The Intellectual Case for Trump I: Why the White Nationalist Support?

Mytheos Holt, The Federalist, March 30, 2016

Donald Trump deserves to be president. More than any of the current candidates—although not to their exclusion–he is the best choice to lead this nation.

This is not an easy position to hold in DC. Having already lost friends of multiple years and having been subjected to practically every hysterical insult you expect people to stop using at the age of 15, I think it’s safe to say that the social pressure so many #NeverTrump people want to bring to bear on Trump supporters has materialized.

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However, I owe those railing against me an answer to this question: “Why?”

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No one has marshaled philosophical, practical, and principled arguments in defense of the idea that thinking people who care about such things should, without any compromise of their own critical faculties, decide that Trump is the man to lead America.

Make no mistake, it is not an easy case to make, not because there are no arguments for it, but because you can’t meaningfully separate Trump from the numerous other cultural and historical phenomena that gave rise to his candidacy, many of which are far from obvious without being exposited. However, at its most basic, that case will advance three arguments:

  1. That Trump, alone among the candidates, is forcing conservatives to defend the people left behind by liberalism, however unfashionable they may be, and however culturally alien they may have once been to our movement.
  2. That Trump’s candidacy is about more than one man becoming president: it is symbolic of a national cultural Zeitgeist, and speaks to the modern political moment, in ways that no other candidate has been willing or able to do.
  3. That Trump’s candidacy is the only tonic that can cure the conservative movement of its many ills, by forcing it to reckon both with the many ways in which the country has left it behind, and with the damning ways in which it has betrayed itself: in short, that Trump is chemotherapy for the soul of the Right.

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{snip} I’m going to start this piece by answering a very uncomfortable question: Why do white nationalists support Trump, if he isn’t one himself?

I’m no white nationalist (in fact, being Jewish, I’m pretty sure I’m disqualified), and I regard the ideology with just as much disgust as I do every other form of radical identity politics. That being said, I do have a fairly unique ability to answer this question, and with apologies to Lloyd Bentsen, it can be summed up this way: I know white nationalism. A white nationalist was a friend of mine. Trump is no white nationalist.

If he’s president, there might well be fewer of them. Why? Well, if you’ll indulge me in just a little more autobiographical navel-gazing, you’ll find out.

The Girl in the Brown Skirt

“Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust.” —“A Christmas Carol,” Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits

I once met a young woman whom I will call Sylvia, after her favorite poet, Sylvia Plath. At the time, Sylvia had been raised as a member of an infamous white nationalist organization. And I do mean “infamous.” These weren’t the comparatively well-mannered sorts that attend conferences led by Richard Spencer. These were the sorts of people who probably get raided by the FBI.

Where I met her was probably the last place you might expect to find white nationalists, closeted or otherwise. Now since I am, as already established, Jewish, this obviously made me initially regard the girl with something less than charity. I was almost afraid to speak to her.

That is, until I actually did speak to her, in the company of another friend, who had made it his personal mission to deconvert her from her ideology, a task with which I agreed to help, mostly out of morbid intellectual curiosity. When we first spoke to her, Sylvia was fairly careful with her words, and obviously seemed to realize she wasn’t among company who’d take kindly to open admiration of Adolf Hitler. She was, however, more than happy to enthuse about Pat Buchanan, VDare, and restricting immigration.

Now, at the time, I was fresh off having argued for the Gang of Eight bill until I was proverbially blue in the face, so when Sylvia started talking about immigration, I obviously pounced on this as a first opportunity to break down her worldview. I’m fairly certain that all I managed to do was scare her, though she did actually put up a far better fight than any white nationalist has a right to, probably because, despite her sheltered upbringing, she was off-the-charts brilliant. This instantly registered with me, and was later confirmed when she later revealed she’d learned a new language in only two weeks.

Over the coming weeks, I continued to send out feelers and message and speak with her online, keeping my ethnic heritage a secret at first so I could probe her ideology without sending up alarm bells. After a while, she got used to me, and we bonded over our mutual love of H.P. Lovecraft and dark internet humor. As a result, she began to open up about her more risqué beliefs. So, this time with more gentle prodding, I started to make her doubt what she’d been taught.

Of course, at some point I had to reveal that I am a Jew. Needless to say, this shocked her, not least of all because apparently her people train their children to recognize Jewish heritage in someone’s features, yet I had registered as pure Aryan. The realization that “they can look like us,” to use her words, set off something of a minor existential crisis for her, but I’m pleased to report that she got over it, and that my ethnic revelation actually made her open up more to me rather than less.

When Two Worlds Collide

That’s because what shocked her even more than my Jewishness was that I’d known she was a white nationalist and still willingly engaged with her like a human being and an equal. From someone who belonged to a group that she’d assumed held nothing but contempt and malice for people like her, this was the last thing she expected. The feeling was mutual on my end.

{snip} To make a very long story short, she came away understanding that my people weren’t intentionally hurting her people, and I came away with an appreciation for how much, and how unfairly, her people really were hurting.

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This brings me to the first and, arguably, the most important lesson that Sylvia taught me about what drives people into the arms of white nationalism: that urge comes not from economic dispossession, nor spiritual dispossession, but cultural dispossession.

No, I don’t mean the sort of “where has my country gone” ignorance that I and my fellow coastal cosmopolitans like to mock over cocktails. I mean the sorts of people who are attracted to white nationalism are people whose own communities have been hollowed out by economic and cultural forces beyond their control, and who are now adrift in a society they perceive to be universally hostile to their heritage for no good reason.

That heritage, as white nationalists in America see it, is the heritage of Western civilization. If you wonder what that means (which is reasonable), let me spell it out: It means historically Western European cultural norms. Specifically, norms like respect for agents of the law, aspirational pride in work, willingness to accept the consequences of one’s actions, disdain for laziness and welfarism, and reproductive responsibility (i.e., not having children you can’t afford to keep).

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Where this otherwise perfectly respectable, conservative pride in Western culture atrophies into white nationalism when the person holding it comes to believe that respect for liberal Western civilization is inextricably tied to one’s race. One particularly irreverent white nationalist YouTube songster sums this attitude up in a video mocking libertarians: “It’s not that freedom is bad/But only whites think it’s rad.”

Moreover, and this cannot be stated enough: these people genuinely believe that to be proud of the history of Western European accomplishment, and one’s own descent from the people responsible, is taboo in modern America. If you look at what cultural studies departments, much of modern media, left-wing college students, and the crazy wing of the Democratic Party says, this is probably at least partially accurate. Unfortunately, however, it’s not just leftists who are responsible for the rise of white nationalism in communities like Sylvia’s. We conservatives bear some blame too, though in this case, largely because of misunderstandings of how our own behavior is perceived.

The Right Has Also Failed

The biggest problem we have is that many conservatives are, understandably, reluctant to engage with the sort of leftist, victim-culture-spouting loons who regard Western civilization as unrepentantly evil. This is not because we have no good arguments against them; we do. But to argue with them, we think, makes them look more serious and relevant than they are. If you live in the rarefied world of Washington policy debates, this approach probably makes sense and even seems obvious.

But if you’re a blue-collar worker in Appalachia being screamed at by leftist protesters that you have “white privilege” and all you hear from the official Right is stony silence, you come to a wildly different conclusion: you assume conservatives are either ashamed to express our disagreement, or don’t disagree.

Add to this the fact that so much of the official Right’s response to left-wing attacks about diversity involves not denying their premise, but instead pointing to how many token members of each ethnic group are Republicans, or the fact that we’ll throw accusations like “racist” around over issues like immigration, and it gets harder and harder for otherwise conservative people to deny the idea that “conservatism” doesn’t want to conserve them, or the Western values and norms that made conservatism and constitutionalism possible, at all. The only people who do seem to want to man those barricades, from their perspective, are white nationalists.

This is not ground we should be ceding to extremists. Yet, so far, only one candidate has refused to do such a thing: Donald Trump.

Trump, whatever else he might be, is unabashedly pro-Western. What’s more, he understands the essentially cultural and even spiritual nature of the vacuum white nationalism fills. Unlike so many so-called “reformocons,” who wax poetic about the need to empathize with blue-collar workers’ economic concerns, yet are only willing to throw “family-friendly” tax credits at them like table scraps to starving dogs, Trump understands that however besieged people like Sylvia feel by economic woes, they feel even more besieged by attacks on their pride and dignity.

Unlike the white nationalists, Trump has defended that pride and dignity without once mentioning race, but instead with reference to the historical reality and promise of uniquely American greatness. His pitch is nationalist, yes, but it is not racist, and so immediately understandable that you can even put it on a baseball cap.

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