After announcing his run for President on June 16th of last year, Donald Trump could have picked any radio program to do his first interview: Hannity, Limbaugh, Levitt. He could have done the down-the-center NPR interview but instead chose nativist firebrand Michael Savage, his ideological spirit animal. The first topic at the top of the interview, Savage insisted “none of the Republicans had stepped up” to discuss the Roof shooting which both Trump and Savage agreed needed to be addressed not with gun control, but enforcing the “anti-riot” act and locking up anyone who crossed state lines to protest in South Carolina. Though it was unclear at the time, this perverse moment of right wing projection would come to define the Trump candidacy.
Somehow a self-admitted white nationalist shooting up nine innocent African-Americans was not only Obama’s fault, but the themes that animated the 23-year-old Roof, impending “demographic threats” to white people, liberal media covering up black on white crime, and the “Islamification” of white Europe, would be the ideological fuel that would not only make the two firebrands comrades, but the very thing that would launch Trump to the top of the polls, never to look back. Roof’s goal, according to his manifesto, was to start a “race war,” Trump’s run that began the day before the shooting would do everything in its power to wage a proxy version of this war, if not overtly, certainly in tone and effect.
Borders, Language, Culture
TheSavage Nation radio show's oft-repeated slogan could very well be Trump’s own: “Borders, Language, Culture.” Savage and Trump aren’t just avatars for white male rage, they’re the perfect embodiment of the capitalist hero - nominally independent, successful, and constantly self-promoting. Trump made his fortune parlaying his father's real estate empire into one much greater, Savage parlayed his love of nutritional ethnomedicine into a new age plant-based healing brand. Both used this early success as a springboard to much greater media empires. Both channel the id of the merchant class that's a large part of the Republican activist and donor base, and both understand that the theater of “no nonsense truth telling” is far more important than the truth itself.
Above all, it’s important to note that what animates both men is a very specific form of White Nationalism, water-downed just to the point of social acceptability. Whereas traditional Lee Atwater racism was about branding and euphemism and animated by a desire for the corporate wing of the GOP to use racism in its service -- rather than the other way around -- Trump and Savage‘s white nationalism is simply about what it is: actual white nationalism. Rid of overt racism and steered clear of anti-Semitism, it is White Nationalism for its own sake. This “authenticity” reads in both Trump and Savage and garners a widespread degree of support among disgruntled whites for just this reason. The “he just tells it how it is” line is another way of saying: white nationalism untethered from corporatism, and entirely earnest in its charge.
Both forged their career on trading in anti-Black racism. Before he was known for bashing Mexican-Americans and Muslims, Trump made his name in the media going after the Central Park Five for a crime, it turns out, they didn’t commit. Even to this day, Trump uses every note on the dog whistle scale to insinuate guilt for the five men despite all evidence showing innocence, taking out op-ed's in The Daily News to continue insisting on their guilt without a shred of evidence. Savage is the most explicitly racist of “mainstream” right wing hosts, calling Black Lives Matter protesters “Obama’s shock troops” in the wake of the Ferguson unrest in 2014 and routinely railing against White Nationalism's favorite boogeyman -- the liberal media covering up black on white crime.
Both have an awkward relationship with anti-Semitism. While gung-ho in embracing capitalism, both speak about “the bankers.” This, while certainly not always code, does have a knotty history when untethered from critiques of capitalism as such. Both men are, at once, vocal supporters of Israel but have garnered a strong following in traditionally white nationalist quarters, The relationship between white Christian extremists and radical Zionism has always been an awkward one, one side needing the other for eschatological expediency, the other for survival of Israel, and both men walk this fine line. In his seminal history of Michael Savage in Salon, David Gilson notes that Savage downplays his Jewish immigrant past pedigree, in service to his largely white Christian fanbase:
Savage, who now decries “propaganda about America being the Land of Immigrants,” isn’t ashamed of his own immigrant parents. However, his Jewish upbringing is strictly taboo. And he often makes Joseph Lieberman, Barbra Streisand and Larry King the butt of stale ethnic jokes. Brad Kava, radio columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and a longtime Savage critic, thinks Savage’s ambivalence toward Jews is a misguided attempt to pander to conservative Christians. “He’s Jewish, but he always acts like he’s Christian,” he says. In his book “The Savage Nation,” for example, he complains of an anti-Christian bias in America. When Kava, who is Jewish, “outed” Savage several years ago, Savage reported him to the Anti-Defamation League. Dr. Robert F. Cathcart, a longtime friend of the talk-show star, speculated in a telephone interview that Savage says little about his background so that he appears more “neutral” when he discusses Israel or religious topics.
Trump, it turns out, is hugely popular among famous anti-Semites like Don Advo of Stormfront Radio, James Kilpatrick of VDare.com, and David Duke, former grand wizard of the KKK, who lavished praise on Trump only to say hismajor gripe was his “deep Jewish connections.” But they got the gist. As many countries in Europe can attest to, the leap between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is a very short one and a viable mainstream politician who trades in the former can, given the right circumstances, be pushed to the former. They had a kindred spirit in Trump, if not expressly, certainly by the subtext of his vitriol.
Both have built up a following by their aggressive, combative style, often by the simple act of lashing out -- even at traditionally right wing sacred cows. Both share a hatred of “free trade” deals like NAFTA and the TPP which have helped gut the white working class. Both have attacked veterans, Trump by infamously going after Senator John McCain for being shot down over Vietnam, Savage by belittling PTSD which he does not believe is a real disease. Both are not overtly religious but share in the war on Christian mythology which, as it turns out, is more than enough to garner widespread evangelical support.
Xenophobia is the thing
The primary, animating cause of the Trump phenomenon and that of the Savage media brand is one in the same: xenophobia -- protecting white people from impending demographic doom. “Hopefully,” one Trump supporter said of Trump at a rally in Mobile, Alabama last August, “he’s going to sit there and say, ‘When I become elected president, what we’re going to do is we’re going to make the border a vacation spot, it’s going to cost you $25 for a permit, and then you get $50 for every confirmed kill [of an undocumented worker]. That’d be one nice thing.”
All Republicans in the field have amped up their anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump has blown out the windows. His plan to physically round-up over 11 million undocumented workers and send them back to their home countries, namely Mexico, is ethnic cleansing by another name; and it’s something Savage has been calling for for years. Indeed, Savage’s entire ethos is summed up in his slogan: “Borders, Language, Culture.” Whose Language and culture? White language and culture such that it is. The immigration debate, despite its legal trappings, has never been about “rule of law” any more than “tough on crime” was. It’s about using ostensibly race-neutral instruments for racist ends and both Savage and Trump have refined this rhetoric to perfection. But unlike other professional race-baiters, both men will "go there,” pinpointing Mexicans by name. Trump infamously calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers” last summer and Savage calling them “criminalians” and referring to emergency rooms as “condos for Mexicans.”
Both men thrive off pushing the line of white nationalism; seeing how much the public and media’s liberal sensitivities will permit. Both men know that in a country still ruled by white supremacy in all but name, media personalities can be a racist and xenophobic as they want so long as they specifically avoid soundbite-friendly racial epithets. That trolling five innocent black men for 25 years, even after they were exonerated, will do nothing to affect Trump’s chances at President, just as suggesting Black Lives Matter are nothing more than brownshirts for the Obama regime won’t get Savage pulled off the air. Both men have made a career off occupying that space where white nationalist cheer but the supposedly liberal media is too cowardly to call it what it is. Both men know this and have exploited it to their ends, monetizing and potentially weaponizing that most plentiful of American resources: white male rage.