The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump escalates his white-nationalist doomerism

President Donald Trump hugs the American flag as he arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., on March 2, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
7 min

As he gears up his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump has released a series of videos outlining the policies and priorities he would bring to office. It’s a very Trumpian approach to the standard practice of candidates outlining their platforms; the video format both replaces complexity with duration and gives Trump a chance to adorn his bullet points with overheated rhetoric.

In his most recent offering, published on the conservative sharing platform Rumble on Thursday, Trump explores geopolitics, in his way. He picks up the right-wing argument that aiding Ukraine in its efforts to repel the Russian invasion is Step 1 of a neoconservative push — here somehow including the Biden administration — to start World War III, as has been the fringe right’s argument for more than a year now. But then, redirecting fairly abruptly, he offers a novel argument, albeit one toward which he has been heading for eight years.

Not only are his political opponents undermining the country, but they’re undermining all of “Western civilization” by weakening the United States.

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Before presenting the specifics of Trump’s commentary, though, it’s useful to contextualize them.

Trump’s emergence as the gravitational center of Republican politics began with his first presidential campaign announcement in June 2015. Picking up on the themes of right-wing media — that the nascent Black Lives Matter movement was an attack on American Whites and that the 2014 surge in unaccompanied minors at the border was a threat to American sovereignty — Trump made issues of race and demography the center of his candidacy. His first comments as a candidate addressed trade, parlaying his track record in business as an asset, but also focused heavily on the sorts of themes that would eventually define him as a politician: Immigrants are dangerous. They’re criminals. They’re terrorists.

“Make America great again” was always inherently about turning back the clock in the United States, to unwind changes that included increased diversity. Over time, it became impossible to disentangle Trump’s views on race from his politics. Support for Trump was better predicted by considering whether a voter saw White Americans as embattled than if they were economically disadvantaged. Trump’s comments about crime and policing and the border and Democrats were interlaced with appeals to racial resentment. Even his reaction to investigations into his business practices was to allege that Black prosecutors were racist against him.

As Trump was rising, so was white-nationalist rhetoric, and so were white-nationalist actors both in the United States and abroad. For many of them, Trump’s narrow election as president in 2016 signaled a moment of pushback against a strengthening of pluralistic, multicultural democracy. Groups like the Proud Boys, which couch opposition to a diversifying culture as a defense of “Western civilization,” gained power — and avoided criticism from Trump.

When Trump made his last stand to retain power after losing the 2020 election, the Proud Boys and other extreme groups battled on his behalf. Trump had run his campaign on the argument that society was collapsing, that sporadic violence that followed angry protests over another police killing of a Black man was, in fact, the first step on a slippery slope to anarchy. Voters rejected the argument and rejected Trump — but Trump and his allies were unwilling to accept that rejection until forced to.

So we arrive at Trump’s renewed pitch for the 2024 election. Here’s what the video published on Thursday said:

“The greatest threat to Western civilization today is not Russia. It’s probably more than anything else ourselves and some of the horrible U.S.A.-hating people that represent us. It’s the abolition of our national borders. It’s the failure to police our own cities. It’s the destruction of the rule of law from within. It’s the collapse of the nuclear family. And fertility rates like nobody can believe is happening. It’s the Marxists who would have us become a godless nation worshiping at the altar of race and gender and environment. And it’s the globalist class that has made us totally dependent on China and other foreign countries that basically hate us.”

Those first few sentences have attracted a lot of attention, understandably; a former president is saying that Americans themselves constitute the threat to Western civilization. Here, Trump is leveraging the patriotism imbalance between Democrats and Republicans: The right can disparage aspects of the country or individual states without condemnation because it is also more jingoistic, more superficially patriotic. Since the left is framed as antagonistic to the United States, even valid criticisms are dismissed as America-hating.

But pick it apart. Trump is also saying that Russia — autocratic, aggressive, homogenous — is more compatible with “Western civilization” than the United States. Then he explains why.

Because the United States has “abolish[ed] national borders.” This is a wildly inaccurate, overwrought condemnation of increased apprehensions at the border — correlated to the arrival of more immigrants.

Because the country is failing to “police our own cities.” Here, an attempt both to assert without uniform evidence that crime is surging and, barely under the surface, suggest that urban areas that have a lot of Black and Hispanic residents are out of control.

Because of the “destruction of the rule of law.” This is a reference in part to the aforementioned crime in cities, which the right has decided is a function of protests against police and changes in how prosecutors charge accused criminals. It’s also a reference to the various charges Trump himself might face, of course.

Because of the “collapse of the nuclear family” and declining fertility rates. This is as explicit an endorsement of core white-nationalist rhetoric as you will find. Republicans have expressed concern about the decline in two-parent families for some time, often because this decline does correlate to lower success for children and, at times, because it’s a way of casting recipients of government services (often Black or Hispanic) as undeserving. It’s safe to assume, given the context, that Trump is focused more on the latter.

That “fertility rates” thing, though, is an expression of frustration that fewer White Americans are having White babies. Rates are down among most racial groups, but lowest among Whites — and it’s hard to believe that Trump here is expressing concern about the drop in rates among Black or Hispanic Americans. After all, this is a screed about “Western civilization,” which is understood as a shorthand for White culture.

Declining birthrates are, in fact, a challenge for the country, given that the population is aging. In order to maintain the ratio between older and working-age Americans — important to consider given that working-age people pay into systems that seniors use — demographers expect that the United States will need to increase immigration. And that is not something that Trump wants to see.

In case you aren’t convinced by this parsing of Trump’s words, he eventually cops to it. “Marxists” want the United States to be a “godless nation worshiping at the altar of race and gender and environment.” As with patriotism, the right likes to offer race-centric rhetoric while insisting that it’s the left that has a toxic relationship with race. To draw attention to the ways in which race is present as a factor in American systems and politics is to be an anti-American Marxist; to defend those systems and espouse those politics is to be race-blind, just as Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted. Another corollary: To talk about a man being married to a man is to talk irreducibly about sexuality; to talk about a man married to a woman is just to talk about life in these United States.

Trump has never been subtle, from his architecture to his politics. In this video — again, an articulation of what he promises to bring to the White House should he be inaugurated in 2025 — he is similarly unsubtle. Trump frames his candidacy as a last-ditch backstop against the collapse of White culture, more threatened by Americans themselves than by Russia — a nation hailed by many on the right for its unabashed aggression in service to its homogeneity.

This is a policy Trump wants voters to know that he will enact.