The Bulwark Presents
The Triad by JVL

Trump Is Not a “White Supremacist”

There's a difference between "white supremacy" and "white nationalism."
August 13, 2019
Featured Image
(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

1. Stop Saying “White Supremacy”

Remember back with the left used to be really, really good at weaponizing language?

It’s not abortion, it’s a “choice”!

It’s not confiscatory tax policy, it’s “fairness”!

It’s not discrimination, it’s “affirmative action”!

So why in the world have leftists decided to hang “white supremacy” around Donald Trump’s neck?

Because that’s not going to work.

For starters, Trump is not a “white supremacist.” Nobody in his orbit is a “white supremacist.” Approximately 0.0000000000000001 percent of his supporters are “white supremacists.” The ideological stew that passes for “Trumpism” is not based on “white supremacy.”

“White supremacy” is a very specific idea. It’s the notion that whites are superior to all other races. It believes in the “master race.” It worries about blood lines and dilution and is expansive in its view. There are people in this world who are actual white supremacists.

None of them are represented in American political life.

The actual malady we are suffering from today is “white nationalism.” Which differs from “white supremacism” in important ways.

“White supremacy” is necessarily expansionistic. “White nationalism” is inward-looking.

White supremacists believe in the superiority of the white race. White nationalists mostly believe that there is a hierarchy of races in terms of native ability, with Asians at the top, followed by Jews, then “real whites,” then brown people.

White supremacy is a boast. White nationalism is a grievance. White nationalists want to take back what they see as “their” country from the recently arrived interlopers.

None of this is meant to excuse Trump, or downplay the dangers of white nationalism. But we ought to call things by right names, for a number of reasons.

The first is that it’s just true: Whatever Donald Trump’s private beliefs—whether by accident or by design—he has become a rallying point for white nationalists in America.

The second is that when you’re running against someone as obviously problematic as Donald Trump, you don’t help your cause by over-charging. Actually, you hurt it. Because when persuadable people hear your trumped-up charges and realize that one part of your theory of the case isn’t on the level, they’ll doubt all the other parts, too.

The third is that Trump won’t be willing to condemn “white nationalism.”

There’s a reason why, in his remarks about El Paso, Trump condemned “white supremacy.” It’s because his brand is nationalism. He can’t be for “nationalism” and then against “white nationalism.” That simply doesn’t work. He wants to tell voters, “I’m against all that white supremacy stuff. I’m just here for the nationalism.”

Why in the world would the left in general—and Democratic presidential candidates in particular—let him off the hook like that by claiming he’s a “white supremacist”?

2. Sorry in Advance

Over the last couple of years I’ve heard lots of good-faith explanations from friends about why I’ve got Trump and Trumpism dead wrong.

“It’s about judges.”

“It’s about saving the free market from the socialists.”

“It’s about the unique threat Hillary Clinton posed to the idea of the rule of law.”

All of which are quite sensible. One other thing I often hear is: “No, it’s not a personality cult.”

To which I will now and forever respond with this link.