The Would-Be Leader of the Camp of the Saints

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump’s latest screed about Mexican immigration has been generally interpreted as either a pure publicity stunt or an exhibition of invincible ignorance and arrogance. It strikes me as something a bit different yet entirely familiar: the reemergence of a paranoid fantasy about the “suicide of the west’ by virtue of its refusal to defend its borders against the Great Unwashed.

The ultimate expression of this fantasy was Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints in which Europe is overwhelmed by a gigantic flotilla of disease-ridden untouchables from the banks of the Ganges, spurred by a well-meaning but self-destructive invitation to refugees from a left-wing Belgian government. The book was one long cry of rage at the weak and deracinated forms of Christianity and “civilization” that had rendered the West incapable of self-defense against a barbarian invasion–and less explicitly, an attack on European leftists who create a model for global looters by resenting and expropriating their own wealthy. So it’s no surprise the book has become a recurring right-wing classic, despite its sometimes overt racism.

Trump is trafficking in exactly the same fears as Raspail, and exactly the same rage at “weak” political cultural institutions that are being exploited by the crafty seditionists of the global South, who use our own liberalism and Christianity against us. And it will always have a constituency: in the midwestern conservative Catholics who squirm in the pews as priests talk about providing Sanctuary to the undocumented; in the older southern white folk whose small towns have suddenly become bilingual and the government won’t do a damn thing about it; in the Californian who sees his Golden State being taken over by a cabal of Latinos, environmentalists and technocrats.

So some may dismiss Trump’s ravings as circus music designed to accompany his clownish campaign, but he’s offering an authentic expression of latter-day nativism, aimed less at immigrants than at the stupid, stupid liberals who don’t understand that all that peace, love and understanding bushwa is an engraved invitation to the predators of the planet to take away all that is rightly ours. Trump can buy a bigger amplifier for this hymn of hate, but its refrain is perpetually in the air.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.