New York Magazine has a new, extremely lengthy article on the Alt-right. There are a few less familiar names here, and it is potentially a primer of sorts for those who haven’t been following the issue (though a mediocre one, there are several better). But on the whole it’s more of the same, meaning sloppy, incoherent journalism that is conspicuous for its refusal to ask hard questions.
I have two basic comments about it.
First, I continue to be struck by how blind the left remains to its own role in the mainstreaming of identity politics. The authors write and act as though the Alt-right is just these crazy neo-nazis who are going to crop up from time to time in every state and polity for no reason beyond the fact that that’s what can happen (and in fact, one section of the article groups them with neo-nazi parties in European states).
It occurs to none of the multiple journalists who contributed to the article to ask whether the Alt-right could have been summoned into existence by the decades of identity politics practiced by the Left.
This blindness is a result of the Left’s pervasive double-standard: identifying primarily as a member of a racial group is, for Leftists, a good thing–unless of course one is white, in which case one is a nazi. “Good for me but not for thee” is the operating principle, as when Leftists say that only white people are capable of racism. As is true of hypocrisy generally, this kind of thinking arouses a very special anger in its targets.
Worse, the Left has spent decades attacking white people as a group–and then seems shocked, shocked mind you, that some whites are beginning to think of themselves as a group. How dare they?
To avoid any possible misunderstanding, I regard the rise of identity politics–including the rise of the alt-right– as the greatest political catastrophe of my lifetime, and the death of America as an idea. The America of the Declaration is not coming back, and I’m not optimistic that we will get through the next decade without terrible violence.
But I think responsibility for that lies with the Left, and that these journalists are unable to see it because of the same smugness that, e.g., prevented them from seeing that Trump had a chance.
Second, this article, like others about the Alt-right strikes me as suffering from a kind of schizoid double vision regarding the prevalence of the Alt-right. On the one hand, it wants to insist that the Alt-right is a small, hyper-vocal minority who have been handed an outsized microphone via the internet. On the other, the authors of the various sections clearly think that the Alt-right articulates the reasons that got Donald Trump elected.
In other words, the authors would dearly love to call every Trump voter racist and dismiss his election as illegitimate while never facing up to the fact that 47% of the people voted for him. Even if they’re right about the toxicity of the forces that got him elected, they’re unwilling to face up to the reality that those views were to one degree or another upheld by nearly half the country–and for that reason alone cannot be ignored or treated as marginal.
To face that fact, would mean that those views have to be engaged and investigated. Questions like, why on earth did Wisconsin vote Trump? would have to be asked and faced honestly. And do you really think that these voters, who went Democratic for decades–and for Obama twice–are just racists? Or is something happening that we as a polity need to talk about without a priori delegitimization of those we disagree with?
Instead, the left continues to smear, bully, and blame, continuing to double down in sublime unawareness that its magic words no longer have power.
In that sense, the NYM’s article on the alt-right is not fundamentally different from the slew of reporting about Russia-hacking, the Comey letter, the ubiquitous charge of fake news against anything and everything one doesn’t like–or any other of the many self-deluding excuses Leftists have as to how Trump could have won given that everything about him is in the Left’s view, illegitimate.
It’s a blue-pill special. An invitation to be alarmed at the half of the country that is still, somehow, an illegitimate minority. It reeks of head-shaking, cocktail party talking points, and smugness.