Tag Archives: alt-right

David Duke, Donald Trump And America

In the run-up to the 2016 elections, David Duke– the most prominent current member of the KKK–was running for Senate from Louisiana, and he made no bones about the similarity between his worldview and Donald Trump’s.

As Time Magazine reported at the time,

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is running for Senate in Louisiana, and he says Donald Trump’s popularity is helping him in the race.

“I love it,” Duke told the LA Times. “The fact that Donald Trump’s doing so well, it proves that I’m winning. I am winning.”

Duke also told the LA Times that Trump’s proposed policies, like building a wall along the border with Mexico and banning Muslims from entering the country, show the country is open to a white power message. “He’s talking about it in a visceral way,” Duke said. “Donald Trump is talking implicitly. I’m talking explicitly.”

The article also referenced an earlier report, linking Trump’s candidacy to a shadowy “think tank” providing pseudo-intellectual justifications for white supremacy.

The men eased past the picketers and police barricades, through a security-studded lobby and up to the eighth floor of a federal building named for Ronald Reagan. Inside an airy rotunda, guests in jackets and ties mingled over pork sliders and seafood tacos served by black waiters in tuxedos. There were celebratory speeches during dinner, crème brûlée for dessert. Apart from the racial epithets wafting around the room, the Saturday-night banquet seemed more like a wedding reception than a meeting of white nationalists.

The event was sponsored by the National Policy Institute (NPI), a tiny think tank based in Arlington, Va., dedicated to the advancement of “people of European descent.” NPI publishes pseudoscientific tracts with titles like “Race Differences in Intelligence,” runs a blog called Radix Journal (sample post: “My Hate Group Is Different Than Your Hate Group”) and holds conferences on topics like immigration and identity politics. This time it had gathered a group of 150 sympathizers in downtown Washington to discuss what the rise of Donald Trump has meant for the far right.

The article went on to consider the implications of Trump’s emergence as a hero to white nationalists, attracting fans like Richard Spencer, president of NPI.

For the first time since George Wallace in 1968, far-right activists in the U.S. are migrating toward mainstream electoral politics, stepping out of the shadows to attend rallies, offer endorsements and serve as volunteers. “It’s bound to happen,” Spencer says of white nationalists’ running for office one day. “Not as conservatives but as Trump Republicans.”

In the two and a half years since Trump’s Electoral College victory, a number of researchers have investigated the rise of white nationalism and its relationship to Trumpism.

The link is to Journalists’ Resource, which has compiled several such studies, and introduced that compilation with the following paragraphs:

As with any issue, Journalist’s Resource encourages reporters to look to academic research as a necessary tool in covering critical and complex topics such as right-wing domestic terrorism, the mainstreaming of white supremacy and their consequences. Research will help newsrooms ground their coverage and ask more probing questions.

Below, we’ve gathered and summarized a sampling of published studies and working papers that examine white supremacy and far-right organizations from multiple angles, including their online strategies for spreading propaganda and recruiting new members. Because this is an area of research that will continue to grow, we’ll update this collection periodically.

The studies provide insight into the targets of these groups (despite the rhetoric devoted to immigrant communities and poor economic conditions, violent White Supremacist organizations still predominantly mobilize against their traditional targets–blacks and Jews).

The studies also trace the spread of hate, conspiracy theories and aggression through cyberspace.

They find that racist organizations carefully plan out their communication to achieve three primary goals: to strengthen the group by increasing the commitment of existing members and recruiting new ones, to disseminate racist propaganda, and to create a sense of transnational identity.

America has always had hate groups and bigoted individuals. What we haven’t had is a  President–no matter how personally racist some have been– willing to publicly encourage them.

I’ll repeat what I have previously said: the 2020 election isn’t about policy. It’s about who we are and what kind of country we inhabit.

We can argue about policy once we have cleaned out the real “infestation.”

 

 

What’s WRONG With These People?

We hear that question all the time–when we see pictures of babies in cages, see viral videos of racist incidents, or interviews of Trump supporters applauding his vicious rhetoric and bigotry.

Facebook comments posted by those supporters parrot Trump’s celebration of “achievements” that aren’t–mimicking his habit of declaring “wins” that are wholly imaginary. As Dana Milbank wrote recently in The Washington Post,

A Trump-boosting Republican member of Congress has been indicted on charges of insider trading — from the White House, no less. Trump’s former campaign chairman and another former aide are squabbling in court over who is the bigger criminal. And in a closely watched special congressional race in Ohio — a seat Republicans have held for 35 years in a district Trump won by 11 points and Mitt Romney by 10 — the Republican was clinging to a 0.9-percentage -point lead Wednesday despite Trump’s intervention and vast sums of Republican dollars.

In situations such as these, there is only one thing for Trump to do: declare victory.

“Congratulations to Troy Balderson on a great win in Ohio,” Trump proclaimed, even though the number of uncounted provisional and absentee ballots meant the race could not be called.

Milbank followed up with a partial list of Trump’s bizarre claims, including a tweet saying that tariffs are being used to pay down “large amounts” of the debt”  (Obviously, Trump doesn’t understand how tariffs work), and that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat. Evidently, his base accepts these pronouncements at face value, despite the undeniable fact that the national debt has increased rather dramatically, and as widely reported, North Korea is continuing to add to its nuclear capabilities.

A fairly recent poll from Quinnapac, one of the better polling operations, found that 30% of Americans “approve strongly” of Trump. The poll also found that 31% of American voters like him as a person. (59% dislike him, and 54% disapprove of the job he’s doing–48% strongly.)

I find it astonishing that anyone could find Donald Trump personally likable. Be that as it may, the more relevant inquiry is: who are the 30% who “strongly support” him–and what is it that they support?

An article in Vox may shed some light on that question.

The article focused on a study of the “alt-right” from the University of Alabama. It is no secret that figures like Richard Spencer and David Duke are ecstatic about the Trump Presidency, but I think I’m representative of most reasonable Americans when I say that I have assumed the attitudes they represent are found in a pretty small slice of the population.

Evidently, that assumption is wrong.

According to Hawley, a political scientist who specializes in demography and the far right, roughly 5.64 percent of America’s 198 million non-Hispanic whites have beliefs consistent with the alt-right’s worldview. Whether or not they would describe themselves as alt-right, Hawley argues, they share the movement’s belief in a politics that promotes white interests above those of other racial groups.

If Hawley is right, then the alt-right’s constituency isn’t a tiny fringe. It’s about 11 million Americans….

The wrong thing to conclude from Hawley’s data is that there’s a massive number of people who are active participants in the alt-right. Last year’s Charlottesville rally only had several hundred participants; this year’s DC sequel isn’t expected to be orders of magnitude larger.

This isn’t a surprise. The alt-right is an extremely online-focused, extremely marginal movement. People who don’t closely follow the news or spend a lot of time online are unlikely to know a ton about the movement or self-identify with it, let alone spend time and money to attend its rallies.

But while the alt-right as a practical political movement is marginal, Hawley’s research shows that its ideas are more popular than it might seem. Large numbers of people think the way that they do, and shape their political identity around a sense of white grievance and identity. They may not march around the streets yelling, “Jews will not replace us!” but they are extremely receptive to a politics that positions whites as victims and a growing minority population as an existential threat.

I think that explains where a sizable part of that 30% comes from–and what it is about Trump that they support.

 

 

 

When What We Know Just Ain’t So

A recent research report from Journalists’ Resources examined whether regulations intended to protect the environment cost jobs. The belief that such regulatory activity has a negative effect on employment has been an article of faith among conservative Republicans, yet research on the issue fails to confirm that faith– there is little evidence that environmental regulations substantially impact overall employment figures.

I thought of that report, and a number of other areas where reality fails to confirm our firm expectations, when I read a post to an academic listserv in which I participate. The article of faith that Kim Lane Scheppele–an eminent comparative constitutionalist– called into question in that post is a critically important one: the belief that American democracy cannot be subverted.

Scheppele cited the work of a Columbia professor who had watched Turkey fall under the control of a populist autocrat who won democratic elections–and who sees dangerous parallels to Trump and the U.S.

Confidence in the exceptional resilience of American democracy is particularly misplaced in the face of today’s illiberal populist movements, whose leaders are constantly learning from each other. Trump has a wide variety of tried and tested techniques on which to draw; already, he has vowed to take pages out of Putin’s playbook.

Scheppele had just come back from Chile, where she had lectured on the advance of illiberal constitutionalism around the world.

People there asked me how Trump could have been elected in the US, and I showed them this data: Nearly one quarter of young Americans no longer believe in democracy and since 9/11, faith in the way America is governed has plunged to all-time lows (raised slightly in election years when Obama was elected, but then plunging back again).

These are danger signals that should have alerted us earlier to the possibilities of Trump. I might add that very similar danger signals appeared before the election of other populist autocrats of both left and right: Putin, Erdogan, Orbán, Kaczynski, Correa, Chavez.

There’s a clear pattern here. First people lose faith in the system. Then they vote to break it. And when the new leader decides to trash constitutional institutions, he is cheered on by those who want change at any price. When people wake up to the damage done, it is too late because their constitutional system has been captured.

Scheppele is particularly concerned because in our interconnected world, these autocrats learn from each other.

I am admittedly among the number of Americans who have always had a false sense of security: it can’t happen here. But as we have seen, that article of faith–that particular element of our belief in American exceptionalism– has proved to be fragile in other countries that had seemingly stable democratic institutions.

Just last weekend, the New York Times ran an article about the “alt-right” (our homegrown Nazis) and its ideal of leadership.

As the founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party, an American group that aims to preserve the privileged place of whiteness in Western civilization and fight “anti-Christian degeneracy,” Matthew Heimbach knows whom he envisions as the ideal ruler: the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.

Russia is our biggest inspiration,” Mr. Heimbach said. “I see President Putin as the leader of the free world.”

Despite our belief that America is somehow different, we are not exempt from the white nationalist fervor that is sweeping large sections of the globe. If we want to emerge from this very dangerous period of time with something resembling an actual constitutional democracy and the rule of law, we will need a determined and informed resistance.