I was very glad to see Kevin Williamson’s article, “The Buchanan Boys,” in today’s NRO. At last, we are getting engaged: the “mainstream” right, represented most prominently by National Review, is being compelled to recognize the alt-right—recognize, at least, in the sense of acknowledging they exist and that their “numbers aren’t trivial.” Williamson has noticed the enthusiasm of white nationalists for Trump’s campaign, and his observation that this attachment to Trump represents a continuation of the white working class resentment first advanced by Patrick Buchanan’s campaigns of the 90s is a real and important insight. And Williamson raises some crucial questions about the “economic nationalism” of Trump and those hoping he will be the vehicle of their movement: here, Williamson is on familiar ground, and within his sphere of expertise, and I certainly agree that attempts to rejigger trade agreements with the rest of the world so as to protect the jobs of the American working class are likely to backfire. Indeed, I doubt that anyone has a very clear idea of how to do something like that. Still, if we are just free traders, why do we have trade deals at all? Why not just let American consumers and businesses buy and sell from and to whomever they like? Well, one might say that other countries won’t reciprocate—but, according to free trade orthodoxy, they’re just hurting themselves, and should be left to their own devices. But we do enter these enormously complex agreements, negotiated with dozens of countries over many years, so those negotiating in our name must be trying to get something out of it—what? Is it so unreasonable to assume that they have the interests of global corporations, along with the pet environmental and immigration (among other) concerns of the participating politicians, or even, perhaps, abstractions like “the stability of the global market” uppermost in their mind, rather than the living standards of American workers? Rather than adopting the libertarian utopianism of eschewing such agreements altogether, why not impose the interests of American wage earners upon them, and figure out the details as we go? Williamson doesn’t seem interested in this line of thought.
Williamson also has a point, albeit a more tenuous one, when he asserts that
The Buchanan boys are economically and socially frustrated white men who wish to be economically supported by the federal government without enduring the stigma of welfare dependency.
It is an odd line of thinking: If the government levies a tax on your neighbors in order to fund an earned-income tax credit for your family, then you’re a welfare queen; if the government levies a tax on businesses that is passed on to your neighbors in order to subsidize your earned income through higher prices, then that’s economic nationalism.
It is true that, by definition, adopting economic policies so as to benefit a particular group (in this case, white working class men), is, in effect, a way of redistributing resources to that group, and you could call that a “subsidy.” Of course, as Williamson must realize, the presumed alternative of subsidizing no one is not exactly on the horizon—indeed, Williamson, who has been writing of late of the great condition conservatism is in, would be hard pressed to identify any progress conservatives in power have made to the de-subsidization of the American political economy. On the simplest, or at least most cynical, level, then, why shouldn’t white male wage earners get cut in on the scam? But by distinguishing between the earned income tax credit and the higher prices brought about by protectionism, Williamson skews the question: the earned income tax credit, which also goes to wage earners, has not to my knowledge, been on the economic nationalist hit list. Williamson wants to keep the discussion on secure “free trade” grounds, which precludes establishing criteria for more or less preferable “subsidies.” Are there good grounds, if we are already “distorting” the economy, for distorting it in favor of white male wage earners, compared to some of the ways it is presently distorted? Nothing from Williamson on this question.
Most symptomatic, though, is Williamson’s evident desire to skirt the real question regarding the “Buchanan Boys,’ and Trump, their current “celebrity mascot”: immigration. According to Williamson, the economic benefits of immigration are mixed and unclear; and he acknowledges that immigration is not only an economic issue. And that’s pretty much it. But there has been a real bait and switch in that case, because the only objective correlative to Williamson’s name calling, explicit and implicit (jackboots are evoked), lies in the immigration question. You don’t call people Nazis because they want tariffs on kids’ toys made in China; you call them Nazis because they want to bust into houses in the dark of the night and drag out cute little brown kids. So, what is Williamson’s view of, for example, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which overturned the traditional preference given to white and European immigrants—i.e., those immigrants most like the people already living in the country? Is it racist to want a country that maintains its current demographic proportions? (And if it is, should we care? What are the consequences of making not being racist the prime directive?) Can he propose a way of discussing this without overt engagement with the question of ethnic differences? Can he propose such an engagement that won’t bring a hailstorm of denunciation from the Left (and many on the supposed Right)? Would he like, then, for immigration restrictionists to capitulate or to stand firm and, even, answer insult with insult, tribal banner with tribal banner? Or is the issue not even worth discussing—as seems to be the case, for Williamson, given his silence on these questions.
Williamson had a chance here to engage with some of the ideas informing the “white nationalists” and “immigration reform patriots”—and the thinkers, people like Steve Sailer, John Derbyshire, James Kilpatrick and others who publish regularly on the VDare site; or, someone like Sam Francis, who has been referenced quite often lately in discussions on the alt-right—or, for that matter, the bogeyman informing his entire diatribe, Pat Buchanan himself. Well, he will have other chances—perhaps, eventually, he will have no choice (it sounds to me like he wishes he had a choice not to write this article). This is really not a bad way to get started.