by Grania Spingies
So a guy almost nobody ever heard of before last Saturday holds a meeting where approximately 200 members show up—the size of a large-ish knitting club or a small-ish local atheist group—makes some benightedly stupid hand gestures, and scores the media coup of the century.
While one should probably not completely ignore people publicly championing a range of nasty and obsolete views that are predictably vomited by the mouths of white nationalists, a group that small certainly doesn’t merit the wall-to-wall coverage lavished on them by the media. However, if you are a white nationalist with delusions of grandeur and a modicum of intelligence and a complete lack of inhibition, you can probably work out a way to troll the world and make everybody pay attention.
Since then, there has been the predictable avalanche of op-eds in which people generally agree that Nazis (even wannabe Nazis) are bad (this is good) and other op-ed responses that complain about the tone of the first op-eds for not being condemning enough and “normalising”—normalising is the new buzzword du jour —these fools and their acolytes. The problem, however, is not the daftly headlined and faintly breathless piece in Mother Jones describing the self-appointed Leader’s dapper clothing (and there was me thinking that only women were described in terms of the clothes they wear) and skills with chopsticks. [JAC: The headline, “Meet the dapper white nationalist who wins even if Trump loses”, has now been changed.] What might normalise them though is having their faces and ideas plastered everywhere.
Douthat’s point is that it isn’t Spencer that merits attention, but rather Trump, who courted his ilk whenever it was expedient during the election cycle, and might continue to do so in the future. It is Trump and his regime whose feet need to be held to the fire whenever they make common cause with such groups.
I’ve read a couple of pieces by conservatives who make similar points. In The New Republic, Jacob Bacharach, who had a teenage flirtation of his own with Nazi fanciers, argues that they are a distraction, but points out that Trump and Bannon have used such groups as “an instrument of media relations”.
An even more revealing piece in Slate by Ben Shapiro, formerly of Breitbart—and once a colleague of both Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos—offers an insightful analysis of white supremacist groups, the “alt-right”, and their links to Bannon and Trump.
So they’ve tried to broaden the definition so they can suck people into believing they’re alt-right, and then make themselves seem indispensable by saying, “Look at all these alt-right people. They’re all out here, and if the Republican Party pushes them to the side, then they’re going to pay an electoral price for that.” And then you have people winking and nodding at them because they think they’re an important constituency. So it’s a couple-step process, and glomming onto Trump has been part of that because Trump, I don’t think, is alt-right. I don’t think that Trump is particularly racist. I think he’s an ignoramus. I think that more than anything, Trump is willing to pay heed to and wink at anybody who provides him even a shred of good coverage. So if the alt-right, which worships at the altar of Trump—if they provide him good coverage, he’s willing to wink and nod at them and not wreck them.
Shapiro also has things to say about the partisan divide between the Left and Right and where some common middle ground can be gained by moderates from both sides.
I think that the more the left focuses on the things that are actually serious regardless of your politics—like corruption, like policies that are self-directed, that kind of stuff—that will have more of an impact than just going around shouting, “Racist, racist, racist!” I think one of the big problems here is that if you called Mitt Romney a racist in 2012—as Bill Maher said, if you turned it all the way up to 11 for Mitt Romney—it’s very difficult for people to hear you when you turn it up to 12 for Trump.
The common thread here seems to be: don’t get distracted by the antics from the monkey cage. There may be very serious issues soon that will need to be confronted and challenged. It is Trump and his official advisors and their forthcoming policies who should be scrutinised.