discussion below has been edited for clarity and length.

Emma Green: Why do you support Trump?

R. R. Reno: I wrote against him in February for an issue of National Reviewthe “Never Trump” issue. My argument was that the Republican Party deserved Trump because its elites were so out of touch with the voters. I didn’t take Trump seriously—I thought he was a vanity candidate out to burnish his brand.

But he was the nationalist candidate. America’s social contract is frayed, and people are no longer confident that the people who are leading them have the same interests

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