The election of Donald Trump as our next president heralds a new political epoch for the United States. Whatever his shortcomings as a candidate, the Republican nominee, a political neophyte, slayed both of the political dynasties that had more or less run our national life for the last three decades. There won’t be anyone named Bush or Clinton around the White House for a good long while now. This is no mean feat, not to mention something for which all Americans who dislike dynasties should be grateful.
How Trump did it is being hotly debated. True to form, Hillary Clinton has announced that her loss is all the fault of the FBI and its director, whose eleventh-hour reopening of her email scandal sank her at the ballot box. Whatever one thinks of James Comey, who has managed to offend both right and left in recent months, the notion that his investigation of Hillary’s emails, rather than her own mistakes as secretary of state—the steadfast refusal to use government email for government work, her “private” server of bathroom infamy, all the highly classified information that wound up in her “unclassified” emails, not to mention her innumerable lies about it all—constituted the real problem in EmailGate reeks of the purest Clintonism.
Democrats are also pointing a finger at Moscow, claiming that its secret ties to the Trump campaign plus the clandestine help of Wikileaks, whose massive dumps of Democratic emails painted Team Hillary in a highly unfavorable light, ultimately did in Clinton, Inc. Here they’re on somewhat firmer ground. Kremlin interference played a role in the campaign—exactly how much will be debated for decades—in a manner that should trouble all Americans.
That said, there’s not much to deny here, since Moscow has now admitted its previously hush-hush ties to Wikileaks and its contacts with members of the Trump campaign. Moreover, those who are now so eager to find Russians under every bed in Washington are the same people who pooh-poohed warnings about Wikileaks and the Kremlin—I was issuing them years ago—as scaremongering. It’s too late now, the election’s over. Time to move on, learn lessons, and accept the people’s verdict.
Some Americans are clearly not ready to move on. Their radical fringe has been fighting in the streets, rioting and burning trees to show their displeasure, thereby proving true all the nasty things that Trump has said about the nut-left. The ugly nature of these outbursts has many wondering what has happened to the country. However, when Democratic leaders publicly denounce Trump and the Republicans as the party of “hate” it’s not surprising that the country’s perennially aggrieved lumpenriot contingent takes action.
At a certain level, how Trump won is so simple that most pundits—the same people who gave the president-elect no chance of winning—can’t see it. The Republican nominee got enough white votes—especially among the working class, particularly in the upper Mid-West—to offset huge Democratic advantages among minorities and white professionals. This was the Sailer Strategy, named after the insightful blogger who coined the notion back in 2000. Steve Sailer’s essential idea, that the GOP needed to max out the white vote to keep winning national elections in the face of changing demographics, was rejected by most Republicans as smacking of racism.
It cannot be stated too many times that the GOP establishment repeatedly rejected Sailerism. Indeed, leading Republicans often seemed to run in the other direction from its commonsense logic. The facts are clear: that Mitt Romney failed to get many votes from working-class whites in the very places where Trump just attracted them in droves caused the GOP to lose the White House in 2012.
It cannot be denied that ethno-racial concerns played a role here—and that it was the Democrats who opened that can of worms.
Predictably, the vanquished GOP in November 2012 determined that they needed to get more Hispanics voting Republican. The stakes were clear within days of Romney’s defeat, as I observed at the time:
The GOP has a basic choice to make if it wants to survive as a national party: Get more Hispanics or get more whites. Doing the latter, especially reaching out to whites who are economically hurting, would require the party to conduct a painful self-examination as to why it favors the wealthy so consistently at the expense of average people. Doing the former will require glossy ads, more token brown faces at GOP events, and greater marketing en español yet no real introspection. Of course, the latter course might actually save the Republicans nationally, while the former course is a flight of fancy. Nevertheless, expect bulk purchases of “Yo soy Republican!” t-shirts and bumper-stickers to rise.
Trump adopted the Sailer Strategy—whether he knew it I have no idea—and won handsomely. It would be wrong to impute huge numbers of down-market whites voting for Trump simply to racism, as many on the left predictably are doing. Quite a few Trump voters in swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio turn out to have voted for Obama—twice. They wanted change, Obama didn’t deliver, so they gave Trump a chance to be the change-agent in Washington they have long sought. The roots of their dissatisfaction are social and economic more than racial, and bien-pensant efforts to portray their legitimate grievances as “hate” reflect the worst of post-modern progressive intolerance.
All the same, it cannot be denied that ethno-racial concerns played a role here—and that it was the Democrats who opened that can of worms. Since the beginning of the century, liberals have been crowing about the “emerging Democratic majority” being delivered by changing demographics, heavily fueled by immigration (legal or not). President Obama’s reelection four years ago seemed to conclusively prove that the “new” America—morally superior to the old, white-dominated one—had arrived, and the Republicans were on life support, waiting for GOP voters to go the way of the dinosaur. As one of Obama’s media acolytes hailed the 2012 victory:
President Barack Obama did not just win reelection tonight. His victory signaled the irreversible triumph of a new, 21st-century America: multiracial, multi-ethnic, global in outlook and moving beyond centuries of racial, sexual, marital and religious tradition.
This was more of the Marxistoid “right side of History” blather that Team Obama has indulged in for the last eight years—and it was utterly wrong. To the surprise of no one who understands human nature, many whites didn’t appreciate being told that they had to die off for “progress” to be achieved. They didn’t like being derided by their betters as “bitter clingers” with their guns and Bibles, and they especially didn’t like being termed “deplorables” unworthy of compassion or consideration. In the last days of Hillary’s doomed campaign, its contempt for a huge chunk of the American population had become so blatant that one of her top celebrity surrogates publicly hailed the “extinction” of straight white men as a step in the right direction.
Trump is no political genius. He made an appeal to working-class whites, who correctly felt that the Democrats viewed them with undisguised contempt and didn’t want their vote. The “emerging Democratic majority” thesis included the need to get some of those whites, a legacy Democratic voting bloc, to win national elections; under Obama, his party decided they didn’t need them at all, which was a terrible, almost incomprehensible mistake. It shouldn’t be necessary to point out that running against working-class whites—at almost 40 percent of the electorate, the biggest voting bloc in America—is the definition of political insanity.
Yet progressives somehow managed not to see the nose right on their face. Hence President Trump. What commentators term “identity politics” has now become normative, thanks to the Democrats indulging in it, and Trump is now aping them. It would be more correct to term this what it actually is: nationalism. Ethno-racial nationalism is an enormously potent political force; wise politicians know this and employ it cautiously. Nationalism arouses genuine passion and is a political motivator like no other, which it explains why a majority of white women voted for Trump, to the bitter consternation of outraged feminists.
Moreover, once nationalism becomes the main political factor, there’s no putting that troublesome genie back in the bottle. Politics become tribal, ethnic conflicts waged at the ballot box rather than on the battlefield. Having done most of my scholarly work on multiethnic societies like the Habsburg Empire and Yugoslavia, I can attest that the fires of nationalism, once stoked, are only put out with great difficulty—and that ethnically diverse societies that play games with nationalism are living dangerously.
Nationalism transforms politics from ideology to tribe. As Lee Kwan Yew, whose founding and prosperous running of multiethnic Singapore for three decades made him one of the most successful politicians of the 20th century, expressed it concisely, “In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.”
The power of nationalism ought never be underestimated. German nationalism in the first half of the last century was so potent that it took two world wars—at the cost of ten million dead Germans, most of their cities flattened, plus major territorial losses and decades of foreign occupation—to finish it off as a political force.
Many Americans have taken to the odd notion that some nationalisms are bad while others are good. This is a thoroughly Marxist conceit, and Communist regimes for decades tried to assess whose nationalisms were “progressive” and which ones were “reactionary.” In the end, such word games only enflamed the passions of all ethnic groups and helped fragment the Soviet Union, whose collapse was more about competing nationalisms than anything else. It also led to the even more unpleasant dissolution of Yugoslavia in war and genocide.
In recent decades, Washington has advocated that Black, Hispanic and Asian nationalisms are “good” (Americans of Middle Eastern descent may soon be added to the good list) while White Nationalism is “bad.” However, average whites—meaning those not indoctrinated in critical race theory in college—will never see it that way. The problem with pushing identity politics among minorities as a political weapon is that the majority eventually realizes they have an identity too. As I explained back in early 2015, before Donald Trump entered the presidential race, “However verboten discussion of White Nationalism is at present among polite Americans, it is unavoidable that this will become an issue in the future, with potentially explosive consequences.”
Trump’s winning our presidential election heralds a new era in American politics. The Democrats decided to bet everything on their emerging “new” America, and lost big. Obama’s two terms have overseen the destruction of the Democrats as a national party: they control nothing in Washington now and their performance at the state level is nothing short of dismal. Democrats dominate our big cities, California, and the Northeast—and little else. Barack Obama’s real legacy is putting Donald Trump in the White House.
There’s not much for Republicans to crow about, however, despite their enormous political windfall. Trump won precisely because he ignored or repudiated most longstanding “conservative” policies. Working-class whites have little interest in privatizing Social Security or open borders or engaging in endless losing wars in the Middle East. The GOP has changed, only their leaders seem not to have noticed. The Republicans are now the White party, de facto, whether they want to be or not. American politics will never be the same, and 2016 looks like a landmark election in the manner of 1980, 1932, or 1860, each of which transformed the United States. Buckle up, it looks to be a bumpy ride ahead in the emerging era of competing American ethno-nationalisms.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.