Trump’s White Supremacy Alt-Right Fans Must Not Be Allowed to Discredit Legitimate Worries
Some of the loudest supporters of Donald Trump belong to an online network loosely described by journalists as “Alt-Right,” which contains a dizzying array of those who dissent from current conservative politics for a wide variety of reasons. It is difficult and distasteful to slog through the output of these writers and activists, because so many of them embrace positions and rhetoric that are intentionally provocative, some to the point of being loathsomely hateful. (Vicious racism, crude Nazi-era anti-Semitism, crass sexual innuendo — all these are par for the course.)
Most who write about the Alt-Right phenomenon are utterly unsympathetic to even the legitimate points that its members happen to make, and some are keen to censor them. The cleverest among Alt-Right’s critics know better, and use its most extreme manifestations to discredit legitimate concerns that many sane, prudent and charitable conservatives share.
I’ve explained here before what I think are the valid worries of most Donald Trump supporters, which were shared by those of us who rallied for the much more principled Senator Ted Cruz. Put briefly, we see America — with its tolerant Anglo-Protestant culture and respect for the rule of law, private property and individualism — as the Goose that laid the Golden Egg of liberty. We worry that the reckless internationalism of Bush-era foreign policy, and the thoughtless embrace of unprecedented immigration from countries that don’t share our values and culture, threaten to choke the Goose to death. The majority of GOP primary voters, who supported either Trump or Cruz over Rubio, Bush, Graham and Kasich, seem to have agreed with us. We wish with all our hearts that voters had chosen Cruz, for a hundred important reasons, which were well explained in National Review’s “Against Trump” symposium.
The Alt-Right is something different altogether. It’s a collection of people who are willing to violate every social taboo in America — including the legitimate ones based in historical truth, Christian faith, simple decency and the virtue of sociability. This passes for some as “courage.” You will find in its ranks people who:
- deny the Holocaust while threatening to repeat it;
- feed a morbid interest in alleged differences between the intellectual capacities of black, white, and Asian people;
- mourn the end of state-sponsored “eugenics” laws;
- reject Christianity as an outgrowth of Jewish “universalism” and embrace instead Nordic paganism;
- denounce the Classical liberalism of America’s founders, and yearn for the rise of an intolerant theocracy;
- or plan for a separatist “homeland” in Utah or Idaho where whites can escape the physical presence of other races — among other reckless, even sadistic political fantasies.
I met some of the people involved in the Alt-Right movement back in the early 2000s, because we walked in the same political wilderness: Like them I opposed the Iraq War, the pretense that Islam was ripe for a democratic renaissance, and the GOP establishment’s careless embrace of mass immigration.
Those who supported those policies, who mostly (and proudly) described themselves as neoconservatives, acted swiftly to silence dissent on each of the three. Conservatives with long track records of defending our country’s interests who thought the Iraq War imprudent were denounced in the pages of National Review as “unpatriotic.” Learned critics of Islam who warned that the religion was intrinsically intolerant got banned from Fox News and most conservative magazines. Karl Rove used the Republican National Committee to interfere in GOP primaries, quashing the hopes of conservative challengers who worried about immigration.
Some of the loudest members of the #NeverTrump movement today were the men in the 2000s who led or implemented this purge. They drew the lines of “respectable,” “mainstream” conservative thinking so narrowly that many good people suddenly found themselves excluded — tarred as extremists, with almost nowhere to publish their ideas or even find paying work.
So we formed new publications, looked for allies online and organized a resistance to the neoconservative takeover of America’s right-leaning institutions. Among those potential allies, alas, there were some genuine extremists, people who really did deserve their status as pariahs. Some of those extremists were clever, and downplayed their most outrageous claims long enough to build a coalition, to get decent people fully implicated in working alongside them.
Some of those who started out with decent motivations allowed themselves to slide down the path of least resistance, and began to embrace more extreme positions — essentially deciding that if they were going to be treated as pariahs, they might as well act like pariahs. This is what I think happened to the once-great Joseph Sobran — in the 1980s the single most eloquent spokesman in the defense of unborn life, by the 2000s a willing shill for Holocaust deniers. Joe Sobran’s personal Screwtape captured quite a scalp.
Sometimes the extremists set traps for innocent conservatives, inviting them to conferences, then surprising them with a keynote speaker who was an out-and-out white racialist. (This happened to me, and I organized a successful rebellion, helping several distinguished conservative academics keep their deserved good names intact.) The extremist tactic there, I think, was to get real conservatives tarred with the same moral brush, so they would have little choice but to travel down into the fever swamps with the extremists. The fact that neoconservative watchdogs were carefully patrolling the newly straitened limits of “acceptable” writing and thought made it easier for real extremists to pull off tricks like this.
Within the ranks of the “outsider” conservatives a low-level civil war raged, as thinkers who’d been unjustly purged fought bitterly with each other over where to draw their own line about which kinds of arguments were morally acceptable, and which were actually mired in hatred or resentment. I lost some friends in those wars, but never compromised my Christian faith or moral principles.
I’m not naming names here because I don’t want to give aid and comfort to the worst characters in this play — the real extremists who want to conscript decent people as allies and drag them down into the muck, or those neoconservative “enforcers” who still wish to tar sober conservatives as crypto-racists or anti-Semites. The Alt-Right extremists are trying to use Donald Trump’s candidacy as a tool to make their foul views mainstream. Those neocons who view Ted Cruz as a dangerous right-wing zealot will cite the Alt-Right’s very existence as proof of the need for a fresh new purge.
The real lesson we should draw from the neoconservative attempt to draw the circle of conservatism too narrowly is the one most Americans drew from the failure of Prohibition: Criminalize normal behavior or thought, and you pave the way for a lot of good people to become criminals. You prod a weary steelworker who craves a beer after a long day at the factory to do business with Al Capone.