I just watched Donald J.Trump accept the GOP nomination and his speech was a delivery device for white supremacist rhetoric. Trump’s speech proved popular with that audience, as David Duke, noted white supremacist, tweeted his congratulations:
Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) July 22, 2016
The language Trump used, terms like “too politically correct,” “law and order,” “war on police,” the “illegal immigrants spilling over” borders, murdering “innocent young girls,” and, of course, the repeated use of “our country” in an auditorium filled with whiter-shade-of-pale white people, are all dog whistles that signal a core white supremacist message: White people built this nation, white people are this nation.
Don’t believe me? Check this is line drawing:
The drawing originally appeared in Tom Metzger’s newsletter, W.A.R. (White Aryan Resistance), and I included it in my book, White Lies (Routledge, 1997).
Part of the argument I made in that book is that white supremacist rhetoric is gendered. That is, white men are viewed differently than white women. The second part is that the language used by extremists is actually echoed in the mainstream. So, for example, that image from Metzger is uncannily similar to this (recent) ad for a series on the History Channel:
The message is the same in the extremist publication as in the television ad. Both put white people at the center of the narrative about the country’s history. (updated 9:10am to add:) This is also the same message that Steve King (R-IA) was making when he asked the (rhetorical) question: “where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” And, Trump himself is a frequent re-tweeter of white supremacist accounts. One analysis estimates that a whopping 62% of Trump’s re-tweets are of accounts that have white supremacist connections.
It’s too easy to point and laugh at the white supremacists in the funny outfits (like Trump’s dad), while we fail to pay attention to the way white supremacy operates in our own institutions and families.
I called the book ‘white lies’ because such narratives distort the truth about whose labor actually built the wealth in this country: African, Latinx, Asian and Native people. That labor, and the wealth and products created by it, were routinely plundered by white people.
This is the lie of Trump’s speech, too.
As he would have it, white people (those in included in “our”) are somehow more entitled, deserving or worthy of being here than anyone else. It’s the idea at the heart of white supremacy. But, fact checking Trump doesn’t seem to be working..
One of the examples I used to make my case about the connection between extremist and more mainstream rhetoric was Pat Buchanan’s 1992 convention speech, which declared that there was a ‘culture war’ for the ‘soul of America.’
Pat Buchanan was once considered on the far-right of the Republican party, but in the past few years, the party – not to mention the country as a whole – has tilted far to the right. Buchanan’s once extreme views, are now regarded as mainstream. And, tonight, Trump delivered what amounted to a ‘dumbed down’ version of Buchanan’s 1992 speech.
This is Pat Buchanan’s 1992 convention speech, considerably dumbed down, and– more important–delivered by the Republican Party’s nominee.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) July 22, 2016
What Trump is better at doing than most is emoting white supremacy. He’s galvanizing people based on feelings, not facts.
He ended his speech tonight with the repetition and variation on “Make America Great Again,” replacing great with Strong, Proud, and Safe. The fact that Trump’s message has been so effective with 14 million people suggests that there are lots of people who are feeling weak, ashamed, and afraid.
Sociologist Thomas Scheff, who studies emotions, argues that the emotion of ‘shame’ is perhaps the most powerful feeling and that it runs underneath many social problems. Most violence, he argues, is caused by a response to shame. It’s my guess that this undergirds much of Trump’s appeal, particularly around race. The line about “We cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore,” is a way of saying, “I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of the offensive things I say or do.”
Is there a political strategy to galvanize a set of emotions that run counter to the fear that he is spinning into political gold? I don’t know, but desperately wish I did.