My name is Pietro “Pete” Calautti. I am 32 years old. If you looked at the demographic data of my parents at the time of my birth — their income, their station in life, their country (and region within) of origin, where they lived, how long they had been in this country, and so on — a pretty reasonable guess as to where I would be right now would be “working in a pizzeria.” Instead, I am a PhD student in cinema studies at a major public research institution.
I am also a Donald Trump supporter. If the GOP does not pull some stunt at the convention, replacing Trump with Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or any other mainstream conservative, I will vote for Trump in the general election.
If Trump were not running for president, I would not be voting. I will not vote for any other office in either the Indiana primary on May 3 or in the general election. I consider voting to be an inherently violent and immoral act.
So why am I voting now, and why for Trump?
Trump and the alt-right
I have always been right of center, though I never felt much affinity for the GOP. I have never registered as a Republican (or Democrat for that matter). I had meandered in my political identification, adopting various labels to shorten conversations with others but never really feeling as if they reflected my true sensibilities.
“Libertarian” was an effective catchall term for a while. It connoted as succinctly as possible to others, “Well, he’s not a Republican, but he sure isn’t a Democrat either,” even if I wasn’t drinking the Ayn Rand Kool-Aid and thinking magic dirt will transform everyone on the planet into prosperous, intelligent, self-reliant types who would all enjoy a standard of living beyond anything we could presently imagine and respect each other’s rights if only that dang government weren’t in the way.
In any case, “libertarian” was a term of convenience, which to my more D-party-leaning friends — and I suspect to all such types, friends or not — meant that I wasn’t some culture warrior on abortion but I had right-wing beliefs to some extent.
It wasn’t until the recent popularization of a term — the alternative right, or alt-right — that things started to fall into place. Largely defined in opposition to mainstream conservatism and encompassing a wide spectrum of beliefs, some not even close to what would be understood as conservatism in the present day, the alt-right nonetheless started to feel like home, even if it was an umbrella term itself. We knew we had made it when conservative pundit Rick Wilson said we masturbate to anime on an appearance he made on MSNBC.
Trump and the alt-right have much in common: right-wing anti-globalism, nationalist populism, border controls, trade policy that works in the interest of the domestic working class and not against it, taxation of the obscenely wealthy, and, yes, a rather confrontational attitude about it all. Notably, the alt-right and Trump both seem to understand that culture war issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and so on are counterproductive. They exist for the conservative establishment to use as pander material to fire up the base. Safe, easily digestible solids. Never mind that these are issues that will never go anywhere and alienate vast numbers of otherwise sympathetic voters — the slim slice of the electorate with whom you can gain a few percentage points if you speak in tongues think they’re swell.
My two reasons for supporting Trump
There are fundamentally two different reasons why I want to vote for Trump. The shorter, smaller answer is because I realize that his two biggest issues — immigration and trade — will effectively define this nation in profound ways, and time is running out on both.
As I see it, the two most obvious causes of wage stagnation, particularly at the lower ends of income, are outsourcing and flooding the market with labor. In this case, labor that by virtue of being illegal circumvents minimum wage laws and virtually all worker protection laws. Not to mention the absurdity of essentially placing American workers in a position of having to live eight to a shipping container and only being able to afford fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if they “want to compete on a global level.”
The only thought-terminating cliché more infuriating than “doing the jobs Americans won’t” is “that’s not who we are.” Anytime you hear a politician say immigrants are “doing the jobs Americans won’t,” replace it in your mind with the truth: “doing the jobs we don’t want to pay Americans a living wage to do.”
By no means is this limited to the unskilled and semi-skilled labor markets. The H-1B visa program is nothing more than a massive loophole big business exploits to import cheap labor — little more than modern indentured servants — to replace more expensive domestic skilled labor. This election cycle has been very bizarre, and one of the most bizarre elements in it is seeing the left — which still deludes itself that it is on the side of working families — argue on the same side as big business on the issue of cheap labor.
On these two issues, I am fully on board with Trump. There must be a real border, there must be immigration reform, and there must be trade policy that does not cut off the American worker at the knees.
These are the very same issues that two of the three most recent serious challengers to the GOP establishment have brought up — Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan (the third being Ron Paul, who ran on other issues mostly). Neither Perot nor Buchanan has Trump’s charisma, and both their candidacies predated the ability for candidates to circumvent legacy media in getting their message out. What Trump is saying about these two issues is nothing new — he just can’t be ignored as a quaint sideshow the way Perot and Buchanan were.
The larger answer to the question of why I’m voting for Trump, one that has nothing to do with policy at all, is that of Trump as a weapon. I am more motivated to vote for him as punishment against the GOP establishment than anything else. It is my sincere wish that he destroys the party. Earlier in the primary, when it wasn’t clear he was going to win, if all he accomplished was mortally wounding the GOP, he would have done his job. He is well beyond that now, and he has a chance at drastically altering the political landscape.
Aside from his appeal to Rust Belt states on issues of labor, which the GOP has largely ignored in the past in favor of much safer culture war issues, Trump has a realistic shot of breaking the left’s stranglehold on the black vote. Black voters are starting to see that they are hurt more than any other demographic group by outsourcing and illegal immigration, and that the left is in the active process of displacing them as a voting bloc and replacing them with the post-1965 immigrant vote.
I am not suggesting Trump wins a majority of the black vote, but I would not be surprised if he gets as much as 30 percent, possibly more if he ends up facing Bernie Sanders in the general election. Such a shift would put many blue states into play. The only real stronghold for the GOP establishment would be the states not won by Trump and won by Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Ted Cruz in 2016 — basically Minnesota down to Texas and west until you get to Nevada and Arizona on the southern end, and Washington state and Oregon on the northern end.
What do these states have in common? They’re large, low-population-density agricultural states west of the Mississippi that never had much, if any, industry and never experienced large-scale immigration. They also tend to have high Mormon (witness Ted Cruz’s victory in Utah for example) or other quasi ethnoreligious Christian populations. Trade and immigration are meaningless to them.
The GOP needs to be destroyed, because it is currently the party of no one. What I mean by this is that it is not representative of its alleged constituents, and instead it represents its own donor class and only its own donor class. Look at the outrage directed not only at Trump but at the dumb, cruel, entitled, tunnel-vision people who vote for him by the donor mouthpieces like the National Review and the Weekly Standard. It is largely a party of convenience in opposition to the Democrats.
If it is conservative, what has it conserved? I am not asking rhetorically. Has the GOP done anything significant that its constituents have actually wanted (and not simply told by the donor class that they should want) since, and including, the Eisenhower administration? People can only be ignored for so long, and the party elites can only live in their little bubbles for so long before a candidate like Trump emerges.
It is this very fact that proves it can’t be reformed and must be destroyed — it is a party that steadfastly refuses to even listen to its own members, and there is simply too much money at the top to fight effectively. The only two hills the GOP is willing to die on are the following: tax cuts for the rich and unending wars in the Middle East, mostly to our own detriment.
The party wins elections pandering to culture war issues that mostly aren’t even executive branch issues at all. If a candidate like Trump never came along, at some point that would have run out (and, after the Romney disaster, arguably already had), and the party would be a permanent minority party.
If anything, Trump is not a clown; he’s the most serious candidate, Democrat or Republican, in decades. He is talking about actual issues that are on everyday people’s minds. Whether or not over the span of several administrations an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine works out perfectly to deliver a Supreme Court capable of overturning Roe v. Wade is not something on normal people’s minds when they vote. Things like an actual border and border enforcement, a meaningful definition of “citizen,” and not seeing their jobs go overseas are.
Trump tapped into the dead obvious, but it took a certain amount of courage to do so, as these issues are taboo, and the heat he is getting for it on all sides demonstrates that. Any other candidate would crumble, meekly apologize, and slink off into the night, never to be seen again. Trump got the other end of the equation right too: Never back down, never apologize.
As for what I would like to see in place of the GOP, I think framing things in terms of liberal/conservative is a system on its way out. The future, not just in America but effectively around the globe, will be defined by globalists and anti-globalists. The neocons can return home to the Democratic Party (being a mutant strain of Trotskyists that went “right wing”), and the few Democrats still under the delusion that they are members of a party that gives a damn about labor can join up with the anti-globalists. And that’s the future of American partisan politics — an explicitly anti-globalist party versus a globalist party of transnational elites. I stress that the hegemon absolutely has the right to say it does not want to be the hegemon anymore.
Trump is running an anti-fragile — in the Nassim Nicholas Taleb sense of the term — campaign. This is something that neither the GOP nor the Democrats seem to understand. The more you attack him, the stronger he gets. The usual picayune nonsense that normally derails campaigns does not and will not work on Trump’s.
Look at the events of Chicago. The professional left thought that political violence would surely bring down his campaign. What did Trump do? He did not apologize, and instead went on the offensive. And what was the result with his supporters? On March 15, he made anime real. He swept all states, including Illinois, save one where he lost to a popular sitting governor by a few points.
I like that Trump is confrontational. His success depends on it, I would say. It would be impossible to advocate what he is advocating for and be sheepish and apologetic.
What it’s like to be a Trump supporter on a university campus
So what is it like being a Trump supporter in academia? I should first stipulate that I don’t treat politics like it’s a team sport. I don’t wear Make America Great Again hats, I don’t have a Trump bumper sticker, I don’t informally campaign for him in any way in casual conversation, and so on. There is nothing about me that would lead anyone to believe I am a Trump voter. I look and act like any other member of my cohort.
Media is a big field. There are people in my cohort who approach it as a social science, and those like me who approach it as a humanity. I don’t pretend to know the other side of the coin as well as they do, but there is theory from that methodological perspective I find useful here.
Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, who may or may not haven been affiliated with the actual Nazi Party (and, yes, given the casual nature with which “Nazi” is thrown at the Trump campaign, the qualifier “actual” is necessary here), developed what she eventually called the spiral of silence. In short, if you don’t see or feel your beliefs or attitudes reflected anywhere, you will assume you are in the minority and keep quiet, and this will form a negative feedback loop. You may not actually be in the minority, but because everyone like you also keeps quiet, it’s only reasonable you’d believe this.
I know where I am. That is to say I know I am on enemy soil. I know I am indeed the minority, and for those of us on the bottom of the spiral of silence, free speech has never been “free” in any practical sense of the term.
It is assumed that when you get to this level in the academy, you are a leftist. Right-of-center thought of any kind is casually laughed at, dismissed, and crudely represented. Let me be clear: If Trump never entered the race and Jeb Bush were the nominee, my colleagues in the academy would be calling Bush a heartless Nazi and saying that anyone who voted for him was a fool who didn’t know better come the general election.
The mere idea that anyone in any given room full of faculty and grad students could be a non-leftist is not even entertained. I have seen and heard others say that there is nothing of value being said outside of the left and such thoughts should not even be considered. The final concluding thoughts have been reached, and nothing else needs to be heard. Oddly enough, this is the exact reason a figure like Trump has emerged.
When people in academia find out I’m a Trump supporter, there are two general reactions: laughter combined with sincere disbelief, or a facial contortion that says their amygdalae are about to strain because they can’t process that someone who isn’t dragging his knuckles just said that. Most people are kind, though. They either earnestly try to understand or they simply let me be without needing to publicly fight with me about it (though I suspect their private thoughts are less kind).
These people know me, and know I’m not some sort of monster. I don’t fit the caricature of a Trump voter, and so be it. They’re also intelligent people, and that likely has something to do with it, as I get far more hostility from those outside academia than from those within.
With that said, I know I can’t really speak my mind without facing consequences at some point, unlike those on the left, who can openly say things up to and including committing democide against perceived political and, increasingly, racial enemies with no consequences. Some friends of mine are even convinced that by writing this article, I may be damning myself to a future of unemployment.
Aside from potentially damning myself out of a job, I have not faced any demonstrable consequences for my support for Trump. I am convinced that these sorts of tough-guy moments from the opposition only happen on the internet. Sure, I might not get invited to all the parties, but that’s hardly going to stop me.
All in all, I don’t live in fear of something like what happened at Emory happening to me. I go to a big state school; I’m not lucky enough to experience such joys of elite private institutions. If all I have to put up with is people mentioning Trump and rolling their eyes, not knowing there is an enemy in the room while doing so, I can manage.
Pete Calautti is a first-year PhD student at the Media School at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.