When The Devil Is In Your House: Charlottesville, The Alt Right And Conservatism

There is nothing conservative about the resurgent white identitarian movement taking root in America, and all decent conservatives must vehemently reject this toxic ideology – and its adherents – before we are further tarred by association

There seem to be two main responses from conservatives to the awful violence which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

One approach – and the correct one – is to forcefully condemn the rise in white nationalism and the specific act of domestic terror which one individual from that movement perpetrated on society, pointing out that no matter what these people call themselves (Alt Right, Far Right or anything else) there is no place for them in the conservative movement.

The other approach is to point angrily at the leftist counterprotesters, particularly the militant Antifa contingent, and point out that these thugs were also violent, punching people, wielding clubs and attacking journalists with very little intervention from the police. This is the “whataboutism” approach – pointing out the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the beam in your own.

Sadly, we have seen too much of the second approach and not enough of the first in the days since violence came to Charlottesville.

The video above is a segment of the Andrew Klavan show. Klavan is a podcast host on Ben Shapiro’s conservative website The Daily Wire, and in this segment he demonstrates by example the way that conservatives should respond when racist, far right fanatics try to hijack our movement and sabotage our policy agenda in service of their own warped agenda.

Beginning at 6 minutes into the video, Klavan says:

Let us start among ourselves, because we’re all good conservatives here. Let us gather together and just remind ourselves – these clowns are in our house, okay? These evil, satanic clowns are in our house.

And it’s no good saying “well, they don’t believe what we believe”, of course they don’t believe what we believe. Of course they don’t. They don’t believe in the Constitution, they don’t believe in E Pluribus Unum, they don’t believe in the great American tradition of bringing people in, transforming them into America through our creed that we conservatives are fighting so hard to defend, they don’t believe in low taxes, they don’t believe in any of this stuff. They don’t believe in America, they don’t believe in the whole thing that makes America what it is.

But they’re in our house. They identify themselves as right wing, they vote for the people we vote for, they have their slogans “Unite the Right” and all this stuff. It’s no good – when the devil is in your house you gotta take care of that, it’s no good saying “well, the devil is in the other guy’s house too” – of course he is. But let’s not mince words about it.

Absolutely. And conservatives cannot afford to be hypocrites here. Whenever a terrorist atrocity is committed by a radical Islamist, many of us on the political Right correctly demand that the Muslim community do more to confront and defeat extremist Islamist ideology wherever it manifests in their mosques, their workplaces, their social circles or even their own homes. The state can not be fully responsible for making radical or violent interpretations of Islam unacceptable to susceptible people, and its attempts to do so (through the PREVENT programme in Britain, for example) will only ever be partially acceptable. The ultimate solution to Islamist extremism cannot be enforced from outside, it must be midwifed by responsible people within the community.

But if we make this demand of our Muslim compatriots, friends and neighbours, we conservatives must also be honest when a violent and extremist ideology is lurking in the fringes of our own movement. The domestic terrorist who killed one person and injured many more in Charlottesville, Virginia last Saturday is no more representative of the conservative movement than the depraved Islamist terrorists who kill innocent people in London, Paris or Brussels is representative of all Muslims – possibly even less so. But still we have an obligation to stand up and vociferously object when our movement is hijacked by those who would seek to appropriate our language, policies and even our political parties for their own warped purposes. It is only fair to be morally consistent in this way.

In the face of resurgent (or at least emboldened) white nationalism it is not enough to do what some stalwarts of the American Right did, and loudly proclaim that Nazism is actually a far-left ideology, trying to pretend that the white nationalist identitarian resurgence is not a problem primarily of the Right:

This is just supremely unhelpful, not because Dinesh D’Souza doesn’t have a point but because this “whataboutism” makes it look – quite reasonably – as though conservatives are deflecting. Yet D’Souza seemed to spend most of the weekend labouring this angle of attack, which while technically true does nothing to purge conservatism of the parasites in our midst, or convince sceptical people that we have our house in order.

Right now I don’t think Republicans or many American conservatives realise just what a severe reputational issue they are facing at the hands of this president. Is the media always fair with its coverage? Of course not. Does the media lazily try to fit every story into their “conservatives are racist” framework much of the time? Yes. But that only makes it more important for us to be whiter than white at all times (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun).

Conservatives know that they will be attacked for racism if there is even the slightest possibility of malice, while leftists will be given a free pass. We know this, so there is absolutely no excuse for acts like Donald Trump’s latest press conference where he opened himself up to valid accusations by the media that he was drawing a moral equivalence between the violence of the neo-Nazi thugs and the actions of the counterprotesters (yes of course violence took place on both sides, but the ideologies in question are not morally equivalent, and only one side committed an act of domestic terrorism).

And yes, sometimes the Republican Party has been too willing to make a home for racists in their house, a fact which is not expunged by the fact that Democrats did the same in the 1960s. Engaging in whataboutism does not shift the spotlight away from conservatives, it merely makes it look to ordinary people as though we have something to hide.

At this point we are rapidly running out of excuses and mitigating factors for Trump’s behaviour. No, scratch that – the reserve of excuses has long since been exhausted, and the barrel is now bare. And if this presidential behaviour continues largely unchallenged by mainstream conservatives then only one of two things can happen – either conservative and Republican elected officials face deserved electoral annihilation in the midterms and the next presidential election cycle, or they are propped up and kept in office not by genuine conservatives but by uber-motivated Alt Right types – at which point small-government, constitutional conservatives will have been definitively pushed out of their own party.

This is untenable. The white nationalist and white supremacist Alt Right is a cancer on conservatism because they choose to align themselves with conservatism and live in our house, and rather than administering a welcome dose of chemotherapy the President of the United States is allowing the tumour to grow unchecked – either for cynical political ends, or else for a much darker purpose.

Meanwhile, every hysterical criticism and slander of conservatism ever made by leftists becomes slightly more plausible when Donald Trump, face of the Republican Party, cannot bring himself to disavow gushing words of praise from white supremacists like David Duke.

Abraham Lincoln once said:

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation [..] We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility.

We are rapidly reaching the point where all conservatives of conscience who have not already done so – including elected officials at all levels – must take a public stand and declare whether they accept the White House’s inexplicable Entente Cordiale with the Alt Right, or whether they repudiate it as a matter of conscience.

Those people who choose the wrong side of this existential debate, or who shamefully sit on the fence, will be remembered in spite of themselves.  And one day they will have to answer for their cowardice.

 

White Supremacists March with Torches in Charlottesville

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Violence And Death In Charlottesville, And A Morally Compromised President

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If President Donald Trump cannot bring himself to explicitly condemn an act of domestic terror perpetrated against anti-racism protesters in Virginia, one must question not only whether he is capable of bringing Americans together as one nation, but whether he even intends to try

What hath identity politics wrought?

That was the question that stuck in my mind as I sat and watched footage of the far right and Antifa protests in Charlottesville, Virginia today, culminating in that heinous act of domestic terrorism where a car rammed a group of counterprotesters at high speed, killing one and injuring nineteen – a deliberate copy of the kind of low-tech attack perpetrated by radical Islamist extremists recently in Europe.

As part of my media monitoring watching this story develop, I spent some time tuned into a livestream report from Alt-Right conspiracy site Infowars. Their reporter was embedded with a group of Alt-Right protesters who had been dispersed by the police and were trying to regroup. Several of them openly admitted to being racist on camera. A couple spoke about the conspiracy of “international Jewry”, while others just barked the name George Soros over and over again. One talked about the demographic timebomb that threatened America when Texas finally turns into a Blue state due to Hispanic immigration. Lots seemed to want a complete shutdown of all immigration, legal and illegal. And all this on top of the images we have seen of protesters bearing swastikas and making Nazi salutes.

Nobody is covering themselves in glory at this point – not the far Right white supremacist protesters, not the more extreme Antifa elements of the counterprotest, not the news media, not people on Twitter and certainly not the President of the United States.

Many people have made the point that the Left’s obsession with identity politics has helped to fuel the white nationalist/supremacist backlash we are now seeing from the far Right. They’re not wrong. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the relentless growth of identity politics, aided and abetted by cynical left-wing politicians, has certainly put rocket boosters on right wing extremist sentiment.

But none of that matters in the moments after a car is driven at speed into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, in what can only be described as an act of domestic terrorism. At that point it doesn’t matter whether the counterprotesters were trying to suppress the free speech of the far Right, or whether their own leftist ideology is flawed. At that point, these discussions should be put on hold, to be relitigated after we have condemned this singular and abhorrent act of violence.

If there was a time for Donald Trump to step up and show that whatever his flaws he could be president of all Americans, this was it. He failed that test, making a statement consisting of weasel words that condemned violence “on all sides” but without mentioning the focal violent incident of the day.

Remember: this is a president who is happy to shoot his mouth off on Twitter about terror attacks in distant lands, offering certainty and condemnation even before the facts are fully established (and sometimes getting it plain wrong in the process). This is a president who can be frighteningly specific when a particular person or group has roused his anger – when he wants to be. As one Twitter user noted, it would have been nice to hear the President of the United States condemn the mowing down of protesters with the same stridency and tone he uses to attack the likes of Rosie O’Donnell or any of the other celebrities he likes to feud with.

But instead Trump said this:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

Well yes, there were certainly acts of bigotry and violence committed by Antifa and others among the counterprotesters. But to paint any kind of equivalence when violence from one side has resulted in death and multiple injury is morally questionable, and politically self-destructive.

There exists a preset media narrative that the Trump White House is staffed with people who are white nationalists at best, and white supremacists at worse. This is mostly media hysteria – while Trump certainly made racist comments during the presidential campaign (not least of which suggesting that Judge Gonzalo Curiel would be incapable of ruling fairly in a Trump University pre-trial hearing because his Mexican heritage would create bias because of Trump’s border wall policy) he has not yet taken any executive action which a reasonable person could construe as being motivated by white supremacist leanings.

Nonetheless, Trump should have realised – and probably was fully aware – that anything less than irreproachable behaviour on his part on any issue touching race would be jumped on by political opponents and the media, bogging his administration’s agenda down and giving Americans just cause to fear that their president was in fact not equally concerned with the welfare of all citizens regardless of race.

And yet when given the lowest of hurdles to jump over – unambiguously criticising violence committed by white supremacist protesters – Trump failed to clear the bar, instead preferring to issue a meandering blanket condemnation of violence which was never going to be enough to satisfy the politicians, media outlets and commentators sniffing for blood.

Why not? Well, to my mind there are only two potential explanations. Firstly, Trump did not specifically condemn the white supremacists because he sympathises with their cause. Or secondly, Trump does not agree with (or is ambivalent about) their cause, but values the votes and political support of this subgroup too much to risk displeasing them by making an overt criticism.

In the first instance, this would make Donald Trump utterly depraved and unworthy of political support from any decent elected official. And in the second instance, this would make the President of the United States a coward for failing to risk taking a political hit in order to tell the kind of harsh truths and specific admonishment to the far Right that much of America needed to hear. Complicity in racism or rank political cowardice – neither characteristic befits the office of president.

Rod Dreher gets it right:

Trump’s response to the racist rally has been — how to put this? — underwhelming.  No, I’m sorry, it’s not “underwhelming”. It’s disgusting. And given that professional racist David Duke invoked Trump’s name favorably at Friday night’s rally, Trump has every reason in the world to condemn this rally and its attendees in no uncertain terms. But he didn’t do it.

[..] Yes, we can and should talk about how left-wing racism and antifa violence are feeding this right-wing racism and violence. But that can come later. Today, all that needs to be said is: these white thugs who desecrated Charlottesville today are evil, and must be condemned and resisted by all decent people. And also, by the American president.

The National Review’s Rich Lowry also makes a fair point:

I don’t have a problem with Trump condemning both sides, since both sides resorted to violence. And he did denounce bigotry and hatred. But I agree that it was mealy-mouthed and wrong not to specifically name and slam the white supremacists whose march was the precipitating event here. Putting aside the merits, if you are a president people suspect is allied with the nastiest forces on the right, you should leap at the opportunity to denounce violent white nationalists. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Trump takes a second bite at the apple sometime soon, but this shouldn’t be so hard.

While Michael Brendan Dougherty is even more appalled:

This weekend in Charlottesville Richard Spencer organized his “Unite The Right” march.  David Duke was there too. Fights broke out between the demonstrating racists and the people protesting them. A motorist driving a Dodge muscle car rammed into a group of anti-racist protestors, injuring several and killing at least one.

Even if you believe as I do, that Spencer’s form of white nationalism is a marginal movement granted far too much attention, the sight of hundreds of unmasked young men marching through Charlottesville with torches and chanting racist slogans inspires genuine fear in many Americans. Trump was given a chance to speak to that fear today, and to offer the same moral condemnation and deflation he’s given others. Instead he essentially repeated his disgraceful half-disavowal of Duke. He refused to call out these white supremacists by name, and condemn them. He merely condemned “all sides.”  An energetic law and order president who had any sense of the divisions in his country would have announced today that he was instructing his Justice Department to look into the people in these groups, and zealously ferret out and prosecute any crimes they turned up.

This is a target-rich environment. Some of these scummy racists in Charlottesville wore chainmail, others went around shouting their devotion to Adolf Hitler. A president with Trump’s intuitive sense of depravity should be able to call them what they are: evil losers. More pathetic: evil cosplayers.  Just as Spencer took Trump’s “I disavow” without a direct object to be a kind of wink in his direction, surely he’ll take today’s statement about “all sides” as another form of non-condemnation. With his performance today, Trump confirms the worst that has been said about him. He’s done damage to the peace of his country. What a revolting day in America.

What stubborn obstinacy exists within Donald Trump that makes him unable to do the sensible thing, to follow the path of least resistance, time and time again? Trump knows that his every statement and every tweet will be parsed by the media, many of whom are actively antagonistic to his agenda (see CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta’s preening, virtue-signalling battle with Stephen Miller over immigration at a recent press briefing). So why feed them more ammunition? Surely Trump knows that given widespread concerns about his attitudes to race, he needs to be whiter than white (if you’ll pardon the pun)?

More importantly, Trump should realise that criticisms of identity politics from his administration and other conservatives will be even less likely to get a fair hearing than would otherwise be the case, so long as he refuses to condemn white nationalist violence with the same zeal that he criticises violence committed by other identitarian movements such as Black Lives Matter.

Maybe somebody smarter than me can come up with a better and less worrying theory as to why Trump deliberately avoided the path of least resistance when making his statement. But to my mind, the only reason the president would refuse to explicitly condemn white nationalist violence – when he knew that the entire country was watching and waiting for him to do so – is because there is a certain constituency he is sufficiently keen to keep on-side that he is willing take the political hit for issuing a mealy-mouthed, non-specific condemnation of the violence in Charlottesville.

There is an exceedingly unpleasant subgroup within Donald Trump’s support base that holds utterly abhorrent views which need to be acknowledged and confronted, not just by ordinary grassroots conservatives or sycophantic GOP politicians but by Trump himself. And every day that the president fails to denounce that racist element, what little moral authority he has left will continue to ebb away.

 

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No, Donald Trump Was Not Swept To Victory By Resurgent White Nationalism

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No, “nationalism” is not the same as “white nationalism” – and the American Left urgently needs to find a way of opposing populist, protectionist ideas without resorting to the nuclear option of accusing their adherents of being secretly racist

A lot is being written at the moment about the future presence of Steve Bannon as a key adviser in Donald Trump’s administration, and whether this represents a calamity on the scale of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake or more closely resembles the Chicxulub Asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

We are constantly being told by hysterical news outlets and media commentators that Steve Bannon is a “white nationalist“, which would obviously be utterly appalling and terrible if it were true. But considering that many of the news outlets making the allegation are the same ones screeching loudest about the impact of “fake news” on the election, they seem remarkably unwilling to come forth with evidence of racist, white nationalist sentiments previously expressed by Bannon, and equally unwilling to report the many times when Bannon has disavowed such ideas.

At this point, I have to make the customary disclaimer before those who do not frequently read this blog rip me to shreds. No, I did not and do not support Donald Trump. I dislike Trump’s character as well as many (though not all) of his policies, and believe that he is temperamentally unsuited to lead America, to say nothing of setting an appalling example for younger Americans. Just so that’s clear.

But outlets like the Guardian have accused Bannon outright of being a white nationalist, while prestige outlets like CNN have sought to tar him with association, going up to the line of suggesting that Bannon will advocate for white nationalists.

But nationalism and white nationalism are not one and the same thing. People – including many in the media who should know better – seem more than happy to bolt the two words together, either to aid with the cadence of their sentences or as a deliberate way of smearing nationalism, but the two worldviews are quite different. Nationalism can be boiled down as a “country-first” mindset, prioritising the citizens of a country (no matter their race, gender or other characteristics) over those from outside the country. Such a worldview manifests itself through clear policies on immigration, illegal immigration and foreign policy. Meanwhile, white nationalism seeks to favour typically white protestant people in America over other races, and is manifested through discriminatory and divisive policies of racial segregation and persecution.

Clearly, the two are quite different, and hearing the media talk airily about “white nationalism” as a means of slandering the alt-right or nationalism in general is starting to become extremely tiresome. If people want to attack Steve Bannon’s actual ideas, they should feel free to do so. But lobbing baseless accusations of overt racism with the term “white nationalism” is cheating, a lazy attempt to excommunicate Bannon from respectable political debate without having to do the intellectual heavy-lifting of taking on his ideas. Which is reprehensible.

Gene Callahan puts it well in The American Conservative:

Perhaps, given my limited knowledge of him, Bannon really is, secretly, a “white nationalist,” despite his repeated public rejection of white nationalism. Perhaps he really is, secretly, a supporter of the racist elements of the alt-right, despite the fact that he has said he has “zero tolerance” for those elements. Perhaps he really is, secretly, anti-Semitic, despite his strong support for Israel (a support too strong, by my standards), and despite the character testimony provided for him by many Jews. But the evidence that Bannon holds these hidden views, as far as I have been able to examine it, is pathetic, and entirely inadequate to support such serious charges. No competent prosecutor would ever bring a case against a suspect based on such flimsy evidence.

So is there an alternative hypothesis as to why Bannon has been attacked in this fashion? Well, let us imagine that there is a globalist elite that doesn’t really care at all about the American people. When the housing crisis hit in 2007, instead of bailing out low-income homeowners (many of whom were African-American and Hispanic) who had been duped into taking on adjustable-rate mortgages that only someone with a degree in finance could understand, they instead bailed out the bankers who had made such loans. Instead of worrying about the impact of massive immigration on the lives our our own most vulnerable citizens (many of whom are African-American and Hispanic), they celebrated such immigration, since, after all, it provided them with cheap gardeners and nannies and maids, and their factories with cheap assembly-line workers. Now imagine that they are threatened by the possible ascendancy into power of people who do actually believe that the American government should put the interest of American citizens, be they black or Hispanic or white or Asian, first in our government’s policies? I would imagine that this (entirely imagined on my part!) elite would embark on a relentless smear campaign against anyone expressing such “ethno-nationalist” concern for our own citizens on the part of our own government, so that they could continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us.

Dear reader, please decide for yourself which hypothesis is most probable.

Read the whole thing if you have a few minutes to spare. This blog is certainly convinced that Callahan is right while the hysterical accusers are wrong. And note: one can still dislike Steve Bannon, his political views and what he stands for. There is just no plausible evidence that he is guilty of the accusations now being thrown his way, and therefore responsible media outlets should stop reproducing them without further evidence.

More importantly, we need to rescue the word “nationalism” from toxic association with white nationalism, which of course remains abhorrent. But nationalism itself is nothing more than a belief in the nation state. Nationalism (not white nationalism) helped to drive the vote for Brexit in the UK because people believed that the European Union is a poor guarantor of our rights and freedoms, more obsessed with building the secretive federal project than actually winning legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens or doing them any good. And so the British people decided that Britain should be run for the benefit of British citizens – all of us, no matter our colour or ethnicity – rather than as a colonial outpost of the Brussels project. And of course the leftist opposition to Brexit has been making shrill claims that the vote was motivated by racism ever since, even though no such evidence exists (and can only be hinted at if one makes the unsupportable claim that opposition to mass immigration is inherently racist).

We now see a similar tale unfold in America following Donald Trump’s election victory. Trump’s endlessly repeated intention to “Make America Great Again” and to put legal American citizens first may be simplistic and lacking in detail. It may even be counterproductive and morally wrong at times, especially if the threat to deport millions of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants lured to America by a succession of permissive past regimes is actually carried out. But it is not inherently racist, unless one is willing to take the position that borders are inherently racist, and with them the very idea of the nation state. If this is actually the view of those who criticise Donald Trump and Steve Bannon the loudest, then they should have the courage to openly admit their intention to do away with borders and essentially abolish America. But of course they will not – their support would shrink rather dramatically were they to be so honest.

Steve Bannon call his worldview “economic nationalism”, as described by Peter Nicholas in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Bannon, in the interview, said he is animated by an economic populism that has the potential to create an enduring political realignment in the U.S.

“I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist,” he told Mr. Wolff. “I’m an economic nationalist.

“The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—— over.” In a shot at Democrats’ close ties to Silicon Valley, he continued: “They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It’s not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.”

Mr. Bannon offered a few hints about how Mr. Trump intends to govern. One focus will be a dramatic new public works building program that takes advantage of low interest rates – a project that Democrats have long favored.

“It’s everything related to jobs,” Mr. Bannon said. “The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

One can disagree with parts (or all) of this message. This blog certainly disagrees with throwing fiscal conservatism out the window, frittering away federal money on dubious infrastructure projects and trying to resurrect dead industries in America where global comparative advantage has seen those industries move to other parts of the world.

But millions of Americans – enough to put Donald Trump in the White House – apparently did agree with this message of populist economic nationalism. And you can fisk it all you want, but you simply won’t find a shred of racism in it. That doesn’t mean that Donald Trump does not appeal to racists, or that he has not sometimes courted people with xenophobic beliefs – he has, and it is reprehensible. But still, this is different from Donald Trump’s policy platform and key advisers being openly racist – it is not, and they are not, bad though they are in other ways.

And at some point, the anti-Trump Left is going to have to stop resorting to the nuclear option of declaring people “racist” or “white nationalist” whenever they depart from the centre-left political consensus in America. Not only is it slanderous, it is making some people more fearful than they should be about the incoming administration.

As Scott Alexander put it so well recently:

Stop fearmongering. Somewhere in America, there are still like three or four people who believe the media, and those people are cowering in their houses waiting for the death squads.

Stop crying wolf. God forbid, one day we might have somebody who doesn’t give speeches about how diversity makes this country great and how he wants to fight for minorities, who doesn’t pose holding a rainbow flag and state that he proudly supports transgender people, who doesn’t outperform his party among minority voters, who wasn’t the leader of the Salute to Israel Parade, and who doesn’t offer minorities major cabinet positions. And we won’t be able to call that guy an “openly white supremacist Nazi homophobe”, because we already wasted all those terms this year.

Stop talking about dog whistles. The kabbalistic similarities between “dog-whistling” and “wolf-crying” are too obvious to ignore.

Stop writing articles breathlessly following everything the KKK says. Stop writing several times more articles about the KKK than there are actual Klansmen. Remember that thing where Trump started out as a random joke, and then the media covered him way more than any other candidate because he was so outrageous, and gave him what was essentially free advertising, and then he became President-elect of the United States? Is the lesson you learned from this experience that you need 24-7 coverage of the Ku Klux Klan?

[..] Stop turning everything into identity politics. The only thing the media has been able to do for the last five years is shout “IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS!” at everything, and then when the right wing finally says “Um, i…den-tity….poli-tics?” you freak out and figure that the only way they could have possibly learned that phrase is from the KKK.

[..] Stop centering criticism of Donald Trump around this sort of stuff, and switch to literally anything else. Here is an incompetent thin-skinned ignorant boorish fraudulent omnihypocritical demagogue with no idea how to run a country, whose philosophy of governance basically boils down to “I’m going to win and not lose, details to be filled in later”, and all you can do is repeat, again and again, how he seems popular among weird Internet teenagers who post frog memes.

In the middle of an emotionally incontinent reality TV show host getting his hand on the nuclear button, your chief complaint is that in the middle of a few dozen denunciations of the KKK, he once delayed denouncing the KKK for an entire 24 hours before going back to denouncing it again. When a guy who says outright that he won’t respect elections unless he wins them does, somehow, win an election, the headlines are how he once said he didn’t like globalists which means he must be anti-Semitic.

Stop making people suicidal. Stop telling people they’re going to be killed. Stop terrifying children. Stop giving racism free advertising. Stop trying to convince Americans that all the other Americans hate them. Stop. Stop. Stop.

And to that we can add: Stop this tacit, corrosive insinuation that nationalism, wanting to put America and American citizens first, is somehow a negative trait in an American president. Stop trying to insinuate that those who want the American government to prioritise American workers are motivated by racism. Stop trying to sneakily undermine the nation state at every turn, or at least have the courage to stand up and proudly declare that you want to bring the era of the nation state to an end and effectively abolish America.

Stop stop stop.

But they will not stop. Making blanket accusations of racism and a “white nationalist” resurgence just feels so good when one is smarting from an unexpected electoral defeat. And it is far easier to cow people into silence by accusing them of racism than it is to deconstruct and oppose the incoming Trump administration’s protectionist, mercantilist ideas – let alone offer a more appealing alternative.

 

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Donald Trump Victory Reaction: Everybody Take A Deep Breath

shun-the-non-believer

America’s new president-elect is bad, but he is hardly evil on a world-historical scale. Unfortunately, the hysterical media reaction to Donald Trump’s election victory leaves no room for nuance or restraint

In these fractious times, it is very difficult for those of us who fall into the “really didn’t want Donald Trump to win, but don’t consider his victory to be quite the end of civilisation” crowd to say anything, for fear of reprisal – not from Donald Trump supporters, but from certain anti-Trump activists who have taken to using a person’s level of anger at the election result as an indicator of their personal moral code or worth.

Since Trump’s unexpected victory, the strong message being transmitted by much of the left-wing post-election commentary has been that if you aren’t rending your garments, taking to the streets with burning torches, retreating to a safe space or dissolving into tears every five minutes then you must be a closeted Donald Trump supporter.

Look: I really really did not want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. This blog has been pretty clear about my estimation of Donald Trump and the low regard in which I hold the president-elect. But not every charge flung at Donald Trump by left-wing partisans deserves to stick, because some of them are major overreaches prompted by partisan fervour rather than objective accuracy. And it should be possible to point out where criticism of Donald Trump goes too far, or is flat-out wrong, without being accused of supporting the man himself.

It does nobody any good if this election causes America to fracture into three distinct factions: unapologetic pro-Trump supporters, furious anti-Trump activists and a group of pragmatists who want to make the best of a difficult situation but who have been cowed into sullen silence for failing to pick a side and express either blanket admiration or total hatred for Donald Trump. If the country is to knit back together, it is this final group which must act as the cords which bind the nation’s wounds and bridge mutual suspicion. Assailing people for neither hero-worshipping Trump nor treating him like Hitler really is not the smartest thing to do in terms of improving the toxic atmosphere in American politics.

I’m told that I cannot possibly understand what it is like to be black, disabled, Mexican, female, gay or transgender in Trump’s America. Well, okay. But I did grow up mixed race in 1990s Britain, when not everybody was super friendly toward people who are not white. Sure, I never had to fear being gunned down in the street by a policeman for walking or driving suspiciously, but as a child I have been shoved and called all the worst racial epithets one can think of. I didn’t let it scar me for life and as I’ve grown older I can probably count the total number of verbally or physically hostile interactions over the past decade on two hands, but I certainly don’t have the dreaded “white privilege”. Yet while I certainly do not look forward to Donald Trump’s presidency, I do not fear it in a physical sense.

Donald Trump is objectionable for all of the reasons that the mainstream media has (belatedly) gotten around to pointing out. He is vulgar and thin-skinned, and in a confrontational situation he will use any defining characteristic to taunt or belittle an opponent. If you are fat, Trump will harp on about how massive you are. If you are not conventionally attractive, Trump will be sure to point that fact out to everyone. And most distastefully, he will apparently do the same if you are disabled. Donald Trump is not a nice person.

But there is vast gulf between being personally repellent and representing an active physical danger to the very same people that Trump insults on Twitter, in television interviews or on stage at his rallies. And we need to recognise that fact. It should be possible to abhor Donald Trump’s mockery of a disabled journalist without making the leap of imagination that a Trump presidency will somehow lead to the state-sanctioned persecution of disabled people. It should be possible to oppose Donald Trump’s most ignorant or insulting rhetoric about racial minorities without imagining World War 2 era Japanese internment camps for black people and lawful, legal immigrants.

The point is this: if we go nuclear in every single criticism of Donald Trump, we have nowhere left to go when somebody with truly severely racist or homophobic views comes along. It is important to leave some slack in our language so that we have room left to describe true evil when it crosses our path. If we wear out our strongest warnings and our most alarmist rhetoric on somebody who has a foul mouth but no evident plans to single out American citizens for persecution, what do we do if one day there is a presidential candidate who actively refuses to associate with black, Hispanic, gay or trans people and who runs on an unabashedly Jim Crow platform?

(Furthermore, I feel compelled to note that right now it is the Social Justice, Identity Politics Left which is clamouring to bring back racial and gender segregation, and not the conventional or alt-right).

Even as I write this, I can feel some people becoming outraged and accusing me of being a Trump apologist. But Trump is terrible! Yes, he is really bad. But the momentary catharsis of accusing Donald Trump of every prejudice and evil under the sun, whether each one is deserved or not, is really not worth the additional damage which going nuclear is doing to our political discourse. At some point it might be nice to persuade some of those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 to vote for somebody else in 2020. It will be much easier to engage them in dialogue if we have not first accused them of being latter-day Nazi collaborators.

If it sounds like I am rather treading on eggshells in this piece, it is because I am. Trump’s election victory has divided America, divided the world, divided families. And maybe two weeks after the election is too soon to expect the blood to have cooled and objectivity to reign. So while I struggle to put into words what I am trying to say, I encourage everybody to read this piece by Scott Alexander of the SlateStarCodex blog, who offers some excellent perspective and advice.

(Hat tip to Brendan O’Neill for bringing the piece to my attention on Facebook).

It’s a long piece of analysis, but I will quote the conclusion, which should be required reading for everyone in America (and anyone else moved to write about American politics):

Stop fearmongering. Somewhere in America, there are still like three or four people who believe the media, and those people are cowering in their houses waiting for the death squads.

Stop crying wolf. God forbid, one day we might have somebody who doesn’t give speeches about how diversity makes this country great and how he wants to fight for minorities, who doesn’t pose holding a rainbow flag and state that he proudly supports transgender people, who doesn’t outperform his party among minority voters, who wasn’t the leader of the Salute to Israel Parade, and who doesn’t offer minorities major cabinet positions. And we won’t be able to call that guy an “openly white supremacist Nazi homophobe”, because we already wasted all those terms this year.

Stop talking about dog whistles. The kabbalistic similarities between “dog-whistling” and “wolf-crying” are too obvious to ignore.

Stop writing articles breathlessly following everything the KKK says. Stop writing several times more articles about the KKK than there are actual Klansmen. Remember that thing where Trump started out as a random joke, and then the media covered him way more than any other candidate because he was so outrageous, and gave him what was essentially free advertising, and then he became President-elect of the United States? Is the lesson you learned from this experience that you need 24-7 coverage of the Ku Klux Klan?

[..] Stop turning everything into identity politics. The only thing the media has been able to do for the last five years is shout “IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS!” at everything, and then when the right wing finally says “Um, i…den-tity….poli-tics?” you freak out and figure that the only way they could have possibly learned that phrase is from the KKK.

Stop calling Trump voters racist. A metaphor: we have freedom of speech not because all speech is good, but because the temptation to ban speech is so great that, unless given a blanket prohibition, it would slide into universal censorship of any unpopular opinion. Likewise, I would recommend you stop calling Trump voters racist – not because none of them are, but because as soon as you give yourself that opportunity, it’s a slippery slope down to “anyone who disagrees with me on anything does so entirely out of raw seething hatred, and my entire outgroup is secret members of the KKK and so I am justified in considering them worthless human trash”. I’m not saying you’re teetering on the edge of that slope. I’m saying you’re way at the bottom, covered by dozens of feet of fallen rocks and snow. Also, I hear that accusing people of racism constantly for no reason is the best way to get them to vote for your candidate next time around. Assuming there is a next time.

My emphasis in bold. Scott Alexander concludes with this plea:

Stop centering criticism of Donald Trump around this sort of stuff, and switch to literally anything else. Here is an incompetent thin-skinned ignorant boorish fraudulent omnihypocritical demagogue with no idea how to run a country, whose philosophy of governance basically boils down to “I’m going to win and not lose, details to be filled in later”, and all you can do is repeat, again and again, how he seems popular among weird Internet teenagers who post frog memes.

In the middle of an emotionally incontinent reality TV show host getting his hand on the nuclear button, your chief complaint is that in the middle of a few dozen denunciations of the KKK, he once delayed denouncing the KKK for an entire 24 hours before going back to denouncing it again. When a guy who says outright that he won’t respect elections unless he wins them does, somehow, win an election, the headlines are how he once said he didn’t like globalists which means he must be anti-Semitic.

Stop making people suicidal. Stop telling people they’re going to be killed. Stop terrifying children. Stop giving racism free advertising. Stop trying to convince Americans that all the other Americans hate them. Stop. Stop. Stop.

I have no desire to denigrate the fear and pain of anybody who is in genuine fear following Trump’s election victory. I do not take perverse joy from laughing at the terror and misery of other people. But it is my contention that much of this fear has been manufactured by various people and for various reasons – some vaguely noble, others much less so.

Frequently we hear the refrain that various identity groups “no longer feel welcome in America”. Would that include gay people, whom President Barack Obama did not consider worthy of the institution of marriage until changing public opinion (and a big helping hand from Joe Biden) caused him to shift position? Would that include illegal immigrants, whom Hillary Clinton voted to thwart with a border fence and Barack Obama deported in record numbers? Would that include black people, whom the sainted Hillary Clinton once described as “super-predators“?

Once the excitement of the election has properly died down we urgently need to separate the things which are actually concerning about Donald Trump from the frivolous dangers which exist mostly in people’s minds.

Much is (belatedly) being written about how the media failed to do a good job covering Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy in the early months. Quite right too – they chased ratings, broadcast voyeuristically lingering live coverage of his meandering speeches for entertainment rather than educational value and failed to ask tough questions or do proper investigative journalism until way too late in the process.

But the media is failing now in a different way, having overcompensated for past sins by now reporting any hysterical fear about Donald Trump, no matter how absurd or far-fetched, as though it is inherently legitimate and worthy of consideration. Take this hypersensitivity to Donald Trump’s boorish rhetoric coupled with an infantilised population who sometimes seem to prefer to act like helpless babes rather than autonomous and resilient adults, and the result is not pretty. In fact, it is downright ugly.

I am very aware that this blog post is not up to the usual standard – it probably does not “flow” as it should, and is much more a stream of consciousness than anything else. But the bottom line is this: there will be enough work to do scrutinising the Trump administration and keeping its worst excesses at bay for the next few years without also turning on each other, fellow people who opposed Trump’s candidacy.

This post will likely see me damned by those who are fully on board the Trump train as well as those implacably opposed to Donald Trump (as I was) and determined to see only evil in everything that occurs until he departs the scene. So be it. I find it very strange to be in the position of the “moderate middle” for once – somewhere I never find myself when it comes to British politics – but there we are.

I knew there was a reason why I named this blog Semi-Partisan Politics.

 

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