The United States is a country like no other. At the same time, it fancies itself the template for all the nations of the earth. As a great and mighty continent-spanning empire holding the right to tax hundreds of millions of souls, the power to rain fire upon peoples all over the world who draw its wrath, the technology to spread its faith into the hearths of all humanity, and the ability to exact political concessions from other states simply by asking, the United States finds itself alone in the world but also on every street corner and handheld device.
Yet, while impressive both on paper and in its voluminous corpus of deeds, the empire is imperiled.
At the 45th inauguration of the president of the United States, the current sovereign spoke ominously of the calamities which had befallen his beloved country (with such verbal images as “tombstones” and “carnage”). Indeed, it was hard to believe this was the speech of a post-Cold War president. The death of industry and the death of humanity went hand in hand as Donald J. Trump rattled off the plagues of the United States and how he pledged to fix them—to, in a revanchist turn of phrase, “Make America Great Again.”
What an idea indeed. Whether America was great before is both a question of semantics and partisanship. Certainly to those of the current political Right, America was a “great” country with economic, religious, and intellectual liberty unrivaled in much of the world, while for the Left, America is simply a location where people struggle to break free from the bonds of oppression, such as race, class, and sex. Any appeals to greatness in a prior period are utterly revolting for those on the left, because at such times “racism” or “sexism” were rampant.
Those on the American Right, too, are in a strange position, being conservatives of a liberal revolution against monarchy and hierarchy. Thus, they merely guard the most recently cemented advance of liberalism against newer iterations. Greatness is thus something that slowly trails behind the ever moving present. American conservatives may one day consider George W. Bush great. Meanwhile, the American Left has tasked itself with destroying the foundations of the human experience, so as to make men into angels and usher in a new era of progress. The end of race, gender, class, family, and tradition are seen as the end goals of civilization, because all are associated in their minds with systems of unjust exploitation.
Thus, in the United States, political options hitherto have been the conservative fealty to the Constitution (as modified continuously by liberals), or to the liberal project of running a sociological experiment.
Is the billionaire leader of the populares currently in power concerned with such questions of left and right? He has built his coalition out of the base of the latter and relies upon many of their votes and tropes, but the Manhattan mogul is from “the Empire State” and has spent his entire life there. The churning mob of his home city have turned the keys and the crown over to Republican, Independent, and Democratic doges in succession. Such an environment clearly privileges power over politics and ideological principles.
Trump is political enough to win an election by losing the majority vote, to label his enemies and then raise armies to destroy them on the map, and to command the attention of the world as if he were king (without having the title). But due to his own personal power, Trump was already the “God-Emperor” in his civilian life; his brand and his purse were both influential enough to deliver him almost anything he willed. Now, he is the most powerful man on earth. And his atavistic quest to restore greatness leaps over the heads of both the American conservative (longing for the 1980s) and liberal (lusting for the 2040s).
But if this man, whose former associates seem to imply is nearly illiterate and bibliophobic, has an ideology at all, it is not a complex or inquiring one. There is nothing deeply held, save for his love of state and a preoccupation with constructing things, whether infrastructure, image, or institutions. Many commentators, of all political stripes, have labeled Trump a populist or a nationalist (or both), and these appellations seem to have stuck. They’re also fairly accurate, as nationalism and populism are inseparable from mass democracy and modernity. Had these sentiments and their ideological tents disappeared completely, we would have to seriously question whether mass democracy still existed. What do voters in mass democracies vote on if not their tribal and/or economic self-interests?
Democracy lives in America, and Trump is a sign of as much. Despite much grumbling over his loss of the popular vote, Trump did win the vote of mass democracy, that of the ethnic majority. The white voter divides his political loyalties based on issues, his location, and the politician running for office. He does not default to a party as strongly as the African American or Latino voter does. He must be convinced or cajoled into electing one leader over another. Trump’s opponent fared poorly among this group and instead won a collection of factional interests, i.e. ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, childless women, and elite members of the ethnic majority (themselves a minority). It just so happens that in the United States, factions based upon alternative identities to the ethnic majority are so numerous as to make naked expressions of majority-rule a major political upset.
Such diversity is the most glaring sign of empire, since homogeneity becomes impossible as the population grows larger and the territory claimed by the state more expansive. And it produces tensions that can ignite conflict. One of the neglected causes of the last American Civil War was that of westward expansion. It is all well and good to say that the North opposed slavery and the South relied upon it. But ultimately, the problem was how to distribute the lands purchased and conquered between the American estates, which had grown further apart over time. In the end, the clergy and the burghers of New England and her satellites defeated the planter-aristocrats of the South. Thirteen subdivisions were difficult enough to bind together; by the time of the Civil War almost a century later, the rebel states alone numbered eleven. With their different founding stocks and divergent attitudes towards government and society, these factions in hindsight were on a definite collision course.
The United States today is much larger and more diverse in every possible sense, but its rulers have evidently become more adept at preventing prolonged and large-scale armed conflict between factional interests. What seems to be much more complicated a question for the childless cities, the violent ghettos, and the opiated suburbs and factory shells is creating purpose for the teeming masses of a declining civilization that manages to feed and entertain itself but accomplish little else of merit or prestige. This problem is less easily managed, but perhaps just as dangerous. The challenge for any sovereign of the American empire most basically is thus the management of scale: how do you prevent the country from becoming a cross between a war in Bosnia and Calhoun’s behavioral sink as it becomes both more populous and less homogeneous?
Which brings us to the current sovereign, President Trump, who gave voice to the mass of whites dissatisfied with the direction the country was moving in and felt America as an idea and a place had lost meaning and value. He motivated them in a way other candidates had failed to. His enemies allege he was propelled to power by “whitelash,” that is, the votes of angry lower-and middle-class white Americans made uneasy by the changing complexion of the United States.
Both interpretations have truth to them. What we saw in Trump is just one of many manifestations of identity-based social conflict that can arise from diversity and from changes in status. The press have accused Trump of emboldening an undercurrent of ‘white supremacy’ in the United States, which if nothing else just provides a pretext for the entire American political spectrum to denounce him rather than being an accurate label. Critically speaking, if Trump were some sort of white supremacist, one would have a hard time taking him seriously, as he has Jewish children and grandchildren and routinely makes appeals to the inclusion of ‘hyphenated Americans’ in society and politics. Bona-fide white supremacists are hardly ecumenical in that regard.
In reality, Trump just won the vote of mass whites, people with a sense of patriotic and rooted attachment to the land of their fathers, people who are able to genuinely debate policies rather than default to the hardline in-group consensus held by most minority groups. The founding stocks of the American empire are, in a word, unhappy. And they should be, for their ability to practice majoritarian political dialogue will end if they become a minority. Survival will become the only political instinct, not weighing the pros and cons of abstract policies. The fears about changing complexion are not unjustified, and they do not make one evil. Surely there has never been such a wretched class of ‘supremacists’ as the despondent voters of derelict factory towns who are jumping from a party that claims they are evil to one that claims they will not be forgotten.
Trump, then, is hardly the standard-bearer of white supremacy. Moreover, he won a larger share of minority votes than Mitt Romney (who was also labelled an evil white racist). If Trump is a nationalist—and that seems to be the case—to which nation is he loyal? Contrary to the bastardized dictionary of American English, the United States is not a “nation,” in any real sense, and nation is not just a synonym for “country.” A nation is much more historically rooted, ancestrally related, and culturally homogeneous, such as Japan, Germany, Korea, France, or England. There is no single American nation by this definition, since looking at the demography and cultures of the United States, one finds not only a plethora natively reared cultures with centuries of development (e.g. Southern, African American, Appalachian, Midwestern) but also wholly transplanted ones (e.g. Hispanic, Italian-American, Jewish, Islamic). At the largest level of aggregation, one could perhaps speak of a white or black nation inside the United States, but even then a large minority of whites would be opposed to Trump entirely.
Arguably, Trump is loyal to several American nations, and they in turn are loyal to him in having elected him, but this becomes unworkable at the so-called national level. For him to govern purely on behalf of a particular constellation of peoples and to wholly neglect the others would be a recipe for escalating civil unrest. It’s simply not how you hold an empire together. Suppose Trump were to rule entirely in the interests of ‘non-college’ white Americans. He’s not going to do so, but one can imagine if he did how quickly that would be over, given that in a generation most Americans will be of non-European background.
What he can do in practice is recognize such people as the de facto ‘ethnic foundation’ of the empire (something previous sovereigns have callously ignored in their attempts to court factional support).
In other words, if the needs of Italy are not met, why have the Roman Empire? Why enfranchise the foederatii if there is no benefit for the Latins? This is the conundrum of the white American, the mass democratic voter whose tribal sensibilities were subsumed in the process of holding imperium.
When Americans speak of their nation, they are in fact referring to an empire. Empire produces a convoluted kind of supremacy, or rather a primacy (that is to say, a status of being first in rank rather than supreme for any innate unconditional reason). It’s not so much that the Manhattanite thinks the people of Ohio and Pennsylvania are racially superior to those of the Mississippi River or Southern California. But there are a lot of them, and they form a huge contiguous bloc in the imperial heartland and supply many of its officers, soldiers, and taxes. Their ancestors built this country out of the wilderness and supplied it with values, institutions, and culture. They are objectively important. If they are allowed wilt and exit the stage, there is no guarantee they can be smoothly replaced. After all, the Roman Empire did not survive Germanization. As the election has shown, it was never the solidly Democratic African-American or Latino votes that were kingmaker, it was about raising one’s share of the mass democratic white vote, about winning over the ethnic foundation. Trump benefited more from depressed African-American turnout than he did from winning a larger share of African-American votes than prior Republican candidates. It is hard to consider decisive those who chose not to decide.
From Trump’s speeches, the impression one gets is that he does intend to rule for the interests of mass democratic whites. Few would dispute this, given his overtures to the ‘white working class’ in all but name. Nearly all of his key issues are their key issues. But he makes it clear that he will preside over a pan-racial imperial state—not a white one—and act accordingly. For Trump, white Americans are part of a whole, albeit an important part and one that has in his words been “forgotten.” He makes them prime in his policy proclamations, but without punishing the other groups, truly treading a careful line. Perhaps the most memorable line from the inauguration was thus:
It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.
It could be called “cuckservative,” but on the other hand, the speaker has gone on to suspend all travel from seven Muslim countries, proposed to deport the overwhelmingly mestizo illegal immigrant population, wall off the southern border, and crack down on international deals serving the interests of globalists before Americans.
If this were the limit of Trump’s already brief ideological concerns, we would have to conclude he is little more than a loudmouthed conservative. But taken together with the America First doctrine, the idea that actions taken must benefit the citizens before factions and outside interests, and the revanchist program of Make America Great Again, on paper it prescribes to be much more than that.
What Trumpism is then, cannot quite be boxed as just nationalism and populism. Perhaps in any other country it would be, but America remains exceptional, for American “nationalism” is inherently imperial. Trump is not some caudillo wresting control of a province of the international state system and thumbing his nose at the great powers until he is dragged from the palace and shot by partisans. The nerve center of the world’s most powerful civilizational bloc was just taken over. For lack of a better term, this is a big deal. And it is a big deal that the person at the helm knows it is a big deal. He knows something is rotten and that his job is not merely to maintain it and dispense spoils, but to steward it. The seriousness and deliberation with which Trump approaches the concept of restoration and the crucial task of diagnosing and repairing threats to the United States underscores a truly imperial mindset.
This is much less an ideology about pulling power levers to benefit factions and more an embrace of sovereignty over a unitary whole. Unlike the previous president, his agenda is not weaponized multiculturalism, but one of looking after both the ethnic foundation and the empire’s smaller subject peoples. This is someone who conceived of the gravity of his task all along while his seeming effortlessness was mistaken for naiveté. Trump’s proposed governing paradigms for the country are in essence extensions of how he has already ruled over his dynasty and its holdings. The people are to be looked after and their patrimony to be the envy of the world. The paterfamilias is the root of all statecraft and its most stable form.