Trump's Lost Sons

Sean Posey | Society & Culture | Commentary | November 15th, 2018

Accused mail bomber Cesar Sayoc reportedly spent much of the past 10 years living in a van in southern Florida. According to those who knew him, he drifted through life - working odd jobs at a pizza shop and a strip club. He seemed to have made little impression on the world.

On the day of his arrest, cable news and social media lit up with images taken of his van. Festooned with the stickers depicting images of President Trump - and his political opponents, who appeared with gun sights superimposed on their faces - the vehicle served as a seemingly made-to-order meme. But who is Sayoc?

During an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Sayoc's family lawyer, Ron Lowy, provided some revealing insight into the man. Sayoc had apparently never been political before Donald Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy in June 2015. After that seminal moment, Sayoc gave himself over to the Trump movement.

Trump has been "reaching out," in Lowy's words, to "outsiders" just like Sayoc, "people who don't fit in, people who are angry at America." Trump is telling these people they "have a place at the table," Lowy explained. "This was someone lost," he said of Sayoc. "He was looking for anything, and he found a father in Trump."

Sayoc is not alone. Most famously, Kanye West adopted Trump as a kind of father figure. In October, West travelled to the Oval Office to meet the President. During a rambling speech to the press, he explained his attraction to Trump and the "Make America Great Again" slogan that so memorably defined the President's campaign.

"I love Hillary," West said. "I love everyone. Right. But the campaign, 'I'm with Her' just didn't make me feel, as a guy, that didn't get to see my dad all the time. Like a guy that could play catch with his son. It was something about when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman. You made a Superman," he told Trump.

Many depicted West as a lost soul for having to find a father figure in someone like Trump. But America today is filled with lost boys and men. Most of them, however, are not multi-millionaire rappers.

In previous decades, these are men who would have been working in factories, serving in voluntary associations, starting families or going off to college. Many are, like Sayoc, (described as "a 14-year old in man's body" by Lowy) only marginally attached to the work world.

Since the early 2000s, the labor force participation rate of you men without a bachelor's degree has declined more than any other group . Other disturbing statistics about the plight of American males are a regular feature of articles with headlines like "We're Losing a Whole Generation of Men to Video Games."

These are males who are moving from what should have been a place in mainstream America to the very margins. The decline in church attendance, the disappearance of civic life and the splintering of the family has left many men seeking something beyond even the material. The number of children living with two parents, for example, has declined over 20 percent since 1960. Yet in the past two years stand-in father figures have emerged.

Jordan Peterson, previously an obscure Canadian psychologist, recently rose to fame as a kind of guru for struggling men. He estimates that 90 percent of his 1.5 million YouTube subscribers are male. Part of Peterson's appeal is his broadside against what he terms "cultural Marxism" and politically-correct, postmodern society, which he says ignores the needs of young men. Yet he also mixes the kind of critical guidance that one would expect from a father or a mentor, but it's directed at an audience that perhaps has never heard anyone who they felt really spoke to them. This is also something you can hear from those who identify with Trump and feel he speaks to them.

It's not just Kanye West who has adopted the MAGA hat as a kind of warrior's helmet or mark of American traditionalism. A group known as the Proud Boys, which formed as Trump's campaign took off in 2016, has adopted the MAGA cause. They're causing growing consternation among many on the left as their members engage in street brawls across the country with liberal protesters and members of antifa, a loosely organized group of leftist militants.

The Proud Boys bill themselves as a modern day version of the kinds of clubs and fraternal organizations whose decline Robert Putnam documented in his book Bowling Alone. The Proud Boys are a "men's club," according to founder Gavin McInnes. They have two hard and fast rules for membership: you have to be biologically male and you have to declare yourself a "Western chauvinist."

"I think the Proud Boys, and I think Donald Trump, for the most part, drives people who have been disenfranchised by the public because they don't fit in," said Proud Boy Andrew Bell Ramos during an NBC Left Field story on the group in 2017.

"Most guys my age are basically just interested in sitting at home, masturbating, eating Cheerios and playing video games, smoking weed and trying to avoid responsibility," Ramos explained in another segment on SBS Dateline. The NBC segment shows the Proud Boys bonding over a bonfire, getting tattoos, venerating the role of the housewife, and expounding upon the superiority of the Western world. It isn't your average Knights of Columbus meeting.

"What's it like to be a male chauvinist in 2017? Probably a lot less lonely thanks to these guys," NBC journalist Aurora Almendral somewhat naively explained. They almost assuredly do provide a sense of belonging for some alienated men, but at what cost?

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the Proud Boys a "hate group." Founder Gavin McInnes has been involved with alt-right websites such as, and a skinhead group called the 211 Bootboys joined the Proud Boys in assaulting protesters after McInnes spoke at the Metropolitan Republican Club in October. "I cannot recommend violence enough," he has said . "It is a really effective way to solve problems."

The Proud Boys are an outgrowth of the alt-right and the land of the "red-pilled." The expression "red-pilled" is borrowed from the imagery of the 1999 film The Matrix. In the film, Neo, the putative hero, is offered the choice of taking either a blue pill or a red pill by the mysterious figure, Morpheus. Though he isn't aware of it, Neo is trapped in a simulation called the matrix.

"You're here because you know something," Morpheus explains. "What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad." If Neo takes the blue pill, he returns to his virtual reality life. If he takes the red pill, as Morpheus explains, he'll discover "how deep the rabbit hole goes."

In the film, the matrix is "the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth." Not long after the onslaught the Great Recession, the term "red-pilled" began to be adopted by a very loosely organized group of white nationalists, "men's rights" activists, reactionary conservatives, antifeminists and a host of other groups coalescing in far-right circles on the internet who became collectively known as the alt-right.

To them, the liberal order is the world that has been pulled over their eyes. And for many, it's Trump who is red-pilling more and more of the "normies" among the general public.

A recent analysis of 30,000 Twitter accounts of users who "self-identified as alt-right, or who followed someone who did," found that Trump is "the glue that binds the far right together." And young men (including the Proud Boys) are now an increasing presence at Trump rallies.

"Identity has become the coin of the realm in American culture," writes Angela Nagle , "but one that's not accessible to the heirs of white male hegemony." Although it isn't only white males , as Sayoc, West and others confirm. This is something Trump seems to recognize. His word and deeds are attracting the lost, the damaged and the economically disenfranchised men in America.

These men are searching for meaning and belonging in a country that has long been "Bowling Alone." Some might stop at Jordan Peterson; others will take the red pill. And it's likely that Trump, not Morpheus, will be the one who guides them down the rabbit hole.