Earlier this week, I entered a link in these pages to Robert Kagan’s September 23, 2021, Washington Post essay, “Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here.” There, Mr. Kagan wrote in part:
“Trump is different, which is one reason the political system has struggled to understand, much less contain, him. The American liberal worldview tends to search for material and economic explanations for everything, and no doubt a good number of Trump supporters have grounds to complain about their lot in life. But their bond with Trump has little to do with economics or other material concerns. They believe the U.S. government and society have been captured by socialists, minority groups and sexual deviants. They see the Republican Party establishment as corrupt and weak — ‘losers,’ to use Trump’s word, unable to challenge the reigning liberal hegemony. They view Trump as strong and defiant, willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINOs, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech and the ‘Mitch McConnell Republicans.’ His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity.”
While Mr. Kagan spent much of his piece focusing on the dangers to our system of government presented by former President Donald Trump and his nationwide network of Republican acolytes, in the passage above he referenced what I consider to be the primary source of our danger: us. We are no longer, as we were taught in the Pledge of Allegiance, “One nation … indivisible.” United States citizens have two wildly divergent and deeply engrained inclinations as to what makes America. Speaking in generalizations, one segment — demographically older, white, professed Christian, sexually straight, English-speaking, and more rural in outlook — views America to be the product of traditional American ethnicities, customs, cultural experience, and memory; the other segment — younger, multi-complexioned, multi-theistic/atheistic, multi-lingual, multi-sexual and -gender, and more urban, with relatively lesser regard for traditional American experience and memory – views America as a system of government providing each individual the freedom, within the purview of the safety of the body politic, to not conform to traditional American customs and values.
What makes America … America?
If any reader of these pages is willing to review a volume s/he may well find abhorrent, I would recommend State of Emergency, written by former Republican Presidential Candidate Patrick Buchanan in 2006. Mr. Buchanan, who worked in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan White Houses, is – although reportedly called out for bigotry during his career by conservative commentators William F. Buckley, Jr. and Charles Krauthammer – both fluent and unquestionably knowledgeable about American history and policy. State of Emergency is primarily an assault on what Mr. Buchanan perceived as an unhealthy influx of Mexicans into American society. It is a book that Mr. Trump, if he knew history, would have conceived; if he could write, would have written. My familiarity with alt-right theorists isn’t that wide, but Mr. Buchanan’s candidacies were in retrospect clearly forerunners of Mr. Trump’s, and in State of Emergency he set forth what may be among the most articulate expression of the theories underlying what has become Trumpism:
“[Patriotism] is a passionate attachment to one’s own country – its land, its people, its past, its heroes, literature, language, traditions, culture, and customs. … There is a rival view … that America is a different kind of nation. Unlike Ireland, Italy, or Israel, the United States is not held together by the bonds of history and memory, tradition and custom, language and literature, birth and faith, blood and soil [Note: “Blood and Soil” was a Nazi slogan]. Rather, America is a creedal nation, united by a common commitment of all her citizens to a set of ideas and ideals. … Demonstrably, this is false. Human beings are not blank slates. Nor can they be easily separated from the abiding attachments of the tribe, race, nation, culture, community whence they came. Any man or any woman, of any color or creed, can be a good American. We know that from our history. But when it comes to the ability to assimilate into a nation like the United States, all nationalities, creeds, and cultures are not equal. To say that they are is ideology speaking, not judgment born of experience. … Should America lose her ethnic-cultural core and become a nation of nations, America will not survive.”
There are, ironically, corresponding echoes of Mr. Buchanan’s comments in Mr. Kagan’s essay:
“Most Trump supporters are good parents, good neighbors and solid members of their communities. Their bigotry, for the most part, is typical white American bigotry, perhaps with an added measure of resentment and a less filtered mode of expression since Trump arrived on the scene. But these are normal people in the sense that they think and act as people have for centuries. They put their trust in family, tribe, religion and race. Although jealous in defense of their own rights and freedoms, they are less concerned about the rights and freedoms of those who are not like them. That, too, is not unusual. What is unnatural is to value the rights of others who are unlike you as much as you value your own.
The events of Jan. 6 … proved that Trump and his most die-hard supporters are prepared to defy constitutional and democratic norms, just as revolutionary movements have in the past. While it might be shocking to learn that normal, decent Americans can support a violent assault on the Capitol, it shows that Americans as a people are not as exceptional as their founding principles and institutions. Europeans who joined fascist movements in the 1920s and 1930s were also from the middle classes. No doubt many of them were good parents and neighbors, too. People do things as part of a mass movement that they would not do as individuals, especially if they are convinced that others are out to destroy their way of life [Emphasis Added].”
I infer from some passages in Mr. Kagan’s column that he considers regular Trump supporters — if not the arguably more sophisticated and partisan Republican Party officialdom — credulous, and to actually believe Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud; he left at least me with the impression that he thinks that if regular Trump supporters understood the truth, they’d begrudgingly accept the will of the majority even if they disagreed with it. If that is indeed his view, I am less sanguine. I would suggest that the majority of regular Trump supporters are simply choosing to indulge in the self-delusion of a fraudulent electoral process because it enables them to rationalize the anti-democratic steps they are either taking or condoning; that in their deepest recesses, the majority do know that Mr. Trump lost, and – much more importantly – have come to viscerally grasp that if our nation’s current demographic and political trends continue unchecked, what they consider America to be (in Mr. Buchanan’s phrase, “bonds of history and memory, tradition and custom, language and literature, birth and faith, blood and soil”) will fade away.
To Mr. Kagan, “… the American experiment in republican democracy requires … what the Framers meant by ‘republican virtue,’ a love of freedom not only for oneself but also as an abstract, universal good; a love of self-government as an ideal; a commitment to abide by the laws passed by legitimate democratic processes … ”
To Mr. Buchanan, America is as he quoted Framer John Jay from Federalist No. 2: “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people – a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs …”
I’ve previously noted in these pages that William Galston reported in Anti-Pluralism that Mr. Trump himself indicated in a speech in May, 2016, that “The only important thing is the unification of the people. [T]he other people don’t mean anything [Emphasis Added].”
It has become cliché that the voter suppression measures being enacted by cooperative Republican-controlled state legislatures and the current dust-ups in various states about alleged 2020 election fraud aren’t, despite Mr. Trump’s protestations, about the 2020 outcome, but rather to limit opposition voter turnout, lay a foundation of doubt about the veracity of our electoral processes, and have in place the mechanisms (state legislative overrides; friendly election officials; sympathetic judges) to avert any 2022 and 2024 electoral outcomes that Mr. Trump and his followers don’t like. (They must have realized the need for these latter official safeguards given the determinative number of Independents and traditional Republicans that voted against Mr. Trump in 2020.) Trumplicans have come to recognize that if all legally authorized voters cast ballots, they will lose significantly more than they win – either now, or in the foreseeable future. They don’t believe that “constitutional and democratic norms,” to use Mr. Kagan’s phrase, constitute America. Their measures are intended to save their America of (paraphrasing Mr. Jay) ancestry, language, religion, manner and custom.
Most of us have some background regarding South African Apartheid, which prevailed in some form from about 1910 until the early 1990s, most virulently starting in the late 1940s. My own information was limited to an understanding that it was legalized subjugation by a small white minority (about 15% of the population) over the significant black majority (85%). One of the theories for the institution of Apartheid, according to “The Origins of Apartheid” by the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, is that white Afrikaner Nationalists “feared that the Afrikaner’s very existence was threatened by the mass of Africans that confronted them in South Africa;” and that this fear resulted in “a range of laws that were passed … to preserve this ‘God-given’ Afrikaner identity [Emphasis Added].” In “The Evolution and Fall of the South African Apartheid State: A Political Economy Perspective,” John M. Luiz wrote, “[In 1948 the manifesto of the National Party (NP)] was that of apartheid and Afrikaner empowerment … [S]oon after coming into power, the government put into operation a three-pronged strategy designed to further the interests of Afrikaner nationalism. … The government set about Afrikanerising [sic] every state institution by appointing Afrikaners to every level of the civil service, state corporations, and security forces.”
No one that reads these pages will be a bit surprised that I am most comfortable with traditional norms. Although I’ve been told by someone very close to me that I am privileged, I feel no guilt about being who I am. In my estimation, the so-called “Woke” frequently overreact, sometimes grossly so. That said, I subscribe to the view that America is a creedal nation; that it should be governed through a system that pursues the will of a majority of its citizens who are all able to vote under an impartially-administered set of fair rules, while at the same time furnishing sufficient safeguards for the civic and human rights of the minority. I fear that those sympathetic to Mr. Trump and the actions of his acolytes think otherwise. While I concede that many Trump supporters are seeking to protect what they view as America, a significant number seem unfazed by the prospect that preserving their America may involve the suppression of the will of a peaceful, multi-complexioned and -faceted majority of U.S. citizens. Although I suspect that most would recoil if confronted with the notion, they are either actively or passively on a quest to establish an American Apartheid.