National Journal is perhaps the last place you’d expect to find a good account of the Middle Americans Radicals (MARS) who drove the political campaigns of George Wallace, Pat Buchanan and, to a lesser extent, Ross Perot. However, an article by John Judis does just that, and also helps explain the rise of Donald Trump.
The article had particular relevance to me. Over the past decade I have wondered what happened to the MARS voters. Where had they gone since the Buchanan campaigns of the 1990s? Had they died off, become discouraged, or simply been duped and absorbed into tepid National Review-style conservatism?
This was depressing to me since I came to the alternative right in the mid-1990s through the writings of Sam Francis, who popularized the idea of Middle American Radicals. Though the MARS term was invented by sociologist Donald Warren in the 1970s, it was Francis who tried to rally this group into a lasting political force. His 1982 essay “Message from MARS” (republished in his 1993 book Beautiful Losers) remains the best summary of this demographic group. It also laid out a possible plan for MARS voters to take and hold power. Francis revisited this theme in his 1997 book Revolution from the Middle. As Francis noted:
Middle American Radicals are essentially middle-income, white, often ethnic voters who see themselves as an exploited and dispossessed group, excluded from meaningful political participation, threatened by the tax and trade policies of the government, victimized by its tolerance of crime, immigration and social deviance, and ignored or ridiculed by the major cultural institutions of the media and education.
Francis explained that the real political division in the United States was therefore neither liberal vs. conservative nor North vs. South. As he wrote in Chronicles in February, 1998:
Today, the main political line of division in the United States is . . . between elite and nonelite. . . . [F]or the last 15 years, the elite, based in Washington, New York, and a few large metropolises, allies with the underclass against Middle Americans, who pay the taxes, do the work, fight the wars, suffer the crime, and endure their own political and cultural dispossession at the hands of the elite and its underclass vanguard.
Mr. Judis cites Warren’s 1976 book, The Radical Center: Middle Americans and the Politics of Alienation, and notes that MARS voters in the 1970s favored Social Security, Medicare and some sort of national health insurance. As workers and taxpayers, they hoped for long-term security from programs to which they had contributed. However, they were strongly against welfare, busing, and affirmative action. They also favored strong anti-crime measures and supported the police against rioters and criminals.
Some of us wondered–briefly–whether the Tea Party might be a MARS revival, but its energy was quickly diverted into only slightly less neutered Republican politics, and its organizers were too terrified of the charge of “racism” to consider what Peter Brimelow likes to call “the national question.”
Is the MARS voter staging a revival? Mr. Judis attended two Donald Trump rallies in September:
. . . one at a high school auditorium in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, where the line to get in stretched all along the side of the building and into the parking lot, as if it were the first night of a box-office blockbuster; the other at the 20,000-seat American Airlines Center in Dallas. The Dallas rally too was packed; it was filled with raucous supporters wearing red Trump T-shirts and ‘Make America Great Again’ caps. The crowd was overwhelmingly white and roughly equally male and female . . . .
At both rallies, Trump’s railing against illegal immigration got applause. But so did his attacks on Chinese currency manipulation and corporate executives who ship jobs overseas. Almost all of the approximately 30 people I interviewed at these events mentioned Trump’s opposition to illegal immigration, his defiance of political-correctness, and the strong leadership they expected him to bring to the presidency. Yet almost everyone also cited his economic nationalist stands.
While Mr. Judis does a good job of explaining who the MARS voters are, he has an annoying habit of confusing legitimate concerns with “racism:”
Wallace was the candidate of right-wing racists, but he also wanted to increase Social Security benefits and make the tax system more progressive. . . .
Over the years, some of their issues have changed–illegal immigration has replaced explicitly racist appeals . . . .
Francis, of course, understood the racial dynamic perfectly. The 1998 Chronicles passage quoted above, continues as follows:
Today, the greatest immediate danger to Middle America and the European-American civilization to which it is heir lies in the importation of a new underclass from the Third World through mass immigration. The danger is in part economic, in part political, and in part cultural, but it is also in part racial, pure and simple. The leaders of the alien underclass, as well as those of the older black underclass, invoke race in explicit terms, and they leave no doubt that their main enemy is the white man and his institutions and patterns of belief.
Needless to say, the MARS voter rarely gets a chance to vote directly for his racial interests. Instead, like Warren, Francis viewed MARS as a demographic that was being exploited by the “New Right” as a vehicle for power. He credited Middle American Radicals with the election of Reagan in 1980 (they accounted for nearly all of the Reagan Democrats) and noted that this in itself helped distance MARS from the “Old Right” that could not elect Barry Goldwater in 1964 or even get Robert Taft on the ticket in 1952.
Unfortunately, the MARS voters could not engineer much change through government. They reappeared throughout the 1990s in the campaigns of Patrick Buchanan, Ross Perot, and David Duke, but were never strong enough to elect another president or even take over the Republican Party. Francis admitted this in Revolution from the Middle but still expected the MARS revolution someday to take shape.
The Middle American Revolution is not merely a matter of politics and elections. In the last few years, there have been definite signs of the impending collapse of what was once known as the ‘national consensus,’ the ‘vital center,’ the ‘public philosophy,’ or other labels that purported that the beliefs and worldview associated with a narrow band of elite publications, intellectuals and politicians were really representative of what most Americans think and believe.
Francis went on to say that what was happening was a “crisis of legitimacy, or a period in which the subjects of a regime no longer believe in the claims of a regime to be legitimate.” In other words, MARS voters were losing faith in government and felt contempt for its elites (who return the sentiment). Francis may have simply been 20 years too early in his diagnosis.
Every day the headlines make this clearer. In November, Reuters released a poll showing that over half of Americans feel like “strangers in their own country” and that 58 percent “don’t identify with what America has become.” Who can blame them?
Black Lives Matter hoaxes, SJW witch hunts, race riots, rising crime, mass Third-World immigration, repression on college campuses, “white privilege” indoctrination in schools, and political leaders from both parties who insist on importing thousands of Muslim “refugees” even in the wake of terrorist attacks do not inspire confidence.
It is therefore no surprise that the one candidate who defies the establishment on immigration, Muslim refugees, trade policy, and political correctness is destroying the field in the GOP primary. Unlike Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Trump has enough of his own money to finance a campaign and enough media access to retaliate immediately against the lies and distortions of the establishment.
Also unlike Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Trump has the temperament to respond in kind to his critics. He told Rick Perry to take an IQ test before entering the Republican primary debates. He blasted Rand Paul when he kept trying to interrupt him in the first debate. He routinely derides “losers” such as Jeb Bush, Lindsay Graham and George Pataki. He mocks Black Lives Matter race activists as they are kicked out of his rallies. He is the first Republican candidate in my lifetime who fights back on the same level of his attackers.
For MARS voters, the man seems to have met the moment. People who feel like strangers in their own country are unlikely to vote for yet another bland representative of the Stupid Party and Conservatism, Inc. Such specimens as Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, John Kasich and Carly Fiorina are stuck in the low single digits. Marco Rubio may be the last hope of National Review-style conservatism, and even he cannot get much more than 10 percent in most national polls, despite the backing of an impressive collection of billionaires.
Mr. Trump is the first American politician successfully to combine the Left-Right appeal that has driven European “extreme Right” parties to increasing prominence. He wants to strengthen middle-class entitlement programs such as social security and Medicare. He wants to raise taxes on hedge fund managers, who he says are “getting away with murder,” and lower the burden on workers. He would tax imports to protect American jobs. And most important: He would slow the process that makes Americans feel like strangers in their own country.
When Mr. Trump talks about “the silent majority” that backs his “movement” he means the same Middle Americans whose radical anger Sam Francis hoped to mobilize. And when 20 percent of Democrats say they would defect and vote for Mr. Trump it is because he has bipartisan appeal to the “non-elites” of both parties whom Francis saw as having lost faith in their rulers. GOP bosses are right to say that Mr. Trump is not “conservative” by their standards, but he is exactly what millions of ordinary white people want.
Sam Francis would be very pleased to see the GOP and conservative establishments mocked and destroyed. Mr. Trump could even win the general election by rallying MARS voters, real conservatives, and a slice of black and Hispanic voters who don’t hate whites and America. Blacks, especially, should support a man who promises to keep out foreigners who take low-wage jobs.
The MARS movement has been brewing for over 40 years now. With Trump, this demographic has reemerged and seems bigger, stronger, and more alienated than ever. The “Message from MARS” seems to be that Americans are tired of dispossession, do not trust the establishments of either party, and want a future for their children. If they succeed, Sam Francis will be proven right, and MARS may be able to make America great again.