MAGA, Inc.

The English philosopher G. K. Chesterton believed legends should be treated more respectfully than a book of history. “The legend is generally made by the majority of the people in the village, who are sane,” he wrote. “The book is generally written by one man in the village, who is mad.”

What the “prince of paradox” meant is that legends, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world, give us a sense of self. They codify our mores, giving us a sense of meaning that impels us to act. But history books come after the legends and are written to nudge history along a particular person’s desired arc—bulldozing the villages, legends, and people along the way. 

Something similar is true of institutions: they arise from the people in order to serve the people, but in time they turn on them. Four years in and it appears that President Trump’s administration is becoming one of those institutions.

The “MAGA movement” arose to serve a need. It flew on the fervor of Americans who still tell themselves that, as Americans, they are a good and decent people, undeserving of blood libels or the dispossession wrought by neoliberalism. With Trump’s victory, “MAGA” became an institution in the Beltway, promising to drain the swamp. Little by little, it compromised with the establishment it was supposed to combat. The administration filled itself with people for whom “MAGA” and “America First” are repulsive jokes at best. 

Words and Deeds

We still hear sounds coming from Washington reminiscent of the battle cries to which Trump charged in 2016. But the incongruity between what is said and what actually is done cannot be denied. 

Trump promised to end the proliferation of anti-white, critical race theory in the federal government. He even issued an executive order to that end. But a great many federal agencies carry on as usual. “The State Department, EPA, and VA are moving forward with critical race theory trainings—in violation of a presidential order,” tweeted investigative journalist Christopher Rufo. 

Days later, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said during his confirmation hearing that “white supremacists” are the “most persistent and lethal” internal “threat” to the United States. Wolf made that absurd claim on the same day that, amid yet more Black Lives Matter rioting, a black man shot two police officers in Louisville. 

Before taking on his current role, Wolf was a paid immigration lobbyist for a trade body of Indian firms. Under Wolf’s leadership, DHS is planning a massive giveaway of renewable work permits, the “Employment Authorization Document,” also known as a “green card lite.” He’s also overseeing the state-approved vilification of Trump’s very own voters. 

Wolf’s claim is part of a patently false, activist-media driven narrative that effectively weaponizes critical race theory. “White supremacist extremist” is any white male unafraid to stand up for himself. 

Sabotaging Trump’s Immigration Policies 

Enter the U.S. State Department, hard at work manufacturing consensus around that narrative. 

A widely cited report claiming 93 percent of this summer’s Black Lives Matter “protests” have been peaceful received funding from the State Department. The report attributes those rare incidents of violence to extremist right-wing agitators, naming Kyle Rittenhouse as an example. Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old who shot and killed two left-wing assailants in self-defense in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Not only is the State Department helping fund the Black Lives Matter public relations campaign, it also plans to join DHS in a pre-election immigration giveaway.

“The State Department is offering green cards to roughly 120,000 additional visa workers because they took jobs needed by college graduate Americans,” reports Neil Munro. Combined, he writes, Wolf’s DHS and the State Department are plotting a “huge giveaway to at least 400,000 foreign visa workers and their Fortune 500 employers just before the November election.” 

How to square this with “hire American”?

Fact is, the federal government approved 95.5 percent of all H-1B visa applications filed in the third quarter of the current fiscal yearthe highest ever since Trump took office. 

In an end-of-the-year email published by Roll Call on April 2, 2020, Ken Cuccinelli, then-acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, lauded “processing a large number of applications and requests while naturalizing 833,000 new U.S. citizens, an 11-year high.” 

But Cuccinelli should have paused before popping the champagne corks. “The number of new foreign-born voters, naturalized since 2014, exceeds the 2016 margins of victory in a number of swing states,” journalist John Binder reports. If the administration worries about recently naturalized immigrants threatening Trump’s reelection, it has no one more to blame than itself.

Repeating Mistakes

The administration’s “Platinum Plan” for black Americans highlights the issue of a rotten “MAGA” establishment, against which Trump himself has occasionally protested. 

In July, Trump expressed regret over the passage of the First Step Act, primarily pushed by Jared Kushner, Ja’Ron Smith, and Brooke Rollins. One staffer summarized Trump’s thinking: “No more of Jared’s woke shit.” 

In September, angry that criminal justice reform failed to boost his support among black voters, Trump reportedly shouted at a senior aid: “Why the hell did I do that?” Nevertheless, the Platinum Plan was launched, conceived by the same people who pushed criminal justice reform. 

The plan does nothing to combat Black Lives Matter, which seems to agitate as it pleases now. It actually pledges to continue down the road of criminal justice reform by finalizing a “Second Step Act”—evidently the president is fine with more of his son-in-law’s “woke shit.” It will create an official alternative “Independence Day” known as Juneteenth—that is what Juneteenth symbolizes, an alternative, racial independence celebration—and thus it means to lower the status of Independence Day proper. 

Further, the plan reveals that the White House thinks the right way to win more black voters is to promise them billions in affirmative action in the form of federal contracting—a message that directly contradicts the very concept of “draining the swamp.”

Rewarding Enemies, Rebuffing Friends

There are many more contradictions. 

At a rally last week in Newport News, Virginia, Trump campaigned for congressional candidate Nick Freitas. It wasn’t long ago that Freitas called Trump a “five-time draft deferring ‘tough guy’” who would “take some candy from a small child . . . or maybe kick a kitten.” He complained Trump “would make a disastrous president,” that “[t]here is nothing positive to say about [Trump].” 

On immigration, the administration’s signature issue, the libertarian-minded Freitas said he is wary of the federal government punishing localities that do not enforce federal immigration laws. On law and order in general, the White House continues to say one thing and do another.

The administration not only continues to push criminal justice reform through legislation, but appointed a pro-reform Heritage Foundation scholar, John Malcolm, to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Malcolm vehemently defended the Smarter Sentencing Act, which some lawmakers worried would put at risk our hard-won national drop in crime. How to square this with the “law and order” messaging? 

In 2020, “MAGA,” thus infiltrated, has become just another Beltway institution on autopilot, disconnected from the people on whose backs it was built. Trump made a mistake by listening to the most subversive elements of the GOP. If he loses in November, Republicans will deny their strategic failures, abandoning their base, and point the finger elsewhere. 

But even if he wins, the same is true because this is a much tighter race than it should be against an opponent in steep cognitive decline. Trump should be crushing Biden. The reason he is not is that he forgot why he won in 2016 and who carried him to victory. Regardless of the November outcome, there is rebuilding to be done. It will take a village.

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About Pedro Gonzalez

Pedro Gonzalez is associate editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He publishes the weekly Contra newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @emeriticus.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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