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Supermen in the White House

Aryan supermen came about during World War II and Hitler’s rise, but they can be found in DC today as well.

You may have seen the video after the last election. The speaker who was deliriously happy, and as the guy worked his audience into the same delirium that “one of us” was just elected President, he threw caution to the winds, raised his arm in a familiar salute, and began chanting, “Heil, Trump! Heil Trump!”

The speaker, intoxicated by a distant whiff of power, was the man an appalled high school classmate Graeme Wood called “our generation’s most prominent white supremacist,” Richard Spencer. I commend to your attention Wood’s profile of Spencer in the June issue of The Atlantic.

I looked nervously at the calendar, wondering if a time warp had transported me to November of 1923, the Beer Hall Putsch. Adolf Hitler made his revolutionary bones in that failed coup d'état, got himself convicted of treason and packed off to prison, where he used his time to write what would become the manifesto of the Nazi Party, Mein Kampf.

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That wretched screed would be of little import but for the millions of human lives that were extinguished in the service of the crackpottery Hitler propagated. The man wrote as if Aristotle had never lived. He trampled what had been thought to be the rules of political discourse, just as Donald J. Trump would do later.

Hitler apprehended Judaism, the oldest and therefore the most civilized of the monotheistic patriarchal desert cults that invaded the Americas, as a “race.” Matching that feat of imagination, he identified what he called “Aryans” as the Übermensch theorized by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

In Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche set up the status often rendered in English as “Superman” as something to which all human beings could aspire. The Superman Hitler took to be Aryan would possess enough power (intellectual power having become physical power) to stand outside and above the ethical standards derived from Christianity and the Platonic ideals.

If the Aryan Superman is so dang smart, you might ask, how is it that Hitler started a two-front war by double-crossing the Soviet Union and kept provoking the U.S. to enter the war by attacking U.S. flagged ships?

It all had to do with the same racial fantasies that made Jews a race and gave Aryan Supermen the right to exterminate Jews. Russians are Slavs, Hitler held, outside the Aryan umbrella and therefore inferior whites. White residents of North America had rendered themselves inferior by intermarrying with American Indians.

Aryan Supermen had nothing to fear from Slavs and savages. The U.S. got ahead of the Indian problem by concentrating them on reservations, but then the white people of North America had a failure of will and never adopted what came to be called “the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.”

Mein Kampf translates “My Struggle,” but according to the world view held by Hitler, by Spencer, by Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller and Trump’s now former (as of August 18) Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon all of humanity is divided into “races” and all those races are in a constant struggle for hegemony.

Conventional political theory holds that “race” (with a more restrained definition) is one of many divisions in the population that creates clashes of interests. Those clashes require a structure like the U.S. government, full of checks and balances that keep power from becoming excessively concentrated. Limitations on governmental power allow people who do not agree on much to get along because they trust the procedures.

Spencer told The Atlantic, “There’s this notion of parliament as an ‘endless debate.’ Liberalism accepts that disagreement is part of the political process, and that people who disagree profoundly can live together.”

He is right about the theory of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. is lacking all the customary social glue—geography, religion, ethnicity—so power is diffused and its exercise is difficult enough that people who really want to speak normally get the chance.

The white nationalists have a word for people who value procedure and manipulate it to get heard: cosmopolitan. Those who believe in process, the white nationalists maintain, are a bunch of candy-asses. As Spencer put it, “politics is inherently brutal. It’s nonconsensual by its very nature. The state is crystallized violence.”

This seems to me a lot like the libertarian meme, “Taxation is theft.” Perhaps taxation without representation is theft. Perhaps the state is violence if it is empowered to make rules without public input, because it is a fact that if you fail to comply with a court order to follow the law, the sheriff can come and make you comply and the sheriff has a pistol.

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Of course, those of us not defined by the newly empowered alt-right as white, have no choice. If we don’t like the Constitution, we can’t look to the alt-right for help because among their political goals is that non-whites be divided into second class citizens and deportees.

Hitler lost the war he started that we now call WWII. I think it’s fair to say that he, personally, started WWII and he, personally, lost it. He thought he knew more about fighting a war than his generals. Does that sound familiar?

Still, Hitler retains a fan base big enough that it can’t be ignored. On Stormfront, the major website devoted to white supremacy, there is a thread containing comments about how Hitler would do this or that and birthday felicitations that roll in every year and claims that those of us who don’t care for Hitler’s ideas are defective human beings.

The struggle Hitler claimed for his own goes on. Last week, Stephen Miller got into a nasty verbal exchange with Jim Acosta of CNN. Miller’s parting shot that Acosta was exhibiting “cosmopolitan bias” left most of the press corps puzzled.

Politico traces “cosmopolitan” as an insult to Soviet anti-Semitism, but the bottom line is that you are “cosmopolitan” if your loyalty is not—first, last, and forever—to your “race,” a category that anthropology deems fictional.

It’s hard for me to get my head around such an epic struggle with so few participants, but even Hitler had to start somewhere. His disciple Richard Spencer is certainly doing his best to fan the flames:

To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward … For us, it is conquer or die. This is a unique burden for the white man, that our fate is entirely in our hands. And it is appropriate because within us, within the very blood in our veins as children of the sun, lies the potential for greatness.

That is the great struggle we are called to. We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace. We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet. We were meant to overcome—overcome all of it. Because that is natural and normal for us. Because for us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again.

That sounds a lot like a potential campaign slogan, if the candidate isn’t too cosmopolitan. The candidate who adopted the slogan about making America great again was elected (at least by the electoral college), and Mr. Trump quickly justified the cheering masses of white supremacists when he was picking the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and he forwarded the name of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama to become Attorney General.

Trump and Sessions have since gotten crosswise because of Trump’s complaint that either the AG’s time machine is out of order or he failed to use it. After he was confirmed, Sessions was caught lying about his contacts with a Russian diplomat. In the resulting political brush fire, he recused himself from any decision making in the Justice Department’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign accepted aid from a foreign power.

Now Trump complains that Sessions did not tell him of plans to recuse himself for a reason that did not exist at the time Sessions did not inform Trump.

Another way to read that would be that Trump is really complaining that Sessions lied in the first place because it was the revealing of the lie that brought up recusal. But Trump did not say that and the spectacle of Donald Trump wanting to fire somebody else for lying takes hypocrisy to a place that’s hard to imagine.

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When Sessions was up for Senate confirmation of President Reagan’s nomination for U.S. district judge in 1986, an important issue was a statement he admitted making about the KKK, that he “thought those guys were OK until he learned they smoked pot.” He claimed to have been joking, although the context wasn’t very funny.

Two KKK members had cut the throat of a random black man and hanged his body from a tree in Mobile, Alabama, in protest of a jury verdict finding a different black man not guilty of homicide. Persons of good repute took both sides of whether Sessions was joking, but there were other outrageous statements that made him appear racist and he was not confirmed.

The man found too racist to be a judge was appointed chief law enforcement officer by a POTUS endorsed by the white supremacist movement (David Duke, Richard Spencer, most of the opinion on Stormfront) and having two white nationalists working in the West Wing (Stephen Miller and, until today, Stephen Bannon).

As I write, that Attorney General is recruiting for a legal task force directed to ending affirmative action in college admissions. The SCOTUS just approved a race-conscious admissions plan in 2016 in Fisher v. University of Texas, but the Justice Department was on the side of diversity.

Scuttlebutt within the legal profession says that Sessions is recruiting a task force because the lawyers in the Civil Rights Division want nothing to do with switching sides. A task force of volunteers will avoid a mass firing or a mass resignation.

Wherever the foot soldiers come from, the Trump and Sessions Justice Department is going on the attack against the idea that nonwhite students bring a value to all students. The DOJ’s primary weapon is the same legal theory that President Trump has used to attack tribal sovereignty. All civil rights laws and all of federal Indian law constitute an attack on white people.

Since the election, Trump has continued campaigning the same way he did before the election—with tweets and rallies. His support has been bleeding, but not as much as would be predicted from his lack of accomplishments and his complete about-face on several high-profile campaign promises. To figure out what is or is not happening, it would be useful to find out who the Trump voters are in a manner beyond folklore.

In April, the 2016 American National Election Study stirred up a feeding frenzy among political scientists. Thomas Wood, writing in The Washington Post, went directly at causes posited by folklore. The ANES data, which go back to 1948, quickly shot down the theory that rich people voted for their own.

Normally, the well-to-do vote their class interests. In this election that didn’t happen. The Republican candidate was down among the wealthy and up among the poor. Traditional Republicans could not march behind Trump because he’s incompetent and therefore an embarrassment. Those who resisted that analysis are getting more loads of “I told you so” every day.

Another Trump voter stereotype is authoritarianism. I was ready to fall into this one, because when lots of people were comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler, I looked at Trump and saw Benito Mussolini, right down to the physical tics as he responded to an adoring crowd.

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Trump looked like and sounded like the Italian dictator, and it’s important to remember authoritarianism and fascism are not the same thing. Authoritarians simply have a psychological aversion to social change and therefore are drawn to strong leaders who will stand up for national traditions. Using the measurements common to the ANES since 2000, Trump voters test less authoritarian than recent white Republican voters.

Isolating the questions directed to measuring racial attitudes yielded a straightforward correlation between negative racial attitudes toward blacks and Republican voting. Correlation does not prove causation, but correlation drives creation of research questions and another robust correlation between Trump voting and racism came from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.

Google’s trove of search terms over time showed a strong tendency of Trump voters to search for racist jokes. Another mere correlation, circumstantial evidence at best. As Henry David Thoreau famously remarked, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

It’s common knowledge that the election of Barack Obama—said to signal the end of racism in the U.S.—coincided with a historic spike in traffic for Stormfront, common knowledge because Stormfront was bragging about it before the social science researchers had focused attention on white nationalism and how it related to white supremacy, KKK veterans, neo-Nazis, and the rise of Donald J. Trump.

Stormfront had a lively eight years with Obama in the White House, followed by the election that ended in Nazi salutes and chants of “Heil, Trump!” Davidowitz reported, in that election, “Areas that supported Trump in the largest numbers were those that made the most Google searches for ‘n*gger.’”

Six months later, the Justice Department is coming after affirmative action with a legal theory that threatens the very existence of tribal governments. Trout in the milk, indeed.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a retired Texas trial court judge and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.

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