The debate over Donald Trump's "go back" tweets regarding four minority Democratic members of Congress has centered on the unmistakably bigoted words that he wrote, but has missed the deeper point. The fundamental nature of the Middle American Revolution the president is leading is mired in white-identity politics and closely tracks the blueprint of a little-known writer, Sam Francis, who espoused disturbing racially tinged views.
As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about the late Washington Times columnist, "There's very little Donald Trump has done or said that Francis didn't champion a quarter century ago." Many other writers of various political stripes have noted the connection, although not in the context of the latest tweet storm.
Francis despised the Republican leadership, which isn't unusual or necessarily unwarranted. But his main argument was that GOP elites were selling out the white working class, refusing to fight back against multiculturalism and putting globalism above the needs of Americans. He not only loathed big business, which he accused of putting profits above national identity, but capitalism itself, which he described as the "enemy."
His main bugaboo was mass immigration—legal and illegal. Does that sound familiar? Francis' thought "was infected by the same cancer that may destroy Trumpism," Brooks presciently noted in that 2017 column. Francis kept heading into the racial fever swamp because "people like that always go there, sooner or later." That's exactly what we're seeing now, as the national political conversation has taken a decidedly race-tainted tone.
Despite efforts by some of the new nationalists to banish the alt-righters and avowed white nationalists, this movement always ends up fixated on birthrights and genetics. Many of these folks can't help from going there. There's a likely reason that former KKK leader David Duke touts the president's agenda or why the far right is attracted to this movement like white on rice.
The GOP establishment has long embraced the idea of America as universal magnet, based on lofty ideas that resonate with people from all races and backgrounds. Nationalists mostly reject that concept. To them, America is the product of a time, place and people. They can't talk about their views for long before fretting about third-world immigrant rapists and yammering about cosmopolitans. Nationality—not liberty—is at the core of their philosophy.
"A concerted and long-term attack against the civilization of white, European and North American man has been launched," Francis said at a 1994 conference sponsored by a group that's focused on racial issues. "The war against white civilization…invokes liberal ideals as its justification and as its goal, but the likely reality is that the victory of the racial revolution will end merely in the domination or destruction of the white race and its civilization by the non-white peoples."
The president doesn't describe his views with precision, but his tweets tap into low-road sentiment. It doesn't take many discussions with hard-core MAGA folks to end up hearing about "Mexican invaders" or "black crime." That appears to be by design. "Instead of invoking a suicidal liberalism and regurgitating the very universalism that has subverted our identity and our sense of solidarity, what we as whites must do is reassert our identity and our solidarity, and we must do so in explicitly racial terms through the articulation of a racial consciousness as whites," he suggested. Isn't that what Trumpism is at least partially about?
Francis sometimes focused on popular culture. He described the 1988 movie, "Mississippi Burning," about the murders of three civil-rights workers in 1964, as an "anti-white film" that "manages to smear every white man and woman in the state." Apparently, those of us who found it to be a noteworthy movie about a terrible injustice are not racially conscious enough to feel slighted.
Francis was likewise incensed at an advertisement on "Monday Night Football" showing a white woman "smooching up" to a black football star. "Breaking down the sexual barriers between the races is a major weapon of cultural destruction because it means the dissolution of the cultural boundaries that define breeding and the family," he complained. Ronald Reagan espoused a "city on the hill" where people from any country could become American. The far right worries about proper breeding.
Today's Trump movement is about many other issues, of course, but it's easy to hear Francis' echoes in its fixation on culture-war folderol, such as African-American flag kneelers, culturally subversive tech companies and drag-queen reading hours.
The president and his supporters can't be held accountable for the words of a deceased columnist, even though it's worth examining the worldview of one of this movement's visionaries. But the "cancer is spreading," as Jonathan V. Last argued recently in The Bulwark. That's not only because an impulsive president pops off racially charged comments, but because his whole nationalist enterprise desperately needs chemotherapy.
Author's note: I linked to some offensive web sites that publish Francis' columns. It's not my intent to give them page views, but believe it's important to read these pieces in context. They are the only sites I can find that post them.