Trump unleashes the fears and frustrations of an angry nation
Nicholas Confessore, The New York Times, July 13, 2016
The chant erupts in a college auditorium in Washington, as admirers of a conservative internet personality shout down a black protester. It echoes around the gym of a central Iowa high school, as white students taunt the Hispanic fans and players of a rival team. It is hollered by a lone motorcyclist, as he tears out of a Kansas gas station after an argument with a Hispanic man and his Muslim friend.
Trump! Trump! Trump!
In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald J. Trump’s name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans’ public discussion of race.
Mr. Trump has attacked Mexicans as criminals. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants. He has wondered aloud why the United States is not “letting people in from Europe.”
His rallies vibrate with grievances that might otherwise be expressed in private: about “political correctness,” about the ranch house down the street overcrowded with day laborers, and about who is really to blame for the death of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. In a country where the wealthiest and most influential citizens are still mostly white, Mr. Trump is voicing the bewilderment and anger of whites who do not feel at all powerful or privileged.
But in doing so, Mr. Trump has also opened the door to assertions of white identity and resentment in a way not seen so broadly in American culture in over half a century, according to those who track patterns of racial tension and antagonism in American life.
Dozens of interviews — with ardent Trump supporters and curious students, avowed white nationalists, and scholars who study the interplay of race and rhetoric — suggest that the passions aroused and channeled by Mr. Trump take many forms, from earnest if muddled rebellion to deeper and more elaborate bigotry.
On campuses clenched by unforgiving debates over language and inclusion, some students embrace Mr. Trump as a way of rebelling against the intricate rules surrounding privilege and microaggression, and provoking the keepers of those rules.
Among older whites unsettled by new Spanish-speaking neighbors, or suspicious of the faith claimed by their country’s most bitter enemies, his name is a call to arms.
On the internet, Mr. Trump is invoked by anonymous followers brandishing stark expressions of hate and anti-Semitism, surprisingly amplified this month when Mr. Trump tweeted a graphic depicting Hillary Clinton’s face with piles of cash and a six-pointed star that many viewed as a Star of David.
“I think what we really find troubling is the mainstreaming of these really offensive ideas,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate groups. “It’s allowed some of the worst ideas into the public conversation in ways we haven’t seen anything like in recent memory.”
Outside a former aircraft factory in Bethpage, N.Y., not far from a strip of halal butchers and Indian restaurants now known as Little India, a Long Island housewife who gave her name as Kathy Reb finished a cigarette on a spring evening. Nervously, she explained how she had watched the complexion of her suburb outside New York City change. “Everyone’s sticking together in their groups,” she said, “so white people have to, too.”
The resentment among whites feels both old and distinctly of this moment. It is shaped by the reality of demographic change, by a decade and a half of war in the Middle East, and by unease with the newly confident and confrontational activism of young blacks furious over police violence. It is mingled with patriotism, pride, fear and a sense that an America without them at its center is not really America anymore.
In the months since Mr. Trump began his campaign, the percentage of Americans who say race relations are worsening has increased, reaching nearly half in an April poll by CBS News. The sharpest rise was among Republicans: Sixty percent said race relations were getting worse.
And Mr. Trump’s rise is shifting the country’s racial discourse just as the millennial generation comes fully of age, more and more distant from the horrors of the Holocaust, or the government-sanctioned racism of Jim Crow.
Some are elated by the turn. In making the explicit assertion of white identity and grievance more widespread, Mr. Trump has galvanized the otherwise marginal world of avowed white nationalists and self-described “race realists.” They hail him as a fellow traveler who has driven millions of white Americans toward an intuitive embrace of their ideals: that race should matter as much to white people as it does to everyone else. He has freed Americans, those activists say, to say what they really believe.
“The discussion that white Americans never want to have is this question of identity — who are we?” said Richard Spencer, 38, a writer and activist whose Montana-based nonprofit is dedicated to “the heritage, identity and future of people of European descent” in the United States. “He is bringing identity politics for white people into the public sphere in a way no one has.”
Reviving Fears on Immigration
Another Republican once sounded alarms about globalization, unchecked immigration and the looming obsolescence of European-American culture. But in two bids for the Republican nomination, that candidate, Patrick J. Buchanan, won a total of four states. Mr. Trump won 37.
Mr. Buchanan’s 1992 and 1996 campaigns were dismissed as a political and intellectual dead end for Republicans.
Mr. Buchanan was campaigning against a backdrop of overwhelming white political and cultural dominance in America. But in the years that followed, the number of immigrants living in the United States illegally would double and then triple, before leveling off under the Obama administration around 11 million. Deindustrialization, driven in part by global trade, would devastate the economic fortunes of white men accustomed to making a decent living without a college degree.
Demographers began to speak of a not-too-distant future when non-Hispanic whites would be a minority of the American population. In states like Texas and California, and in hundreds of cities and counties around the country, that future has arrived.
“It is the changes that are taking place that have created the national constituency for Donald Trump,” Mr. Buchanan said.
For many Americans, President Obama’s election, made possible in part by the rising strength of nonwhite voters, signaled a transcendent moment in the country’s knotty racial history. But for some whites, the election of the country’s first black president was also a powerful symbol of their declining pre-eminence in American society.
In June 2015, two weeks after Mr. Trump entered the presidential race, he received an endorsement that would end most campaigns: The Daily Stormer embraced his candidacy.
Founded in 2013 by a 32-year-old neo-Nazi named Andrew Anglin, The Daily Stormer is among the most prominent online gathering places for white nationalists and anti-Semites, with sections devoted to “The Jewish Problem” and “Race War.” Mr. Anglin explained that although he had some disagreements with him, Mr. Trump was the only candidate willing to speak the truth about Mexicans.
“Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: It’s time to deport these people,” Mr. Anglin wrote. “He is also willing to call them out as criminal rapists, murderers and drug dealers.”
“They’ll tell you straight to your face, ‘This is our country now — no more gringos!’” said Nick Conrad, a sheet metal worker who wore a “Hillary Clinton for Prison” T-shirt and wraparound sunglasses. “They’re not in it for our culture. They’re not here to assimilate.”
“He says what everyone thinks,” Mr. Conrad said of Mr. Trump. “He says what we’re all thinking. He’s bringing people together. We say, ‘Hey, that’s right; we can say this.’”
Resonating on Campuses
Mr. Trump’s influence is playing out perhaps most vividly on college campuses, an otherwise deeply liberal redoubt where young people grapple openly and frenetically with their own race and identity.
For a generation weaned on a diet of civic multiculturalism, supporting Mr. Trump breaks the ultimate taboo. Students writing Mr. Trump’s name and slogans in chalk have been accused of hate crimes and spurred calls for censorship. And on campuses frozen by unyielding political correctness and expanding definitions of impermissible speech, some welcome the provocation that Mr. Trump provides.
Three days after a gunman claiming allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people in a gay club in Orlando, Fla., a crowd of college students gathered two blocks from the site of the massacre. They wore Trump hats or T-shirts and chanted, “Build that wall.” They cracked jokes about trigger warnings or whether the sidewalk counted as a safe space.
A few minutes later, a black S.U.V. pulled up, delivering Milo Yiannopoulos, a 30-something gay conservative raised in London and now a minor celebrity among the alt-right.
Since 2014, Mr. Yiannopoulos has toured college campuses in the United States and England, staging a performance that is equal parts spectacle and stump speech. Mr. Yiannopoulos dismisses statistics on campus rape as an official fiction and favors the slogan “Feminism is a cancer.”
His barbs are directed chiefly at liberals, feminists and Black Lives Matter activists, all of whom routinely show up to protest or disrupt his speeches. His followers film these confrontations and share them enthusiastically on YouTube and Facebook. In one video, Mr. Yiannopoulos arrives at a speech on a sedan chair carried by several young men wearing Trump hats.
“I knew I could have fun on campuses because they are so uptight and they are so ruled by the people I don’t like,” said Mr. Yiannopoulos, who considers himself a “free-speech fundamentalist.” He added, “Less cynically, they’re an important battleground.”
Shortly after the shooting, Mr. Yiannopoulos announced plans to speak at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. The university canceled his appearance, first citing a shortage of security personnel and then claiming that no suitable space was available on the 1,415-acre campus. Instead, Mr. Yiannopoulos spoke near the nightclub.
He stood just feet from the network television encampments, though none had sent cameras or reporters to cover him. Wearing a dark pinstriped suit under the unrelenting Florida sun, he warned of a gathering menace from Muslim immigrants, sprinkling his speech with anecdotes about sexual assaults in Germany and gender-segregated swimming pools.
In Mr. Yiannopoulos’s telling, liberals were dupes and hypocrites, so blinded by glib multiculturalism that they could not even admit how dangerous Islam was to gay people, like the victims of the Orlando massacre. To cheers and whoops, he praised Mr. Trump’s plan to bar Muslims from entering the country.
Afterward, fans lined up to get his autograph. Most seemed to be Trump supporters, but not all were conservative. Several described themselves as socially liberal or libertarian. A few said they just wanted to hear what Mr. Yiannopoulos had to say.
“The setup of U.C.F. has very few places where people are allowed to speak,” said Allen Greathouse, a slender 20-year-old from Melbourne, Fla. “You can only speak in the free-speech zones.”