By Doug Porter
Today’s the day when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton confronts the ugly underside of the Trump candidacy: the alt-right. Or, as I like to call them, racists.
Challenged by advisors with polling data showing him losing badly among better-educated suburban whites, Donald Trump has reportedly been “softening” the inflammatory rhetoric. He’s even gone so far as to accuse Clinton of being a “bigot.”
Clinton isn’t labeling Trump personally as a racist or a white nationalist; she’s labeling his words and policies as such. Donald Trump’s recent history in politics from his birther comments through to this campaign are all anybody needs.
Here’s Greg Sargent at the Washington Post:
Today, Hillary Clinton will give a speech about Donald Trump and the “alt right.” In an interview on CNN last night, Clinton previewed the speech by saying this:
“Donald Trump has shown us who he is, and we ought to believe him. He is taking a hate movement mainstream. He’s brought it into his campaign. He’s bringing it to our communities and our country.
“And someone who’s questioned the citizenship of the first African American President, who has courted white supremacists, who’s been sued for housing discrimination against communities of color, who’s attacked a judge for his Mexican heritage and promised a mass deportation force, is someone who is very much peddling bigotry and prejudice and paranoia. I will have more to say about this tomorrow when I give a speech in Reno.”
This is sure to force a more open discussion over whether this is really what Trump is up to, and that will be a good thing. As I and many others have argued, the evidence is mounting that Trump is consciously trying to nurture a following created by his candidacy that is at least partly motivated by his appeal to their white nationalist or “alt-right” impulses. That following (one that is by no means only motivated by those impulses, to be clear) helped Trump win the nomination, and now that he appears to be aware that he might lose the general election, he may be eying ways to keep that constituency engaged beyond November, allowing him to perhaps build a media empire that caters to that audience or otherwise remain active in the political arena in some form or other.
(Here’s a link to the text of Clinton’s speech.)
Meanwhile, the GOP candidate’s seeming waffling on immigration issues in the past day or so will send his alt-right fans to the barricades, and may actually play into Clinton’s strategy, which until now has been to simply let Trump be himself.
Now I know that not all Trump supporters are racists. There are lots of well-meaning Republicans who’ve swallowed a steady diet of radical rhetoric since the Black Guy won the presidency who’ve simply lost touch with reality. And since politics is about emotion much more than it is about actuality, no amount of fact-checking will sway their vote.
So it’s time to shine a light on the cockroaches hiding in the dark places of reactionary politics. As if the media were waiting or this day to come (they were), a flood of stories is emerging.
A Historical Perspective
Here’s Jeet Heer at the New Republic:
Perhaps the clearest historical precedent for Clinton’s dilemma is the way John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson confronted the rise of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s, which was allied with the conservative movement that was then in the process of taking over the Republican Party. Kennedy didn’t shy away from condemning the rise of right-wing extremism. In a 1961 speech in Los Angeles, Kennedy attacked “those fringes of our society who have sought to escape their own responsibility by finding a simple solution, an appealing slogan, or a convenient scapegoat. … The discordant voices of extremism are heard once again in the land.”
When Barry Goldwater became the Republican presidential nominee in 1964, he was notably unwilling to disavow the support of the Birch Society, saying he did not “consider the John Birch Society, as a group, to be extremist.” This gave the Johnson administration more than ample cause to raise the issue and label Goldwater himself as an extremist…
…In linking Trump and the alt-right, Clinton will be following in the footsteps of Kennedy and Johnson. Like them, she’ll try to define an American consensus politics that accepts conservative Republicans but rejects outright extremism. It could be that her words will spark a backlash and create more members of the alt-right, but that’s by no means certain. What can be confidently stated is that the alt-right is, in fact, noxious, and that it’s one of the jobs of political leaders to marginalize racist movements.
Where They Come From
John Wagner at the Washington Post gives a thumbnail political history of this repackaged racist movement:
The alt-right began with a speech that conservative writer Paul Gottfried delivered in 2008, after the Republican Party’s electoral wipeout. Gottfried called for an “alternative right” that could defeat “the neoconservative-controlled conservative establishment.” That idea was soon adopted by the “identitarian” nationalist Richard Spencer, who founded an Alternative Right website, but it was also claimed by supporters of Ron Paul and conservatives who opposed multiculturalism.
But it was Trump’s presidential campaign that brought the movement into the mainstream. From the moment he told a national audience that Mexico was sending rapists and drug-dealers across the border, Trump surged in the polls.
A White Nationalist Resurgence
Dylan Matthews at Vox.com explains why it’s a good and necessary thing for Clinton–beyond shoring up her support with voters suspicious of Trump’s intentions–to bring this matter forward at this time.
Insofar as the alt-right’s role in the Trump movement matters, it matters because it suggests a route for Trumpism to survive past Trump. If the polls are right, Trump is set to go down in fiery defeat in November, crushed by Hillary Clinton.
But win or lose, Trump has shown that overt contempt for racial equality, naked tribalistic appeals to white racial solidarity, and vaguely authoritarian rhetoric can add up to a very successful campaign, at least within the Republican Party. That gives the alt-right new relevance, and helps convince its members that America might be ready for their ideas.
It also opens the door for a more sophisticated future candidate, one reared on alt-right arguments rather than stumbling into them the way Trump has. Such a candidate could effectively whip up an alt-right base of support, but potentially use it more intelligently and effectively than Trump. If this sounds fantastical, it’s worth remembering that open white supremacists like Strom Thurmond and James Eastland were serving in the US Senate 40, 30, even 20 years ago. Our current period without avowed white nationalists in power, backed by an organized constituency of the same, is the exception, not the norm.
Just as troubling as this reactionary movement’s affinity for racism is its anti-democratic core. Traditionally rightist politicians used states rights and the US Constitution as a bludgeon against progressive ideas; now these alt-righty types are dispensing with the need for representative government.
Here’s Michelle Goldberg at Slate:
Now the Clinton campaign has to try and explain to America what the alt right is. That might not be easy. Though [white nationalist Richard] Spencer came up with the term, it has come to define a broader congeries of reaction. The alt right encompasses longstanding racist organizations; taboo-scorning Twitter trolls; unapologetic misogynists; professional Islamophobes; and so-called neo-reactionaries, a movement of futuristic monarchists. What unites these figures is a fundamental rejection of egalitarianism, contempt for democracy, and irreverent glee in their ability to shock the bourgeoisie. Daryle Lamont Jenkins, who founded theOne People’s Project to track the far right, describes the alt right as “hipster Nazis.”
The alt right generally sees itself as being at war with establishment conservatism. “The Alt Right is one name for the political tendency (actually tendencies) that exist outside of the racket of Conservatism Inc.—the GOP publicists, cheerleaders and assorted parasites who make up the Establishment Right,” Peter Brimelow, the editor of VDARE, told me via email. “It addresses new issues that have surfaced since the end of the Cold War, like immigration, Affirmative Action, the emerging science of race differences, even rethinking foreign policy etc., all of which are currently kept out of public debate by the curse of Political Correctness.”
Ironically, for a movement obsessed with nationalism, the alt right has more affinity with the European right than traditional American conservatives do. United by ethnicity rather than religion, it is less moralistic than the Christian right; like the right in Europe, it is more likely to condemn Muslim homophobia than to condemn homosexuals. The big alt-right event at the Republican National Convention was the Gays for Trump party hosted by Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart’s technology editor, which drew Spencer, Brimelow and Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders. The alt right sees allies in France’s National Front and Britain’s U.K. Independence Party, whose leader, Nigel Farage, rallied with Trump on Wednesday night in Mississippi.
Why Bannon Matters
Media Matters has published a handy guide for who these people are, what they stand for, and the media outlets used to convey their messages. The Trump campaign takeover by Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon signals a victory for their movement.
Bannon told Mother Jones that Breitbart News is “the platform for the alt-right.”
Bannon took over as chairman of Breitbart News after the death of founder Andrew Breitbart. The site has taken a rabidly anti-immigrant tone, often hyping “reports about crime involving immigrants, with headlines that sound like they came from tabloids” and attacking Republicans who favor immigration reform. Vox notes that “Breitbart essentially functioned as an anti-immigration pressure group, signaling to Republican leaders that any deviation on immigration would earn them the wrath of the base.”
The site has also pushed a white nationalist viewpoint in articles on race and religion. It described the shooting of a white reporter and her white cameraman as a “race murder” and published an article titled “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture.”
Finally this, from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch Blog:
Former staff has accused Bannon of running meetings at Breitbart like white supremacist rallies. Ben Shapiro, formerly of Breitbart News, has gone so far as to claim that under Bannon’s leadership:
Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with [Milo] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.
Last night, Richard Spencer, arguably the father of the Alt-Right issued a press release claiming that connecting the Alt-Right to Trump and Bannon is “guilt-by-association” and that they are simply peaceful advocates for European-Americans.
In a way, the Alt-Right has already won. We all call them the Alt-Right instead of what they should be called. White supremacists.
— ConservativeBlackMan (@Thomasismyuncle) August 25, 2016
On This Day: 1819 – Birth of Allan Pinkerton, whose strike-breaking detectives (“Pinks”) gave us the word “fink.” 1970 – Elton John made his first live appearance in the U.S. He opened for David Ackles at “The Troubadour” in Los Angeles 1981 – The Voyager 2 sent back pictures and data about Saturn. The craft came within 63,000 miles of the planet.
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