The Dallas Morning News editorial page took a truly bold step this week by announcing that one of the finalists for its annual Texan of the Year award is Richard Spencer. He’s the Dallas native and St. Mark’s School graduate who has become the public face of American white nationalism.
If Spencer turns out to be the “winner” — if he’s the paper’s Texan of the Year for 2017 — the common take will be that this must be one of those bad persons of the year, like Hitler on the cover of Time magazine in 1938 or Stalin, who made the cover of Time twice, in 1939 and 1942.
And yes, in warning readers that Spencer is in the running, the News made it plain it isn't looking at him for a commendation. “This designation is not meant as an award,” the paper explained carefully, “but as recognition of those Texans who had uncommon impact, which can be a positive or negative impact, during the past year.”
If anything, I wish people would take Spencer more seriously and listen to him more closely than even the News suggests. Reciting his academic credits — high school at St. Mark’s, University of Virginia undergrad, master’s in humanities from the University of Chicago — the editorial page concludes that “Spencer surely knows the world of academia.” OK, but I think we can stand to concede that, in fact, he is well educated, a good writer and an effective speaker.
The paper says, “Spencer is exploiting America's perception that it is deeply divided.” A more concise portrayal might be that Spencer speaks directly to the very real and profound divisions in our nation at this time.
The only way for any of us to truly grasp what Spencer is about is for each of us to read or listen to his words. He doesn’t hide the ball.
Here are excerpts from an address Spencer made in November 2016 to the annual conference of a group called the National Policy Institute meeting in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.
“Meanwhile, at home, the protection of the borders, the primary and, for some, the only national security responsibility of the government, is ignored. Indeed, Western governments go out of their way to seek out the most dysfunctional immigrants possible and relocate them at taxpayer expense.”
“In the current year, one’s career can be ruined and one’s life destroyed if you express anything other than admiration for a man who wants to cut off his genitals and say he’s a woman.”
“In the current year, white families work their whole lives to send their children to universities where they will be told just how despicable they are.”
“The premade signs of those leading the protests against Trump, probably some of those outside this very building, come from some of the most extreme communist groups in the country, the most murderous ideological force in history.”
“This is a sick, disgusting society run by the corrupt, defended by hysterics drunk on self-hatred and degeneracy.”
“America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation. It is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”
“For us, it is conquer or die. This is a unique burden to 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 who ever populated 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. Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”
In the months after Donald Trump’s election, political pundits, academics and pollsters debated one particular aspect of his win, perhaps because that aspect felt especially counterintuitive, and, well, the whole world seemed counterintuitive to a lot of people in those early months. Still does.
The puzzle that stumped the Trump-watchers more than any other was the 41 percent of white millennials who voted for him. The question, never quite clearly articulated, was something about why young people would vote for a man who seemed like such a throwback to the values of white people in the mid-20th century.
The speculation boiled down to two candidates for an answer: economic dislocation (no good jobs, angry with life because they’re stuck still living at home) or “racial resentment” (new fancy term for racism).
That debate is pretty much over. Enough time has passed for credible studies and polls to reach completion. An analysis by The Washington Post based on data from the GenForward Survey; a study by social scientists at the University of California Santa Barbara and Stanford University; work by analysts at Demos, a liberal think tank, published by Vox: it all converges at two key points.
Point No. 1: The millennials who voted for Trump were better off, less economically dislocated, in other words, than the millennials who voted against him. So scratch economic dislocation as the answer.
Point No. 2: For the millennials who voted for Trump, as for all of the other age groups that voted for him, the primary motivating factor was that racial resentment thing. Before the election, racial resentment closely predicted who was going to vote for him, and after the election, it absolutely nailed who had voted for him.
So what is it? If the nation elected its president on that basis more than any other factor, shouldn’t we know better what racial resentment is? Can’t we just call it racism?
Yes. We could. It isn’t something else. But no, we ought to try harder than that to grasp what it is specifically. What aspect of racism are we talking about?
For that answer, we should find the words of Spencer wonderfully illuminating. Take his description of immigrants. They are “the most dysfunctional immigrants possible,” brought here at taxpayer expense to degrade our society by their presence.
Transgender people are a threat to heterosexuals, who must pay obeisance to them or be personally ruined. Higher education is a form of intellectual abuse bordering on torture for white children who will be force-fed bogus doctrines of their inferiority. The United States is a “sick, disgusting” nation because it is no longer a white country. Moral authority is now in the hands of “some of the most despicable creatures who ever populated the planet,” all of whom, we must assume, are nonwhite.
Spencer insists it is the natural duty and historical imperative of white people to rise up and achieve what sounds like a military “victory” over nonwhites.
All of those fragments of Spencer’s thinking are variations on the same theme — that white legitimacy is diminished by any other legitimacy. Immigrants cannot come to this country and lift up the nation with their hard work and productivity. Their success can only occur and exist as a subtraction from white entitlement. The very existence of nonheterosexuals threatens and diminishes the dignity of heterosexuals.
But more than anything, the legitimacy and full agency of nonwhites in the society are a subtraction from that one sacred quality for which Spencer is most reverent — the natural supremacy of whites. The success and upward mobility of African-Americans and other people not deemed “Europeans” are a kind of social theft that must be set right. It is a robbery that must be punished by a “victory” over the sick and disgusting insurgents.
In its editorial this week announcing Spencer as a finalist for Texan of the Year, The Dallas Morning News quotes the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League as agreeing that Spencer has become the most visible face of what is now known semi-officially as the alt-right movement. For a definition of alt-right, please see Spencer’s comments above.
As for his significance, it’s all well and good to denounce what Spencer says, but not if doing so allows us to dodge the big thing: People who share some significant portion of Spencer’s thinking just elected a president of the United States.
Probably mostly for good reason, maybe sometimes for bad, we have learned a habit in this country of great verbal delicacy where race is concerned. The blunt language of the 1960s has softened into a lingo of euphemism and dog whistle for people on all sides of the issue.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Give Spencer his due. He doesn’t speak in euphemisms. His challenge to us is clear and direct. He preaches a radical rejection of the history and analysis of the nation with which most of us grew up.
The melting pot is neither our origin myth nor the secret of our success. In Spencer’s view, it is a polluted vessel pouring poison into the mouths of white children, depriving them of their God-given legacy of racial superiority.
He knows precisely what his words mean. He knows that “hail” is “heil.” His words thrill his followers because they thrill him. Merely to denounce him and his followers would be a grave tactical error, like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Whether or not they wind up making him their Texan of the Year, The Dallas Morning News already has done all of us a serious solid. We need to hear Spencer and take him on at least as directly and pointedly as he challenges us.