Why Donald Trump Won Last Night’s Debate

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After the debate, the women were mad. All up and down my Facebook feed, angry women sounded off. “How can he treat her this way?” they clucked. “I’m getting PTSD watching him shout over her” said one. “No man in my life will vote for Trump under ANY circumstances” promised another.

Better sit this one out, I thought to myself.

Indeed, some were wanting my input. I’m a rather notorious Facebook fiend, but I just didn’t have the heart to jump in. Why mansplain reality to the wounded? Why bother explaining why Trump’s manner and lack of detail won’t hurt him? They weren’t in any mood to listen.

This election has brought out intense passions. Most of us have decided who we’re voting for already. There’s little room for movement among those convinced the other side is evil, out to hurt women, flood our country with Muslims, and we’re not listening to each other. In this environment, what did Trump do that made him, in my opinion, more effective?

What Trump had to do, in my opinion, was convince people like myself that he’s not crazy, and that’s he’s focused enough for the job. Basically, does he have the personality to be President? He did this quite well, not only keeping up with Clinton, but by and large defining the terms and tone of the debate.

Right from the start Trump was aggressive and focused on Clinton’s documented shortcomings. His strategy was a smart one: keep the attacks coming while discussing his policy ideas with broad brush strokes. Trump took every question from Holt and turned it into the discussion HE wanted to have. Holt asked about the economy and how to make it better: Trump responded by talking about everything from trade policy to his own business success, while attacking Hillary’s record on NAFTA. His responses were so dense, so filled with asides and potential tangents, than Clinton couldn’t possibly respond to every assertion Trump was making. Instead, she had to lamely refer people to her own website for “fact checking”. Trump’s strategy here was brilliant: attack Clinton on specific issues, make her defend herself, while presenting his own policies more broadly, making it difficult for her to counter him on specifics. Clinton was on defense virtually the entire debate. By making his attacks early, Trump made it seem as though Clinton was merely responding, rather than coming up with unique attacks on her own, as she hit his tax and business record.

Trump used Holt’s rather hands-off moderation to his advantage. Holt wouldn’t press Trump to answer questions directly and with specifics, and as I said Trump used this to answer in the way he wished. He used old sales tricks to let Holt keep him talking, such as responding to a question with a question. “You asked me a question, didn’t you Lester?” he said at one point as Holt tries to ask a follow-up. “Let me answer”. Reminded me of my cold-calling days.

The facebook ladies are even angrier with me now. “So what if he manipulated the debate, he had no policy specifics!!!! Isn’t that what’s important???”

No, policy specifics mean almost nothing during a debate. Let me say that again, because it’s a big point: policy specifics mean almost NOTHING during a debate! Don’t believe me? Then tell me, without googling, five policy specifics from the Obama/Romney debates. Can’t? How about just ONE? Better question: If you can remember a few policy specifics, tell me how many were implemented, exactly as described during the debate, once the winner was on office. Can you think of any?

I’ve followed politics for decades, and for the life of me, I can’t think of a SINGLE specific policy recommendation from ANY debate I’ve ever watched. Not one. What do I remember? Obama talking about bayonets. Romney talking about binders of women. I remember Tina Fey making fun of Palin, I remember GW Bush’s goofy smile. But nothing really specific. What will be remembered about the Trump debate? Not much, other than that he didn’t appear crazy, and Clinton didn’t get sick. Was Trump sexist? The women who thought so before the debate still do, and the ones that didn’t, still don’t. It’s a wash.

I’m voting for Trump because his vision and his judgement are what I want in a President. I’ve got some idea of his policies, but why do I need more specifics now? We ALL know that the specifics will change once the day to day reality of being President sinks in. I’d rather know that my President is tough, smart, and good on his feet. During the debate, Trump showed that he could walk into a hostile environment in front of a much more experienced opponent, and not only hold his own but make the space his. I want that quality in a President. The specifics will come later.

Alt-Right Musings

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The messages started almost immediately.

As my piece went live, new Twitter accounts begun for this purpose began reaching out. “I’m a Jew, and I’ve always felt this way but I’m afraid to say it” was one common refrain. This was followed up by Facebook massages, invitations to shadowy right-wing Jewish forums, and furtive Kahene supporters verifying my right wing credentials. Was I really a spy? The right wing Jew is such a rare breed in the wild, some simply didn’t believe it.

The comment section of my article attracted a not-so-rare breed: the “get in the oven” trolls, there to let me know they weren’t cutting me any slack and a Jew remains a Jew. Even here there were gems. One insightful commentator noted that I wasn’t a REAL racist like they were, I’d merely made the calculation that the modern right was less dangerous to Jews than the modern left. While this fellow underestimated my genuine support of the west qua west, he wasn’t totally wrong, and his next observation was keen: “Do you realize how incredibly neurotic your people are, including yourself?”

Well… yea!

There are those in the alt-right who define their movement entirely in respect to White Nationalism. To them, the alt-right is the political vehicle in the battle for white “Ethno States”, which will replace current Democracies in Europe and possibly North America/Australia. Many self-consciously model these states on the example of Israel. An “Ethno State” need not be racially homogeneous, but the political, economic, and cultural power in the state will remain in the hands of the dominant race/ethnicity, who will decide for themselves what will constitute citizenship. As some call this “white supremacy”, the alt-right points out that it’s simply how most of the world works:

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So what is an “Ethno-State” and why would figures in the Alt-Right look to Israel for an example?

The idea has been around for some time, in different names and reiterations. For Alt-Right leaders such as Richard Spencer, (head of the National Policy Institute, a “pro white think tank”) defining European and North American states using racial criteria is necessary. Spencer, called the “Karl Marx of the Alt-Right” by Glenn Beck, has written at length about the situation facing American and European Whites. What situation? Minority status, loss of culture, and loss of identity in a multiethnic state where the standard of living has fallen for everyone. The solution? Make race or ethnic identity the core organizing principle of the state. Germany for the Germans, France for the French, Japan for the Japanese, etc. The policies of these states can vary, but the bedrock principle would be the maintenance of a majority for the dominant ethnic group.

To the Alt-Right, this solves many problems at once. In his book “The Ethnostate”, Wilmot Robertson (deceased, 2005) talks about what such a state would look like and what policies it would have. The specifics are less important than the idea that race is a “shortcut” to fix other issues. Problems with Wall Street? Less of a problem in a White ethno-state, where high trust and cultural/ethnic pride lead to better behavior from executives. There’s less of a need for regulation in the first place. Where to put educational resources? Easier question when we aren’t dealing with issues of race and immigration, isn’t it? In an ethno-state, the focus of the government will be a more efficient affair. The time and effort put into bridging ethnic and racial divides in our public institutions will evaporate, leaving societies’ energy focused on more productive issues. The well-being of such a country could be more objectively measured. What’s the standard of living? What’s the pay gap? How’s inequality? These questions are easier to answer without issues of race.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do any states exist with policies intended to keep one ethnic/racial group as a majority? Policies that favor this group? The example given by many Alt-Right figures is Israel. Spencer claims to “respect Israel” as a “homogenous ethno-state”. Israeli policies discouraging non-Jewish immigration and encouraging Palestinians to move away from disputed areas are cited by alt-right leaders as examples for their own ethno-state.

Immigration/emigration are part of the story for Israel, but its commitment to the Jewish population is deeper than that. A good description comes from author Sammy Smooha, in the Journal “Nations and Nationalism”. Smooha writes:

Contrary to its self–image and international reputation as a Western liberal democracy, Israel is an ethnic democracy in which the Jews appropriate the state and make it a tool for advancing their national security, demography, public space, culture and interests.

This is what the Alt-Right theoretically wants. A state in which White people, however defined, have control over the public spaces, the culture, the politics, and the demographic future of their country.

What’s that you say? Israel’s not REALLY an ethno-state? They have minorities? Well, of course. Israel has chosen to extend certain rights to non-Jewish citizens, including the right to vote; there are Arabs in the Knesset. This is all true, yet between ethno-states, policies can differ greatly. There’s no need for such a state to be free of minorities, as long as the state itself is defined around the majority. Israel, which encourages (and pays for) large orthodox Jewish families, and calls itself the “Jewish State” is certainly such a country.

So why isn’t the alt-right thrilled to have more Jews among its ranks? Surely we could provide the guidance they need to set up their ethno-states. If they are impressed with Israel, why not more engagement with sympathetic diaspora Jews?

Many in the Alt-Right fear Jewish influence on their movement, citing the Neoconservative “takeover” of traditional Conservatism, and the change in the movement’s character as a result. They fear that Jews may “dilute” the ethno-state they ultimately want to build.

Kevin McDonald, ex Cal State professor and Alt-Right theorist, has written a piece on Jews and the Alt-Right that mentions 19th century Austrian-Jewish politician Victor Adler. Adler’s Austria was the seat of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was under strain from the repeated influx of “Slavic” immigrants and refugees. Difficult questions of identity revolved around German-speaking Austrians. Should “German” policies, German language, German culture, predominate? Should loyalty to the Emperor and the state trump ethnic loyalty? Adler was a “cultural” nationalist, part of the Linz Program of 1882, explicitly calling for the primacy of German culture, language, and policies in the Austrian State. One of Adler’s co-signers to the Linz Program was Georg Schönerer, who advocated for the inclusion of an “Aryan Paragraph” which would make explicit the connection between German culture and people of German ethnicity.

So what does this have to do with the Ethno-State? Schonerer’s concerns are a model for the concerns of the Alt-Right today. As Austria took in more and more refugees from the east, the relative power of the German-speaking population was reduced. To Schonerer and even Adler, the Slavic “Hungarian” side of the Empire was distinctly inferior to the “German” side. To allow more Slavic influence at court, and to allow more Slavic people into the intuitions of the state would invariably weaken and degrade Austro-Hungary. The Linz Program signers made their feelings explicit:

“We protest against all attempts to convert Austria into a Slavic state. We shall continue to agitate for the maintenance of German as the official language and to oppose the extension of federalism…[W]e are steadfast supporters of the alliance with Germany and the foreign policy now being followed by the empire”

Adler agreed with Schonerer regarding the “inferiority” of Slavic culture to German culture, but Schonerer took things a step further. Merely preserving German language and administrative customs wasn’t enough. Actual German people needed protection as well. His “Aryan Paragraph” provided that Germans would receive privileges in the empire including more access to government positions. Schonerer also advocated for a breakup on the Empire along ethnic lines, and his ideas are said to have motivated Polish and Hungarian Nationalists, as well as providing a model for Zionism. Today’s Alt-Right also feels the need to go beyond “cultural nationalism”. To them, race and ethnicity are biological facts. There’s something genetically distinct, for example, about a German person, and this genetic distinctiveness expresses itself in German culture, which then influences what will be the German state. A majority Black country in Africa could attempt to become a German “culturally nationalist” state, but in the eyes of the Alt-Right, this would end in failure. Only Jews can make a Jewish state, only Zulus a Zulu State. We can speak each other’s languages, eat each other’s food, but there will always be a deep distinction between us.

Adler broke with Schonerer over the Aryan Paragraph and soon ended up leading the Austrian Labour Movement and publishing an influential Marxist journal. MacDonald and other alt-right commentators fear that Jews in the alt-right would exert a similar influence to that of Adler. It’s not the disagreement between cultural/ethnic nationalism in and of itself that bothers them, but the possibility that Jews will push the former and vilify the latter, all while taking on the mantle of the alt-right. Seems a bit farfetched? Perhaps, but who thought Neoconservatives would have taken the mantle of American Conservatism from John Birch?

The Alt-Right is mixed on Jewish help, but nuanced. MacDonald is still open to the idea of Jews “allied” to the alt-right, assuming they are “vocal critics of the Jewish community and its role in the dispossession of European-Americans.” More nuance comes from a recent press conference given by top alt-right luminaries including Spencer and Jarod Taylor. In Taylor’s own words:

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Taylor has long been a “white nationalist” writer, well known for being one of the “moderates” in the movement. His views were well-expressed in a recent NPR interview. What he wants is fairly simple: freedom of association on private property. If (non-Jewish) whites wish to have an all-white club, private school, or neighborhood, government shouldn’t intrude Is this, in and of itself, anti-Semitic? Will I be on my way to the oven? Not sure, but I managed to avoid oppressing the Goyim on my way to Jewish Summer Camp, so who’s to say Whites couldn’t exhibit similar restraint? This really isn’t terribly different than current American policies. Taylor’s “ethno-state” would be far milder than Israel!

Regardless of individual feelings on the Alt-Right, White People, or ethno-states, there is more nuance here than most will give credit for. Media accounts (Betsy Woodruff in Daily Beast) of the NPI Press Conference claim the participants “hate Jews”, despite Taylor’s clear stance to the contrary:

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Covering the NPI Press Conference for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas writes:

“I want my grandchildren to look like my grandparents,” Taylor said, “not like Fu Manchu or Whoopi Goldberg or Anwar Sadat.”

There were nods of agreement and more pledges to continue the conversation in the Willard bar.

As the room emptied, I prayed silently that Taylor would enjoy good health long enough to behold a grandchild with a pointed goatee, thick braids, foot-long fingernails and a prayer bump, and I recalled his opening remarks, and his overarching predicate for the existence of racial differences.

Most Jewish people would have a similar reaction to Woodruff and Kampeas. Hostility, referring to the Alt-Right leaders as “racist”, mocking their desire for racial and ethnic purity. But why? Are figures like Spencer racist for wanting a White Ethno-State? Is Taylor to be condemned for wanting his grandchildren to look like him? (and, it could be assumed, wanting the same or better standard of living for them?) Why can’t we turn the lens around for a moment? What are we really quibbling over? Is it the location of Spencer’s hypothetical ethno-state? What if it was Norway? Is it a problem that White people want to be around other White people? Want their grandchildren to be like them?

I want my grandchildren to be Jewish, I want the Jewish state of Israel to retain its majority Jewish population and character. I want Israel to be there for me and my grandchildren. I want Judaism and the Jewish people to survive. Am I any different than Spencer? Are you?