Jamelle Bouie writes: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” said the president, before posing a series of questions: “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”
In the context of terrorism specifically, a deadly threat but not an existential one, this is overheated. But it’s clear Trump has something else in mind: immigration. He’s analogizing Muslim migration to a superpower-directed struggle for ideological conquest. It’s why he mentions “borders,” why he speaks of threats from “the South”—the origin point of Hispanic immigrants to the United States and Muslim refugees to Europe—and why he warns of internal danger.
This isn’t a casual turn. In these lines, you hear the influence of [Steve] Bannon and [Stephen] Miller. The repeated references to Western civilization, defined in cultural and religious terms, recall Bannon’s 2014 presentation to a Vatican conference, in which he praised the “forefathers” of the West for keeping “Islam out of the world.” Likewise, the prosaic warning that unnamed “forces” will sap the West of its will to defend itself recalls Bannon’s frequent references to the Camp of the Saints, an obscure French novel from 1973 that depicts a weak and tolerant Europe unable to defend itself from a flotilla of impoverished Indians depicted as grotesque savages and led by a man who eats human feces.
For as much as parts of Trump’s speech fit comfortably in a larger tradition of presidential rhetoric, these passages are clear allusions to ideas and ideologies with wide currency on the white nationalist right.
Defenders of the Warsaw speech call this reading “hysterical,” denying any ties between Trump’s rhetoric in Poland and white nationalism. But to deny this interpretation of the speech, one has to ignore the substance of Trump’s campaign, the beliefs of his key advisers, and the context of Poland itself and its anti-immigrant, ultranationalist leadership. One has to ignore the ties between Bannon, Miller, and actual white nationalists, and disregard the active circulation of those ideas within the administration. And one has to pretend that there isn’t a larger intellectual heritage that stretches back to the early 20th century, the peak of American nativism, when white supremacist thinkers like Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard penned works with language that wouldn’t feel out of place in Trump’s address. [Continue reading…]