The Racial Side of the Trump Story

Luke Phillips


There’s a simple story in Trump, and a complicated one. Here at this blog I’ve dedicated an inordinate amount of space exploring the complex one- the white working class’s rejection of neoliberal economics- and, if you’re not familiar with it, here’s Joel Kotkin’s recent piece related to the matter.

But the simple story is just as important. Donald Trump is playing on ethnic tensions between working class whites on the one side, and urban minorities on the other side. It’s a gross mirror of the cynical identity politics of the Left, only this time, it’s being done in favor of the majority against minorities, rather than minorities against the majority. (Neither is justifiable or healthy in the mind of a liberal nationalist like myself, but the Trumpian pro-majority kind is more dangerous. “Tyranny of the majority” and all that.)

Sure, individual blacks and Latinos and Asians might be supporting Trump- and here in Los Angeles, the most diverse city in the country and one of the most diverse on the planet, I’ve run into blacks, Latinos, and Asians who will be casting their votes for the Destroyer of Worlds in the Fall. Their reasoning is the same as what many white supporters of Trump, including those in my own family, reason- disgust with an entrenched political elite, and desire to move towards an economics that benefits people outside the donor class.

But do you see, anywhere, flocks of blacks, Latinos, and Asians pledging to Trump, praying over him, making ethno-nationalist parodies of 300 featuring his likeness, or doing any of these quite normal, reasonable things that people do when they support a candidate?


Quite the contrary, Trump does poorly among the black, Latino, and Asian communities. I theorize, by the way, something very simple- that Trump’s coded racial appeals work for working white people but not for other groups. Trump is repugnant to the vast majority of minorities in this country.

And some minority Republicans in high places are noting the same. Ruth Guerra, the RNC’s head of Hispanic media relations, and Orlando Watson, the RNC’s Communications Director of Black Media, announced to the press their withdrawals from the RNC to work at other jobs. Neither mentioned Trump by name in their remarks, but it’s child’s play guessing why they quit. And with Trump as the presumptive nominee now and the RNC’s mission being to get him to the Oval Office, is it any wonder that some people at RNC might find their consciences at odds with their work’s telos?

Trump is many things, and it’s not clear that he’s a racist. (In fact, he’s probably not.) But almost as important as the character (or lack thereof) of an individual is the company he keeps; and Trump’s company, his base of support, includes not only the justified and disenfranchised (i.e., working-class people absolutely shafted by neoliberal economics) but the unjustifiably ugly and prejudiced (hence the Klan’s not-quite-endorsement-but-basically-endorsement-endorsement, etc.)

That’s company that ought to be rejected, or at the very least, subdued and tamped down the way FDR was able to calm the passions of klansmen and socialists with subsidies. That company ought not be pandered to and teased for votes (and Trump’s not the only one guilty of this- the entire conservative GOP Establishment from Reagan to Gingrich to Bush has played this strategy for decades, and the great sin of my beau ideal of a statesmen, Richard Nixon, was not Watergate, but the Southern Strategy.)

There are a lot of reasons to reject Trump (and, albeit, a lot of reasons to support him.) But the reasons to reject him plow into the very core of American identity, of the ideal of the nation-state as a unified and multiracial entity and of the liberal ideal of tolerance and social harmony itself. These reasons delve into the very nature of who we are as Americans and who we are as human beings. So although the Trump might be kind of right on trade, on entitlements, on immigration restriction, on manufacturing, on bringing new people into government, and on any number of other issues, he must be rejected simply because he is willing to cultivate the image of a rejection of multiracial America. He is willing to pander to those who are disgusted with our diversity, and he is willing to elevate them in his rabid pursuit of greatness.

That white identity politics is a force we must banish to the dustbin of history. (For that matter we must also abolish the failed multicultural identity politics so praised and worshipped on the Left.) I fear, though, that in the wake of November, it will only grow.

And that is why we must stand against it.


Don’t Worry About the Conservatives…

Luke Phillips


Yesterday, it was leaked that Bill Kristol’s much-heralded “conservative alternative” savior candidate was none other than David French.


Just another National Review writer. Iraq vet, Harvard Law, etc. Writes columns at National Review, and no one outside that publication’s readership has really heard of him.

To be honest, when my friend and mentor Michael Lind forwarded me the article about it, my first thought was “did Breitbart add a satire section?”

As I saw more and more articles about the announcement accumulate, the sheer surrealism of it all faded and the pathetic truth emerged: the conservative movement is the sick man of America, still clinging to life and jabbering at the up-and-coming yung’uns, but no longer relevant as a real creative force. Oh sure, Senator Sasse and Speaker Ryan will continue to push conservative policy agendas nationally, and Louisiana and Kansas will lumber along as the worst-governed states in America save California and New York and Illinois; but their true believers will continue to dwindle, and the policies that actually get enacted will look a lot more like Donald Trump than Mitt Romney.

The conservative voices that criticize Progressive Republicans, then, are wailing in the wind- they’ll attack us because of our ideological impurity, and their high priests will attempt to exorcise us and, failing that, excommunicate us. In my world, that of the Washington intelligentsia, the clueless cognitive elite will lag behind the country’s ascendant Trumpism and continue following Bill Kristol down the stale path of Reaganism.

So shooting down old-style conservatism won’t be too hard- the movement is now the province of country-club types and a few die-hards.

It’s the ethno-nationalism of Trumpism we have to worry about.



Pre-K Blues

Luke Phillips

Our friends at The American Interest published a piece today questioning the benefits of Universal Pre-K services funded by the government, using a similar program from the UK as a case study. Their primary concern- and a valid one- is whether or not the service is capable of providing what its supporters claim it does.

According to the article, it does not-

“Overall, the policy made daycare more affordable for some families, but had very little effect on students’ educational achievement in the long-run.”

Here we run into one of the big dilemmas of contemporary late-stage “Blue Model” politics. It’s pretty clear and well-accepted that more government services are a good thing that can expand opportunity for more people, but that every method we know about to fund and administer them is increasingly costly and inefficient. And the services themselves, increasingly, are not that great. This is true of healthcare coverage, infrastructure, public education, and just about every other policy area where it’s been long-established that the government ought to play a provisory role.

Mainstream Republicans tend to prefer to cut-cut-cut, offering a slightly smaller and more chronically underfunded version of the blue state. Most Democrats, meanwhile, simply ask for more funds without offering up much of an agenda for improving the services.

There’s another way. Instead of merely starving the beast or feeding it, we ought to use the power of technology- IT or otherwise- to improve delivery, cost, and general quality of every public service our various levels of government provide. At a federal level, the policy of providing grants to states might be leveraged- monetary “relief for reform” of insolvent and inefficient institutions. At the level of the actual providers of those services, policymaking should be decentralized to encourage new innovations in provision of services, so people on the ground can experiment with different ways to do things.

Should the federal government fund universal Pre-K? Of course! Just as it should fund universal community college and, perhaps one day in the future, universal college education.

But before the service can be funded, the current model must be drastically reformed in ways that decrease costs, increase quality and access, and modernize these cumbersome and bloated systems into jewels worthy of 21st Century governance. If we can upgrade Universal Pre-K into something more effective at helping our children develop, for a fraction of the price it would cost as a service nowadays… well, the party that figures out how to tackle that challenge will reform the whole government of the United States.


Progressive Republican League Featured in Yes! Magazine

I was recently interviewed by the gracious Marcus Green for Yes! Magazine. Here is the portion of his article where the Progressive Republican League was featured.


Read the whole thing here.

“Luke Phillips, a 22-year-old political science major at the University of Southern California and a Republican reform activist, is also fed up with his party’s current iteration.

“The economic policies put in place by conservative Republicans have come to fruition and eroded the populist faith that many different groups once had in the party,” he says.

Phillips grew up Republican and has been a reform activist for the past three years. He currently heads up the Progressive Republican League, a website for reform-minded Republican millennials. Its goal is to usher the “Republican Party, and the rest of the country with it, into the 21st Century.”

He joins many other young Republicans who are less conservative than the GOP as a whole, and who say the party is stuck in an old ideology that is preventing it from embracing the world as it actually is.

For Phillips, the party’s fixation on failed economic polices such as Reaganism—or trickle-down economics—offer little hope of an economic cushion or prosperity for the working class that turned out in droves to vote for Trump….

….Reformers like Phillips implore the party to move toward policies more favorable to run-of-the-mill working people in order to maintain relevancy. In that regard, the tenets outlined on the Progressive Republican website and Facebook page are a synthesis of Republican frameworks that meld a belief in free markets and fiscal prudence with strategic public investment and tolerance of a multipolar society, without taking extreme positions on social issues.

On the USC campus, Phillips is a political orphan. He aligns neither with the Young Republicans and their adherence to the GOP’s current orthodoxy, nor the Young Democrats who sometimes carry liberalism to its extremes. He does have kindred spirits across the country, however, who don’t buy the party’s current brand. But, at present, reform-minded Republicans lack an organizational framework within the party structure, he says.

While it is difficult to reconcile the beliefs of the more religiously fervent among them with the new normal, Phillips would not completely banish the old guard from the party, saying that it’s dangerous to exclude any group from the democratic process.

“Excommunication is what happened to my movement 50 years ago, and I don’t want to fix that by taking revenge on conservatives,” he says….

….“I have an infinite amount of hope, but it’s in this new generation of Republicans, not my own,” says Wilkerson.

Phillips for one, intends to make good on Wilkerson’s assessment. He is using the Progressive Republican League to expand the network of like-minded GOP reformers in hopes of building the infrastructure necessary to support Republican progressives and moderates.”

So Why is Trump a Thing? Four Views

Luke Phillips


Giga-gallons of ink have been spilt over the last year or so as pundit after pundit has attempted to explain “the meaning of Trump.” There are plenty of explanations ranging from voter ignorance to right-wing extremism, but it seems to me that there are three particularly compelling explanations that deserve a look.

White Supremacist Racism

First, there’s the “Racism Thesis” that so many on the Left tend to fall back on. In this reading, Donald Trump’s appeal is primarily with the racially prejudiced white working class, who once made up the majority in this country but have seen, since the 1960s, an America gone multicultural. They have looked in alarm upon increased post-Civil Rights Era black consciousness, along with dramatic increases in nonwhite immigration from Latin America and Asia.

The Racism Thesis assumes that the descendants of Slave Lord and Scots-Irish alike have cast aside their socioeconomic differences and united behind a primal fear of the overhaul of white supremacy. And there’s a lot to this- as Chris Ladd (GOPLifer) has demonstrated time and time again, the GOP after the Southern Strategy received an influx of racist Dixiecrats and became a white nationalist party beneath its libertarian-neocon elite surface.

 Economic Dislocation

Second, there’s the “Neoliberal Thesis” that some on the Left and a very few on the Right have identified. In this school of thought, Trump’s appeal is based on the economic frustration of the white working class, who have seen their wages decline and their jobs get shipped overseas, even as the moguls on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley and Hollywood have had their earnings and assets skyrocket. Working-class people have seen neoliberal influxes in low-wage immigrants from Latin America, both legal and illegal, alongside massive dubious trade deals negotiated with low-wage labor developing countries.

Michael Lind has been probably the most vocal proponent of this theory– the idea that neoliberal free-market economics of the sort practiced by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama (to a degree) has disenfranchised millions of working-class white voters. He’s demonstrated that the free-market consensus in the GOP will be increasingly giving way to a “big-government” economic populism incompatible with most of Reaganism, and that Trump’s economic policies represent the harbinger of that future.

Cultural Exclusion

Finally, there’s the “Jacksonian Thesis” that very few on either side of the aisle have articulated. Seen culturally, the largely traditionalist working class feels disconnected from the elites who control the political process not solely for economic reasons, but also for cultural reasons. They see a political elite that cares about everyone except working class whites, that makes a big deal about sexuality and gender issues while discounting everything about traditional religion, and that supports dubious environmentalist schemes at the expense of people who rely on industrialism for their livelihoods. The Jacksonians- historically the most important component of 20th Century electoral coalitions- see a decadent ruling elite on the coasts, and they’re fighting back.

The Jacksonian Thesis goes beyond the Racism Thesis in that the primary motivator for pro-Trump sentiment is disgust with the elite rather than alarm at multiculturalism (though the two sentiments are by no means exclusive.) Jacksonian working-class people, as Walter Russell Mead has demonstrated, believe they’re on the losing side of an apocalyptic culture war based not on abortion and gay marriage but on patriotism itself. They’re fighting for everything they hold dear, forgetting about the concerns of anybody else, and we’re seeing the ugly results.

Who’s Right?

In my view, all three of these views are accurate, and none are mutually contradictory. Trump supporters ARE motivated by racial prejudice, in many cases; they ARE concerned with their economic situation, often; and they DO feel that their cultural values are at stake.

The fact that there’s such widespread popular support for such a concoction should give us pause and open up the stage for frank national discussion on all three fronts.

In the first place, the fact that so many Americans are as openly racist as they are, and do not appear to be dying off, is an obvious reason for concern.

In the second place, our prevailing economic orthodoxies are no longer serving masses upon masses of people of all races. It may well be time for a rethink.

In the third place, our political elite speaks a cultural language that puts it apart from the rest of America, and the rest of America is not all bad. An openness to non-elite conceptions of truth and value might be healthy to our fundamentally pluralistic society.

So are Trump voters racist, populist, and traditionalist?

Yes, yes, and yes.

That just means we have some serious issues to deal with as a country. When the dust settles in November 2016, it’ll be time for reformers in the GOP to get to work.

Postmodern Marie Antoinettes on the Third World Poor-“Let Them Use Solar Energy”

Luke Phillips

Note- this is a modified version of a Facebook post.


Ted Nordhaus at Breakthrough nails it again. What, exactly, are we Westerners trying to do when we tell West Africans to use solar-powered lanterns and biomass cookstoves? “Here’s ENOUGH energy for you to SUBSIST greenly!!”

Arrogant and, as Donald Trump might say, SAD! Prosperity comes from abundance, not “efficiency.” If Jeff Bezos, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg- and for that matter, President Obama- REALLY cared about the starving children in the Third World, they wouldn’t go hand-in-hand with Akon’s harebrained scheme to put a solar panel on every thatched hut’s roof.

No, they’d help the West Africans plow down the jungle (and save patches, of course!) and extract oil and coal and build river dams and nuclear plants all over the developing world, and increase the GDP per capita of every impoverished developing nation by something like 3,000%. They’d create wealth, jobs, and middle-class lifestyles the only way they’ve ever been created- through real productivity growth, rather than through some upper-middle-class white Seattleite’s theoretical musings about how you can have subsistence living coupled with occasional bits of advanced technology. (We’ve seen that before, by the way, on the set of Mad Max.)

I could care less about the rich people who own the big corporations-they ought to be taxed at levels we taxed them back in the 1970s. What I care about is the masses of the poor in other countries who want their kids to grow up the way I did, but can’t, because the technocratic-financial globalist elite is more interested in subsidizing developing countries to promote “green jobs” than in helping those developing countries develop the way the West did- dirtily, chaotically and uglily, but with the real growth and real results that come from burning fossil fuels and building real STUFF.

Is climate change and environmental degradation a problem? Yes, and we need to deal with it responsibly. Shift from coal and oil to natural gas and nuclear, and make sure you preserve land for public use and have responsible conservation laws. We need to be stewards of the plots of Earth we all inhabit.

Does that make it right to shaft the poor so that billionaire climate-tech moguls can feel good about themselves, and so a few pro-divestment college kids can notch their “social justice” belts?


Paradise Lost: The Fall of Puerto Rico

Heberto Limas-Villers


“Neither a lender nor a debtor be,” is a great piece of advice that the character Polonius recites in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Right now, many Puerto Ricans wish their leaders heeded Polonius’ words, as they have to decide which service the government will cut to pay back the lenders. In a tragedy that is more Greek than Shakespearean, Puerto Rico defaulted on its debts just a week ago and is currently unable to declare Chapter 9 Bankruptcy like American states are. In the meantime, many residents are left in a terrifying limbo of an island that has become a paradise lost.

The root causes of Puerto Rico’s current crisis go back to its status as a United States Territory. In the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917, which made Puerto Rico residents American citizens, Puerto Rican bonds became exempt from federal, state, and local income tax, making Puertan Rican debt financially tempting. Puerto Rico, given the incentives, went on a borrowing spree, paying back the loans with even more loans at times. Furthermore, the debt wasn’t used for necessary development projects like weaning the territory off of fossil fuels and improving public education. As the economy stumbled, and the islands’ problems increased, the government had more difficulties in keeping up with loan payments, leaving the credit agencies to downgrade Puerto Rican debt. Eventually Puerto Rico, without any option of declaring bankruptcy or acquiring debt relief from Washington, defaulted on its loans.

This issue is more complex than a typical municipal bankruptcy, as Puerto Rico is a territory, but some of the issues Puerto Rico faces are similar to the failures cities are facing around the Rust Belt from Chicago to Detroit. The main priority now, of course, is to direct federal relief in order to ease the people’s suffering- but in the long term we must ensure that Puerto Rico properly manages its finances and uses debt for long-term investments. Ultimately, it is the Puerto Ricans that must remember Polonius’ words when they vote for a better future. But for now, what they need most is help from their fellow citizens so they can make the island a paradise again.