Monday, November 21, 2016


I find it unsettling to read this New York Times description of a speech given over the weekend by alt-right leader Richard Spencer is obviously alarming in the wake of Donald Trump's victory:
Earlier in the day, Mr. Spencer himself had urged the group to start acting less like an underground organization and more like the establishment.

But now his tone changed as he began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room -- it was not clear who -- shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back....

Mr. Spencer’s after-dinner speech began with a polemic against the “mainstream media,” before he briefly paused. “Perhaps we should refer to them in the original German?” he said.

The audience immediately screamed back, “L├╝genpresse,” reviving a Nazi-era word that means “lying press.”
There are good reasons to be extremely alarmed about the fact that Trump's campaign brought these people in from the fringes. But I'm also thinking about this Dara Lind post at Vox, which argues that being alarmist about Trump could backfire:
But what if the reality of the Trump administration turns out to be not quite the worst-case scenario? What if it is simply very bad in less unprecedented ways? Won’t that seem, by comparison, normal?

This is the real danger of a fight against “normalization” that assumes that the country is being drawn inevitably down the road to authoritarianism: The Trump administration could take another path and go unnoticed.

Donald Trump probably won’t cancel elections, but he could -- and is relatively likely to -- oversee a sweeping rollback of voting rights. His administration may not throw journalists in jail, but it could easily step up surveillance of domestic protesters. His appointees may not entrench a permanent oligarchy, but it could still -- for millions of people in America -- reduce the willingness and ability to participate in public life to zero.

These wouldn’t flout the law; they’d be under color of it and even in concert with it. But they would, nonetheless, be a tragedy for democracy.
Is that what might happen with the white nationalists? We're accusing Trump of opening the door to the Nazification of America, but what we might get from his White House is "merely" an increased crackdown on non-white voting, a much greater tolerance for stop-and-frisk and other police abuses, a very hard line on undocumented immigrants, a registry for people from majority-Muslim countries that will resemble one instituted after 9/11, and so on In other words, it will be awful, but because Jews and non-whites won't be subjected to laws that are literally Nazi-like, we'll be accused of crying wolf.

Is that what Steve Bannon and possibly other Trump strategists are counting on? That flirting with the alt-right is win-win, because Trump wins racist support while Trump's failure to embrace the entire alt-right agenda makes critics seem like alarmists?

I absolutely don't think that's reason enough to stop making noise about this. But I wonder whether this is the Trump camp's thinking.


Victor said...

Don't overthink this, Steve.

The Orange KKKAligula and his gang of thugs will be as nasty as they wanna be!
And that'll depend on the who, what, when, where, and why, of their soon-to-be victim(s) - and on how rich and powerful they are.
And their pleasure will come from the how of the punishment!
Their nipples are already hardening in anticipation of their first conquests!

Anonymous said...

Well, we simply have to resist everything, whether it's stop-and-frisk, registries, whatever, as it comes down. Don't proclaim the end of the world, just fight.

Frank Wilhoit said...

"...I wonder whether this is the Trump camp's thinking."

Two points.

1) "Thinking" is not the right word. Thinking is for losers. Planning is for losers. When you're a winner, what you do is win -- no, better said, what happens to you is winning. All you need to do is busk.

2) There is no such thing as "the Trump camp". There are the alt-Right, there are the old Right, there are the Trump family (surely your meaning was not that narrow), there are the grifters, there is the jacquerie. Common ground among any of these is opportunistic and practical, so, again, "thinking" is not the right word.