In 1964, the great historian Richard J. Hofstadter published one of his most acclaimed essays, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Although written as Barry Goldwater and the John Birch Society were rising to prominence, and on the heels of the McCarthyist '50s, the eponymous style of politics, which tends to embrace conspiracy theories and make use of demographic scapegoats, is now a fixture of America life. Nonetheless, its prominence ebbs and flows, and there do tend to be periods when it becomes especially popular and permeates the mainstream. Today, we appear to be living through such a period.
The paranoid reaction to the new Star Wars movie earlier this week, and the press it has received, reveals how the internet has given a pedestal to people of this tradition -- who should be, as Christopher Hitchens once said of Jerry Falwell, “out in the street shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup.” For those unaware, after the first trailer for the "Star Wars Episode VII" was released on Monday night, a few trolls took to Twitter to denounce the movie as anti-white propaganda, an apparent response to the starring turn of British actor John Boyega, a black man. While legitimate white supremacists were few in number, they nonetheless managed to create a media firestorm, and the hashtag “#BoycottStarWarsVII” was trending globally.
This particular case was clearly the work of a few trolls trying to get attention, but these fringe movements are real, and Star Wars isn't the first movie, nor John Boyega the first actor, to receive this kind of treatment. Whenever a non-white actor has been cast for a character that was previously white -- in recent years, this includes Michael B. Jordon in "The Fantastic Four," Amanda Stenberg in "The Hunger Games" and Idris Elba, both for his role in the "Thor" franchise and his rumored candidacy to be the next James Bond -- racists and trolls have attacked those movies as left-wing propaganda promoting an anti-white agenda.
Now, it may seem like the rational response to this kind of nonsense is to ignore it completely, and let these fringe lunatics have their fun in obscurity. The thing is, these fringe lunatics have there very own presidential candidate, and he is far from being some obscure agitator. He is Donald Trump, of course; the man who has given white supremacists all over the country hope in their cause. Indeed, inveterate racists have already chosen Trump as their candidate. The popular neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, for example, has endorsed Trump, while the white supremacist organization that inspired Dylann Roof, the Council of Conservative Citizens, is also very supportive. The former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has also praised Trump as the “best of the lot” (although he has criticized the billionaire for his “deep Jewish connections”).
The Donald’s nativist fear-mongering is obviously catching on with the ugliest fringe groups in America, and he is cynically embracing all of the anxieties of less educated white people who fear the “browning of America.” A group called the “White GeNOcide Project” even filed a petition with the White House to honor Donald Trump for “opposing white genocide.” The petition reads:
White GeNOcide Project honors Donald Trump for opposing White Genocide, and asks President Obama to honor him also. ALL White countries and ONLY White countries are being flooded with third worlders, and Whites are forced by law to integrate with them so as to "assimilate," i.e. intermarry and be blended out of existence. Massive immigration and forced assimilation is genocide when done in Tibet, and is genocide when done in White countries, by UN Convention: ‘Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.’ Those carrying out White Genocide say they're anti-racist. What they are is anti-White. Anti-racist is a code word for anti-White. Diversity is a code word for White Genocide.
Now, if you’re a Donald Trump supporter, there is a good chance you are not a white supremacist -- but if you are a white supremacist, you’re most likely a Donald Trump supporter. Trump’s anti-Mexican and anti-foreigner shtick is a strategy as old as the constitution, and paranoiacs have always been around. But in this digital age, right-wing populists can easily start a website or get into the mainstream media through Twitter trends, while an entertainer like Trump (and he is an entertainer), who is truly one of the biggest trolls in America, is taken seriously because he’s “really rich” and famous.
In Hofstadter’s aforementioned essay, he opens with a passage that could have easily been written today:
“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”
Substitute Goldwater with Trump, and who would know? This paranoid style of politics has in the past played a major role in American life, and it could easily happen again. Trump’s poll numbers continue to surprise, and the astonishing reality that he could actually become the GOP’s nominee for president has baffled most pundits. But it shouldn’t. Trump has captured the anger and paranoia of a minority of Americans, but this minority should not be underestimated. After all, Goldwater may not have won back in 1964, but his rise was a precursor to the Reagan revolution. Trump may eventually fade away, but the paranoia that he has injected into modern American politics should not be minimized.