Whether Donald Trump’s support in the polls and his endorsement by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin translate into any primary victories, his ascent already has caused turmoil in Republican and conservative ranks.
National Review, the pre-eminent magazine of American conservatism, has come out with a special “Against Trump” issue with essays by 22 conservative pundits. Meanwhile, in an MSNBC appearance, Republican strategist Rick Wilson took a swipe at Trump’s rabid fans from the so-called “alt-right” — people who he said have “Hitler iconography in their Twitter icons.”
It would be unfair to tar all or even most Trump supporters with such an odious brush, but his candidacy has been a magnet for a particularly odious type of far-right sentiment.
A few months ago, Trump supporters on the Internet started mocking his conservative detractors with the bizarre slur “cuckservative.” The word is an amalgam of “cuckold” and “conservative,” derived from a pornographic genre in which a man is forced to watch while his wife has sex with another man (who is often black, while the “cuckold” is white). To the white nationalist alt-right, the “cuckservative” is a conservative race traitor who does not prioritize the interests of whites — who, most important, does not seek to restrict nonwhite immigration.
Not surprisingly, the alt-right is also a nest of anti-Semitism. After making a post on Twitter last week mentioning the movement’s repulsive bigotry, I received such comments as, “I know, once goyim stop being corralled and browbeaten with the word ‘bigot’, the jews (sic) lose all their power. #DeportJewsNow.”
Of course, Trump has not expressed any remotely similar sentiment. But his willingness to call for the deportation of 11 million immigrants here illegally, and to traffic in ugly stereotypes such as his infamous remark about Mexican rapists, has emboldened bigots to come out of the woodwork.
In an article in The Daily Beast, Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, and a conservative independent, has written that Trump’s rise has been made possible by the “politically correct” left. When people can be attacked as racist merely for opposing affirmative action, or discussing risks caused by an influx of refugees from regions in the grip of terror groups, or suggesting that a police shooting may have been justified, a candidate who scorns “political correctness” and prides himself on being blunt will have a strong appeal. It doesn’t matter if “blunt” is a synonym for “offensive.”
Some mainstream conservatives have defended not only Trump-mania but also the “alt-right” as a justified backlash against political correctness. In Twitter discussions, several people told me that “alt-right” supporters who spew white supremacism simply want to defy the stigma against bigotry because that stigma is so often used to silence dissent. That logic is, to put it politely, deeply flawed. Besides, a look at the profiles of many “alt-rightists” shows that they are not merely trolling, but consistently defending, racist views. If you play a white supremacist on the Internet full time, you are, for all intents and purposes, a white supremacist.
The alt-right and, to some extent, the larger Trump fandom, are manifestations of white identity politics — which is partly a response to the “progressive” identity politics of race and gender, but also taps into older prejudices. It is a sign of how urgently we need a revival of both liberalism and conservatism that appeals to universal values.
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.