I have watched my friends and the media grapple with the question of why white voters flocked to Trump. People who want to believe the best in people (including most Republicans) seem to prefer the explanation that non-college-educated whites voted for Trump for economic reasons, and that “make America great again” meant jobs in factories and the good old (indeterminate) period in which it wasn’t scary to be them. Others say that those voters are overtly racist and hate-filled.
The truth is more nuanced, as truth often is. Yes, it’s true that many of the people in his rallies relished that the dog whistles were put away and things were spoken plainly. Yes, some people liked the “complete and total shutdown of Muslims coming into the U.S. until we can figure out what the hell is going on,” and some people just put up with it. Some people really believe Mexicans are rapists, and some tell themselves it was just a bit of hyperbole which needed to be tolerated in the name of jobs and rolling back “political correctness.”
But intent matters, and origin matters, and for the many people who looked the other way when Trump was talking about banning Muslims and deporting undocumented immigrants, it’s important that they understand Trump’s intent and the origin of his thinking. He wasn’t misspeaking or being inartful because he wasn’t a politician. He knew what he was saying, and he’d been cultivating the sources of that ideology for many years.
By now you’ve probably heard something about the “alt-right,” which stands for “alternative right,” of which his announced chief White House Strategist is an admitted leader. “Alt-right” is something of a misnomer, because they’re not really an alternative to what you and I usually think of as the right, the “small government/less taxes,” right. They have been, until Trump’s candidacy, a fringe group of white supremacists who have been bubbling and seething, mostly on the internet, stoking hatred of Jews, photoshopping pictures of disliked people into gas chamber ovens (female journalists are a favored target). They are angry about the women’s rights movement and about women in general. They hate anyone who isn’t white.
Trump took these loosely aligned outliers and let them know “I hear you.” It electrified them. They conglomerated in subreddits and chat rooms, made racist memes, which he occasionally retweeted, and rejoiced to be let out of the dank corners where they’d been increasingly relegated since the Civil Rights movement.
Just this past weekend, they held an event for one of their legitimate-sounding organizations, the National Policy Institute, whose states purpose is to be, according to them, “an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”
What’s wrong with that, you ask? African American, Muslim, and Latino groups meet to uphold their heritage and identity all the time. Why shouldn’t white people? Well, the fact is that you can’t extricate a statement like that from its history. African American people never enslaved white people here. Muslims haven’t labeled white people terrorists. Unfortunately, people of European descent have done a lot of damage in the name of their heritage and identity and, being a majority in this country, don’t have the same needs for safe spaces. America IS their safe space. Muslims, Asian-Americans and descendants of slaves, among others, have simply been asking for an equal seat at the table.
But, in case it’s still unclear why these groups are a danger, here are some quotes from the speech their president (and coiner of the term “alt right”) gave at their conference this weekend:
“To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward.”
Why this is problematic: Labeling white people “strivers and conquerors” (and being blissfully unaware or deliberately obtuse about the negative connotations of “crusaders”), suggests that only white people have been this. Additionally, it also ignores the many negative consequences of this “striving and conquering” on others, particularly people of color. It ignores the consequences of imperialism, the genocides and disease-spreading, the destruction of social structures and the slavery. But you know… strivers.
Another quote: “We don’t exploit other groups. We don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us and not the other way around… America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”
Why this is problematic: the inherent supremacy assumed in these statements, the “they need us and not the other way around”, 1) ignores the crucial contributions of people of color to the progress of this nation, including that of enslaved, free labor which built the great wealth upon which this nation was founded and 2) can be and has, throughout history, been used to justify all manner of atrocities against those judged to be “lesser.”
The ramifications of this world-view cannot be overstated. Yes, you’re tired of the parallels being drawn to Hitler. They’re being drawn for a reason. The Nazis also seemed a little goofy and not worth getting too worked up about during their rise in the 1920s. Hitler was a failure, a lowly corporal, a laughingstock. His mannerisms and speaking style were considered cringe-worthy, his hair funny. It’s dangerous to laugh off danger.
This is not a fringe group that just so happens to be celebrating a Trump presidency with a Hitler salute. This is an ideology from which Trump has drawn talking points, memes and advisors. So while your friendly uncle voted for Trump because he thought that would bring the factories back, he was actually supporting the legitimizing of a hate group. No, maybe he didn’t mean it, but that’s what he did. And it’s important that we all understand what’s happening.
They have their tendrils entwined around the levers of power now, and they are in ascendancy. It’s time to see them for what they are. Want to see the Hitler salute and the quotes above for yourself? Click here. It’s real and it’s here.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Stop calling it “alt-right.” It’s white supremacy. Call it by its name.
- Be aware of where you source your information. Breitbart, Infowars, American Renaissance, VDare, the Right Stuff and Radix Journal aren’t news. They’re white supremacist hate speech. Tell any friends and family members who post links to them on Facebook or other social media that they’re hate speech.
- Call out racism and misogyny when you see it. The time when it was acceptable to sit on the sidelines is gone. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.