Multiple traditions theory is the concept that the United States has historically been shaped by different political ideologies, such as republicanism, liberalism, or what are known as ascriptive types, which may be based on racist or sexist attitudes in regard to what constitutes Americanism. These different traditions have all combined together to form the American experience, with each having different amounts of influence during different eras, depending on the political zeitgeist of the era.
Alexis de Tocqueville was able to observe these competing political traditions and recognized how they would create conflict. For instance, the tradition of liberalism, which favors equality, was inherently at odds with ascriptive racism during the nineteenth century. At the same time, republicanism favored American expansion, so de Tocqueville was able to see how this would create conflicts between American settlers and Native Americans (De Tocqueville 57). These three political traditions are therefore at the heart of political discourse and policy in the United States, even to this day.

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In regard to the political landscape of today, we can see how multiple traditions theory can be applied in regard to which ideology holds power. Trump would represent an ascriptive ideology based on an anti-establishment, anti-corruption platform while also appealing to American nationalism (Cha 84). This would be in contrast to liberalism, as embodied by the Democratic party, and traditional republicanism. Even though Trump ran as a Republican, he was largely rejected by Republican leaders, including the most recent Republican president before him, George W. Bush (Jacobson 37). Ideologically speaking, Trump is much closer to an ascriptive ideology rather than sharing the values of republicanism as embodied by the Republican party. This shift is also the result of what has been deemed by many as mediocre or ineffective government in the most recent administrations, due to a fairly stagnant economy, which compelled Americans to pursue a new tradition.

  • Cha, Taesuh. “The Return of Jacksonianism: the International Implications of the Trump Phenomenon.” The Washington Quarterly 39.4 (2016): 83-97.
  • De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. Regnery Publishing, 2003.
  • Jacobson, Gary C. “The Triumph of polarized partisanship in 2016: Donald Trump’s improbable victory.” Political Science Quarterly 132.1 (2017): 9-42.