TRUMP DOUBLES DOWN
Whatever else emerges from this year’s presidential campaign, one thing is certain: Donald Trump is mainstreaming bigotry.
How could I seriously suggest this, given the widespread outcry against his repeated bigoted belches, and given the political harm they have caused him?
Here’s how: The Republican Party nominee has voiced and validated many voters’ worst instincts, to much tut-tutting but no disavowals of him by his party’s leaders. What’s worse, he recently doubled down by bringing on the far right’s channeler-in-chief, Steve Bannon, to be his campaign’s CEO. Bannon’s contribution to mainstreaming bigotry largely flows from his popular right-wing website (and associated radio program), Breitbart News, which is increasingly promoting the views of the Alt-Right.
Though “Alt-Right” might sound like a laptop keystroke, it’s far from benign. The widely respected, anti-racist Southern Poverty Law Center provides a superb primer on this amorphous movement, including this summary:
The Alternative Right, commonly known as the Alt-Right, is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew “establishment” conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.
Specific strains of this ethno-nationalism obviously include anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black biases. But the movement also features alarming misogynist and anti-Semitic elements.
FROM BAD TO WORSE
By way of background, Breitbart News was a muck-raking, right-wing site even before Steve Bannon took over, following founder Andrew Breitbart’s fatal heart attack in 2012. But Bannon took it to new depths.
From another Southern Poverty Law Center piece, which is but one of the numerous compendiums of concern about Bannon and Breitbart News:
Breitbart has always given a platform to parts of the radical right, most notably elements of the organized anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant movements. Breitbart has also organized conferences featuring nativist speakers and published op-eds and interviews with movement leaders. But since 2015, Breitbart began publishing more overtly racist diatribes about Muslims and immigrants.
The SPLC piece cites numerous veins of Breitbart racism, including: praising an anti-Muslim provocateur and likening her to Martin Luther King; producing a video implying that Muslims want honor killings and other primitive punishments to be part of U.S. law; publishing an article charging that an alleged “Muslim rape culture” is integral to Islam; commending a novel that depicts dark-skinned refugees as “monsters” invading white Western nations; and fueling conspiratorial fears of an epidemic of black-on-white crime.
But the real problem with Breitbart isn’t just the bigoted quality of its work – it’s the quantity of readers it reaches. With 13.8 million unique visitors in June, it’s the most popular conservative website. And that grants great power to the bile it seeks to spread. As explained by the SPLC analysis:
The slow, but steady, shift toward more radical ideological content is troubling considering Breitbart’s reach. Breitbart.com is one the top 1,000 most popular websites on the Internet, and just outside the top 200 most popular websites in the United States, according to Alexa [an analytics service]. Contrast that with Identitäre Bewegung Deutschland, [a German group that made a racist video posted to the Breitbart site], whose website ranks outside the top 1.4 million most popular websites worldwide and outside the top 120,000 in Germany…
So how does Bannon defend himself against accusations of promoting Alt-Right racism, even as proudly declares, “We’re the platform for the alt-right” in a recent Mother Jones interview? As per that interview:
Trump’s new campaign chief denies that the alt-right is inherently racist. He describes its ideology as “nationalist,” though not necessarily white nationalist. Likening its approach to that of European nationalist parties such as France’s National Front, he says, “If you look at the identity movements over there in Europe, I think a lot of [them] are really ‘Polish identity’ or ‘German identity,’ not racial identity. It’s more identity toward a nation-state or their people as a nation.” (Never mind that National Front founder Jean Marie Le Pen has been fined in France for “inciting racial hatred.”)
The Alt-Right not racist? If the SPLC analysis isn’t enough for you, and if you don’t mind adding to the click count of a reprehensible online destination, check out such movement websites as Alternative Right or the somewhat more sophisticated VDare.
AND THIS IS WHERE IT GETS DANGEROUS
So Bannon is the go-to guy in charge of Trump’s political and media strategy. In some ways, this is not such a radical development. Breitbart and the Alt-Right alike were praising Trump long before this move was made.
Now, however, he’ll be accompanied by what a 2015 Bloomberg Businessweek profile called “The Most Dangerous Political Operative in America,” a savvy, savage infighter whose skills range far beyond running a media operation. This could mean more of Trump being Trump, giant warts and all. But it could also mean feints toward moderation.
Regardless, it’s one thing for an increasingly racist website to back a presidential candidate. It’s another thing for the head of that site to head that candidate’s campaign. It advances the cross-fertilization between American politics on the one hand and anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic, anti-black, anti-women, anti-Semitic, anti-whatever ideas, individuals and organizations on the other. The fact that Trump had already started down that long, dark, racist road does not diminish the added power of Bannon joining him.
In other words, this development mainstreams bigotry. Regardless of the election’s outcome, America may well continue down that dark road even after November 8th.
Stephen Golub’s blog is A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country