By Aidan Castile
I recently passed through one of those few remaining parts of the country that, come summer, are made up almost entirely of Middle American whites on vacation. Putting aside the smattering of Chinese and Indian tourists, it was reminiscent of the America that existed as recently as my own childhood in the 1990s. There were no immigrants and no crime to be seen. You would even find a few MAGA hats in public, which, in sharp contrast to the norms on the coasts, prompted no sidelong glances, no shouting matches, and no threats of violence.
Of course, MAGA hats typically come out only when whites have the safe space to act like whites. But nearly three years into the Trump administration, after President Trump denounced his own supporters for chanting his own talking points about Rep. Ilhan Omar at a rally, the MAGA hat has lost all the power it once had to stand as a rallying symbol for white America. What was once an uplifting cry of defiance against the ruling class has become more like a sign of submission. To wear a MAGA hat in 2019 is to set yourself up as the eternal mark. After years of disappointment on Trump’s core issues like immigration, trade policy, “bringing back manufacturing,” “draining the swamp,” prosecuting Hillary, etc., for Middle America to publicly identify with Trumpism is to essentially proclaim to the world, “Yes, I’ll put up with this! Just imagine what else I’ll put up with!” The fact that people still wear them, as though nothing has happened since, is depressing.
But depressing as it is, the real depths of despair lie elsewhere. When I entered the souvenir stores in these tourist towns, they were filled with row pro-Trump t-shirts with slogans like “Finish the Wall!” Others, forced in some way to acknowledge reality, fell back on the alternative, “The Wall Is Coming!” On the crasser side, there were shirts showing our President in a leather jacket, standing in front of a screaming eagle and American flag, with the slogan “Trump 2020: Talk Shit, Split Blood.” Another shirt shows Trump throwing Hillary Clinton of the back of a motorcycle that he is driving. In the picture, Trump is wearing the classic Boomer joke shirt for bikers that reads on the back, “If you can read this, the bitch fell off.”
Granted, few people are so tasteless as to wear these in public. Still, as ubiquitous as the shirts are, someone must be buying them. And with that in mind, this pro-Trump merchandise stands as a potent reminder of the almost limitless capacity for white America to self-delude.
Trump has done absolutely nothing to help the types of Midwestern whites who go hunting and fishing out here. If anything, by ratcheting up tension with the Left and then refusing to follow through on the issues that caused the tension in the first place, he has left his supporters as the unprotected targets of hostile journalists, tech companies, corporate employers, and increasingly violent and emboldened leftist street mobs. By all accounts, Trumpism has made Trump’s white base much worse off than they would have been without him.
White capacity for optimism is certainly an admirable trait. From Thermopylae to the gates of Vienna to the beaches of Dunkirk, our people have been able to maintain a steely resolve, with an eye toward the ultimate victory, even in the moments of utter hopelessness. But this type of optimism was based on a realistic assessment of the situation, an understanding of the steps that would be necessary to come back from defeat, and a plan to actually move forward. The optimism of Trumpism today, by contrast, is a post-modern parody of these older European virtues. It is the outcome of decades of bourgeois decadence and consumption, where American conservatives have internalized the belief that our highest values should be material wealth and comfort. This is completely ahistorical; for most of western history, whether Christian or pagan, people followed much higher and nobler ends than the consumptive capitalism that has become synonymous with American conservatism since the Cold War—and which now reaches its apotheosis with the Boomer conservative war against paper straws. (A battle that Trump’s reelection campaign recently joined in earnest.)
The Trumpian “optimist” today looks around at the wreckage of post-America and proclaims, “Ha ha! Still not tired of winning!” He declares that he has owned the libs and therefore expects the libs to be owned. If forced to admit that things really are not as they should be, he simply replies that Trump will fix all of that . . . soon. The fix will come once Trump finally gets the funds to build the wall. Or once the secret investigation to prosecute Obama and Mueller finally concludes. Or finally, if there is really no way to avoid the obvious, he will declare that a defeat is really a victory. After repeatedly predicting a “red wave” in the 2018 midterm elections, the indefatigable Trumpist Bill Mitchell decided that, really, Republicans won the elections by losing the House. A new Democratic majority would prove to voters just how kooky the liberals really are!
Whatever the scenario, each reply promises that while victory is right around the corner, we also conveniently need not expend any effort to win. America will be saved in a last minute deus ex machina, with Trump, Bill Barr, or “Stealth Jeff” playing the role of deus. It is as though, when the Turks arrived at the gates of Vienna, Europeans declared victory and stopped fighting on the grounds that now the world would see that the enemy didn’t respect other people’s personal space.
While this level of complacency is infuriating, it may only be an adaptation to the unique conditions of late twentieth century America, when high standards of living have turned people softer and weaker. While the conspicuous consumption seems unlikely to go away, rising crime, political violence, and ethnic tension promise to make life a lot harsher for a lot of people, meaning that lazy complacency may soon turn into a luxury that white America cannot afford.
The first step, though, must be detachment from Trumpism. It is delusional to still believe that Trump will make his enemies “spit blood,” rather than the other way around. As Slavoj Zizek often says, true optimism can only come when we understand that the light at the end of the tunnel is really the headlight from an oncoming train. To first address the problem, we need to diagnose it. And clinging to the idea that Trump is a Based & Redpilled badass only makes diagnosis impossible.
The old adage goes that in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve. But at least in America, this is almost the exact opposite of the truth. Alongside the Trump t-shirts are others celebrating Jesus, the Bible, the flag, veterans, POWs, and so on. Another shirt says, “I don’t care if my patriotism offends you. Your lack of spine offends me more.” These people, whatever their faults, deserve much better than Trump. Their cultural beliefs and values are perfectly reasonable and should be backbone of any healthy society. But it is not patriotism that motivates Trump, and it is not a lack of spine that motivates the Left. If anything, leftists have been much more assertive and effective in fighting the cultural battles than we have. If white America will ever win in fact (rather than just declaring victory), they could learn a few things from the strategies of our enemies.