The U.S election has been something I’ve been loathe to write about, given the sheer volume of pre-existent commentaries on the subject. Whatever I write will inevitably be lost in the din of all the other blogs, articles and social media rants. I’m also writing on the topic from the perspective of a foreigner. Whoever is elected on November 8th only affects me indirectly and I don’t have to live with the consequences of the domestic policies they enact. I’m well aware that virtue makes me less than impartial, but it may surprise some American readers to know that the US election remains in the news constantly over here. On talk back radio, during the nightly news, in daily newspapers, and in the conversations of the average person on the street the US election remains a hot topic. Most New Zealanders could name both the Republican and the Democratic nominee, but wouldn’t even know the leaders of our own opposition parties, other than perhaps Winston Peters. In Western Europe and elsewhere in the developed world, numerous artists and left leaning individuals have taken it upon their personal moral crusade to ensure Donald Trump is unelected via art displays, hashtags and other acts of meaningless virtue signalling. These people are terrified that some sort of Apocalypse will arrive from across the Atlantic if they don’t do their part to stop the Orange Hitler. Due to an online petition amassing enough signatures, British MP’s were forced to waste their time debating whether Donald Trump should have been banned from the country . One has to wonder how quickly the ban would be overturned if he was to be elected. Yes the West is thoroughly Americanized, and even if we have no vote we’re all very determined to have our say.
The first Republican primary was held all the way back in August 2015, and the election cycle hasn’t been out of the news since. Instead of adopting a sensible Westminster style voting system where the candidates are pre-chosen by the party and the elections only dominate the news cycle for a month or two, we’ve had to endure over a year of the U.S election Rodeo. It is the first election since 2008 where both parties chose their candidates in the primaries, and moreso than in 2008 there has been a major debate on both sides as to who would be the parties nominee. Whilst more of a sideshow in comparison to the bickering in the GOP over whether Donald Trump really could cinch the nomination, the youth lead movement to elect Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee threatened to derail Clinton’s path to victory that she viewed as having been stolen from her eight years ago. I will get to my thoughts on the candidates in a moment, but there has been a force underlying the entire election that is worth writing about. The Clinton campaign has frequently made reference to it , and both centrist and left wing media have capitalized on the enigmatic force known as the “Alt Right”.
Immediately after Clinton’s first speech that mentioned the movement explicitly and tied it to Trump, a wave of explanatory pieces were quickly churned out by the BBC, The Economist and others in an attempt to explain this shadowy phenomenon. Richard Spencer in particular was given large-scale publicity by multiple media outlets for being the first person to coin the term “Alt Right” in 2008.
As most quickly produced explanatory pieces inevitably do, they failed to accurately capture the full scale of the movement. In attempt to provide a logical timeline of the movement (generally starting with Richard Spencer in 2008), the media ignored many of the underlying factors that propelled the alt right to success.Richard Spencer may have coined the term, but he was not the man that created the movement. The term that he coined however has is now synonymous with multiple alternative political movements across several continents. Of course Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos and the other major personalities associated with the movement are all happy to take the media’s credit for creating it, but it’s simply disingenous to do so. All of them are piggybacking of the anonymous movement that grew online to the point where it had seeped through to seemingly every political page on social media and news outlet comment section.
An Identity Crisis Within Conservatism
The growth of the Alt Right in particular, relies largely on the failings of the Political establishment. It has emerged in the wake of an identity crisis within conservatism. Dissatisfaction with the major left and right parties has become rampant, and traditional voters of the major two parties have turned to formerly fringe populist parties who are experiencing rapid growth. From UKIP in Britain to The National Front in France to the AfD in Germany, all of whom are now expressing views which the major center right parties have long been afraid to touch out of being politically crucified. In America, it hasn’t been the growth of a third party given the structure of the electoral college and the nature of Duverger’s law, but rather a populist candidate emerging from outside Washington who has taken his movement mainstream. A man who has had zero prior political experience, but has managed to energize much of the Republican’s traditional voting base as well as attracting youth who had never considered voting Republican in their lives.
Donald Trump’s success during this election cycle is illustrative of the way the political landscape has changed across the West in the past few years. In most Anglo countries there has been little difference between the two major parties for decades now. This move towards the center has normally been viewed as the left abandoning their principles in order to present themselves as mainstream, but conservative parties have also shed much of their identity in order to become more moderate. Partially this is due to the growth of Neoliberalism in the 80s. Whether “Thatcherism”, “Reaganomics” or New Zealand’s own “Rogernomics” the growth of the finance sector and decline of manufacturing has seen the traditional industrial and agricultural towns transformed into economic backwaters. The left who were once the champions of working class voters gradually abandoned their own principles in favour of turning towards neoliberalism, as did those on the right. In the United States in particular the Republican’s traditionally claimed to stand for limited government control and a high degree of personal freedom. Nowadays it’s laughable when Republicans refer to themselves as being “Small Government” or “Fiscal Conservatives”- The Neoliberalism and rampant military spending of the Bush administration caused the defecit to widen more than in any government in recent memory. The only area where there is less government regulation is generally when it comes to business, one area in which regulation is definitely required. The Republicans have pitted themselves as the socially conservative alternative to the expansive governmental model of the Democrats, but both are guilty of it.
In the UK, the traditional left wing Labour Party made its move to the center during the “New Labour” years of Tony Blair. During the shared Anglo-American military escapades in the Middle East it was hard to pin down whether it was the British Prime Minister or the American President that was the left wing one. Such was the transformation within the party that when Labour finally elected someone who didn’t follow the new-labour narrative in Jeremy Corbyn, he was deemed unelectable by both the opposition and his own peers. The “True Believers” of the left were expected to have got the message after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and now toe the Centrist party line. Corbyn’s ideas on foreign and economic policy are hopelessly naive as most genuinely socialists politicians are, but it’s telling how divisive electing an “old labour” politician is now.
The drift of the major parties on the left and right to becoming centrist parties has had terrible consequence for the average voter, as their democratic options have been limited. In Europe, there has emerged a Pro EU Consensus which advocates shared economic policies, regardless of political branding. French conservative Philippe Séguin noted “The right and left are retailers of the same wholesaler, Europe.” [Europe being the liberal free movement of goods and services as required by the EU]. Another French Conservative Éric Zemmour noted the betrayal of Socialist President François Mitterrand towards conventional left wing voters by turning to economic liberalism during the 80’s was masked by the anti-racist social policies instituted during his term in office. It may be over-simplistic to say the mainstream parties of the Right and Left are identical, but the differences between the two major parties have narrowed to the point where it’s hard to dispute the critics . The “Center Right” champions their economic prowess and the “Center Left” champions their pet social causes. Once elected however both generally make the same mistakes. Debt and inequality rises higher and all investment centres on the big cities, leaving residents of smaller working class towns left disenfranchised and looking anywhere other than the mainstream.
It is here in the muddying of the left and right into Neoliberalism and Pro Globalization where Populism and unconventional politics have found fertile ground. Douglas Murray, one of by favourite British conservative commentators wrote in his book Neoconservatism and why We Need it that “The most basic distinction to be made in politics today is between those who believe in large amounts of state control and those who believe in as little state control as possible.” Milo Yiannapoulis and others on the alt right spectrum have echoed similar comments. The traditional party lines are irrelevant for these new disenfranchised voters. Even if the “Right Wing” or “Left Wing” party they normally vote is telling them everything is okay, they no longer believe it. These are the “New Conservatives”, those who have only recently joined the socially conservative counter-culture. Those that believe globalization and immigration have left them behind. They are not dye in the wool conservatives, but they are looking for a way out through populists and “The Alt Right”.
Attempting To Define The Alt Right
It is in this muddied political climate where party lines are no longer rigidly defined that the Alt Right has appeared. It’s very hard to chronologize the birth of the Alt Right, largely because it has become an umbrella term encompassing every alternative form of conservatism that has emerged in the past several years. Richard Spencer may have put a label on the movement, but due to their being no central authority or dogma, anyone can claim the mantle.The Alternative Right bills itself as a true alternative, and as many conservative movements in the past have attempted, they bill themselves as being the definitive choice for conservatives.
It’s a particularly controversial movement given its vagueness. However generally any person proclaiming themselves “Alt Right” will share the following views.
– Opposition to Globalization and a focus on putting the Nation State first.
– Anti illegal immigration and heavily restricting existing immigration
– Strong opposition towards cultural relativism and belief in the Superiority of Western Civilization.
– Pro traditional values and anti feminism.
– Heavy criticism of islam.
– If American, then will be strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
None of these are necessarily extreme positions to take, and many mainstream conservatives already openly support one or more of these positions. The particular controversy and where the Alt Right has become a tainted term, is that there is an overlap between the moderate critiques of these subject and the hardline fascists who take each point one step further. The immigration problem is not to be solved by a change in law, but by a hypothetical race war/genocide. It isn’t merely an issue with a radical minority of muslims, but all muslims should leave the west and islam should be banned. It isn’t legal immigration is a problem, but those who aren’t ethnic Europeans are inferior and cannot deserve to live in our societies. It isn’t simply the most controversial elements of social progress since the 60s that are to be undone such as Euthanasia, Abortion and Transgender rights, it’s every achievement of feminism and the sexual revolution. Supporters within the movement have argued it is only a minority that supports these extreme positions, but this minority latches onto the moderate critiques and influences other disenfranchised conservatives to take their extreme position as well. Critics have argued that the movement is headed by the fascists, and that the movement amounts to nothing more than white supremacy with a digital sheen. Clearly if large numbers of people are genuinely fascists and neo-nazis then the movement deserves to be discredited, however I will examine the truth of this claim shortly.
The Heart Of The Alt Right – Leveraging Social Media & The Internet.
The Alt Right is firstly and foremostly an online movement and primarily a youth driven movement. The internet is a wonderful thing for finding like-minded individuals, however when people find others that share similar views, there is a tendency for echo chambers to develop. For years online there has been the emergence of a culture war between traditionalism and progressivism. In this climate the Alt Right is a Youth Led Counterculture that is a rejection of everything that the 60’s represented: Racial equality, sexual liberalism, feminism etc. This is the generation that has been brought up with these ideals but much like their grandparents, they are rejecting modern culture for a utopia they idealize and have never known. The other side to this culture war idolizes the progress of the 60’s and takes it far further. This is the domain of Socialism, Transgenderism, Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings and “Cultural Appropriation”. The progressive side of the culture war generally finds itself browsing Tumblr and more mainstream areas of social media. The traditionalist side lurks in the unorthodox areas of the internet such as 4chan.
It pains me to write about 4chan as a serious subject, but in order to understand the alt right you need to examine their haunting grounds. 4chan is a particularly notorious imageboard on the internet. According to Alexa it’s the 520th most visited website in the world. The site by nature is designed to be self-deprecating and hard to understand. In the past Fox News and other media outlets had referred to it as an “Internet Hate Machine”, one that is associated with identity theft, illicit pornography and even murder. Most controversy stems from the “Random” board known as /b/, where there is limited moderation and nearly anything can be uploaded. All users of the site are anonymous and so it makes it harder to patrol. Users relish in its criticism and have always had a delight for edgy humour and trying to troll news organizations and more mainstream websites. For users of 4chan, gaining a spotlight on the national news is considered something to aspire to, as they can then delight in how their website becomes a national news topic.
In reality the site is mostly innocuous, with its anonymity making users seem more powerful than they really are. It attracts a relatively normal and dedicated userbase in its non adult interest boards. The interest boards for Videogames, Sports, Music and Fitness (/v/, /sp/, /mu/ and /fit/ respectively) are hallmarks of internet culture. Many well known memes and internet jokes are created on these boards. There is a cross-over of content due to the cross-over of users. A joke created in the videogames board can pop up in a discussion on the international board. There is a shared userbase between 4chan and other major internet sites like Reddit, Twitch, Youtube and various Facebook pages that inevitably spread 4chan’s memes and in-jokes virally. It’s this reputation of being the progenitor of internet content that gives users on 4chan a certain brand of misfit elitism. One of the most active boards is the “Politically Incorrect” board, also known as /pol/.
Critics of the Alt Right tend to allege its users congregate on niche white supremacist websites, but 4chan’s /pol/ board is their favourite haunt. It’s hard to divorce the Alt Right and especially the Fascist side of it from /pol/. Milo Yiannopoulos in his apologists guide to the Alt Right incredulously downplays the board’s notorious racism by highlighting the diversity of the ip addresses that congregate there . “The funny thing is, being Millennials, they’re often quite diverse. Just visit a /pol/ thread, where posters’ nationalities are identified with small flags next to their posting IDs. You’ll see flags from the west, the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East, South America, and even, sometimes, Africa.”
Even if the board is multinational it’s incredibly Americentric. During the 2016 Election Campaign it has been fanatically supporting Donald Trump, creating numerous memes that have spread to other websites. Normally political memes would be worth ignoring, if it wasn’t for the most bizarre and poorly-planned moment of the 2016 Election Campaign, and one that demonstrated how out of touch the Clinton campaign is with the “millenial” voter.
One of the most popular reaction images on 4chan is Pepe The Frog. It has been photoshopped thousands of times , and is used to express emotions such as sadness, anger, confusion and most commonly smugness and self satisfaction. Additionally, it is often turned into various figures from Pop Culture and History as a sort of comic absurdity. It is used on multiple different boards, but Alt Right users on the /pol/ board who relish in their edgy humour inevitably started creating variants of the frog as a Nazi and more commonly as Donald Trump himself. Many of these Pepe Variants began to circulate on Social Media as 4chan content inevitably does, and especially as replies on Donald Trump’s twitter feed, where there is a large cross section of Alt Right supporters.These Alt Right variants of Pepe became noticed by the Clinton campaign, who instead of ignoring such a trivial phenomenon as any other campaign would, spent money on drafting a Press Release aptly titled ‘Donald Trump, Pepe the frog, and white supremacists: an explainer’.
Hillary Clinton was soon derided on Social Media and especially on the Alt Right circles on Facebook and 4chan’s /pol/ as having created the ultimate storm in a teacup. The equally out of touch Anti Defamation Legaue soon branded Pepe The Frog a hate symbol, which caused major media outlets to report on the spat . It goes without saying that Pepe the Frog is a poor target, as the alt right only co-opted him after the meme became popular. Imagine if neo-nazis started editing comics of Snoopy as a Fascist Dog and Charlie Brown as a young Skinhead. It’s ridiculous and the creator of the artwork never intended for Snoopy to be a Fascist, but he has no control over people photoshopping the original comics. That’s how memes work. It doesn’t matter who made the original image, all that matters is who co-opts it and what the image turns into; how it’s photoshopped and re-purposed into something new. Yet would branding an innocent cartoon image a “hate symbol” after it had been co-opted by a small section of malicious individuals really be fair? The answer is obvious to anyone seemingly outside of the Clinton campaign. Those on the alt right know Pepe’s incoccuous origins, which is why it becomes so amusing to them when large media outlets give publicity to a harmless internet frog.
Memes are important to the Alt Right, given that much of their momentum centers on the internet. On /pol/ they refer self-deprecatingly to “Meme Magic”, but the format does have a large impact given it’s nature of filtering out to Social Media and elsewhere on the internet. Additionally their in-language is used incessantly, and is a surefire sign of someone being alt right. “Cuck” is the most common. The easiest way of describing it is it’s basically a racially charged version of “Pussy”. It’s a shortening of the term “cuckold” which in its modern sexual terminology has the allusion of white women having sex with black men. Essentially they’re calling anyone who supports them as being weak, emasculated and compromising on the socially conservative principles they should be standing for. The term “Cuckservative” was levelled as a term against Republican Senator’s and Congressmen who either offered a compromise on immigration, or anyone who didn’t support Donald Trump. The term is so overused that it’s thrown out as an insult even when it barely applies. Instead of us vs them, it’s us vs the cucks.
To most media outlets it seemed as if the Alt Right movement had only first begun during the 2016 Election Campaign. In reality it is a wave of political failings during the past eight years, in particular during the height of the European migration crisis. Certain videos generated by the alt right during the crisis went viral. Some amassed millions of views before they were taken down.
Given the Anonymity of the internet, The Alt Right casts a greater shadow than likely reflects reality. /pol/ and the other sites are notorious for gaming online polls and petitions. Nobody can tell how big the movement really is, and therein lies its perception of influence. It’s easy for political movements to attract followers online, but much harder to translate that into real world action or support. In the 2016 Election cycle this has been most apparent in the campaign for Senator Bernie Sanders, who may have amassed the most facebook likes but certainly didn’t gain the largest number of votes in the Democratic Primaries. It only takes a few hundred people in a news comment section or discussion thread on a website to change the narrative. This illusion of influence has made the internet so important during this campaign cycle, and the Alt Right are well aware of it and doing their best to shape people’s perceptions.
The Alt Right’s vote gaming of Trump is different, in that Trump is amassing support not only amongst younger Alt Righters, but has a large traditional voter base numbering in the millions. However I can see parallels this election cycle in the Alt Right’s support for Trump, in the movement during the 2012 campaign for Republican nominee Ron Paul. I can certainly recall the huge online presence that Ron Paul had on the internet, especially on Reddit. I’ll admit that I found the man endearing at the time and his non-interventionism was admirable given that US troops were still in Iraq at the time of the election. Yet despite being an octogenarian his views resonated with a vocal core of young Americans. It wasn’t middle aged baby boomers where Ron Paul drew most of his support, but young “millenial” voters. You really can’t deny he was a powerful orator.
I admit I was somewhat sucked into the “Ron Paul Revolution”, especially being more or less economically illiterate during his campaign. In my personal politics I’m a long way away from being a Libertarian now. Every reputable economist disavows his conspiracy theories involving the Federal Reserve and Gold Standard. Yet it was the same charisma and promise of radically changing America (Albeit in totally different ways) that makes it understandable why the Alt Right and other disenfranchised conservatives have hitched a ride on the “Trump Train”. Unsurprisingly Reddit.com where Paul drew much of his support now has the largest Trump forum on the internet.
The Dark Side Of The Alt Right
The Alt Right’s anonymity helping make it such a prominent force online may also be what ends up killing the movement. The Alt Right has been tainted with allegations of neo-nazism and white-supremacy. Whilst its major figureheads such as Milo Yiannopoulos allege the genuine white supremacists and fascists are a minority that the “people that the alt-right’s opponents wish constituted the entire movement”, you cannot divorce the white supremacists from the Alt Right. It is not the Clinton Campaign that has done this, but the movement itself. The Alt Right is so vaguely defined that it’s synonymous with everything right of mainstream conservatism,encompassing everyone from mild critics of immigration to ardent neo-nazis. However I believe the online movement growing to what it has become today is less a case of the fascists attracting the moderates, but the moderates attracting the fascists.
Nobody is giving the KKK an interview platform as it’s totally counter-productive and we have accepted that these people are so tainted by their reputation that we are not willing to let them be heard. Instead they thrive in the anonymity of the internet, and have latched onto the success of the Alt Right movement to shape it in their own insidious ways. It’s probably unfortunate for those in the movement that the term was coined by a man who is openly a white supremacist, but like most anonymous movements the term just sort of stuck to all those looking for a right wing alternative. White supremacy has always been a fringe movement. It’s telling that David Duke and the outright KKK affiliated members are now photoshopping images of Pepe the Frog to get behind the movement. Hardcore white supremacists had hardly even heard of the “Alt Right” movement until this election cycle. All the old neo-nazis are now latching onto a growing movement. The reason fascism become so prominent within the movement is that the Alt right encourages taking a no-compromise attitude on these topics. Members seem to take a perverse pride in one-upping each other at being the most far right as possible, that the inevitable destination is fascism. Ultimately given it’s anonymity, whether the neo-nazis are a minority or a majority is impossible to tell.
However it’s evident within the terminology of the Alt Right just how significant the supposed “minority” are. If Cuck offers allusions of Racism, other Alt Right terminology is far more troubling. They frequently use (((Brackets))) around a name to target others as being Jewish. If Jews aren’t explicitly targeted, “Globalists” seems to have essentially become a substitute. At the core of these Alt Righters rests racial identity. The racist tribalism has meant a sense of homeland is associated with Europe. Regardless of the fact that the average Swede or German has very little in common with these new worlders obsessed about racial purity, there’s a sort of racial solidarity that crosses cultural and poltiical divides. Europeans have seldom collectively identified as “white” due to Europe’s historical racial homogeneity, but in the minds of this segment of the alt right, it’s Ethnic Europeans vs Everyone else. Likewise the “Cuck” terminology outlines an obsession over miscegenation. During the European Migration Crisis one of the most common buzzwords uttered was “White Genocide”. This is usually alleged to be propogated by the Jews (Who else) to make Europeans extinct and to turn all of humanity into some sort of mix-raced and easily exploitable population. Another favourite habit of the Alt Right is to co-opt left wing buzzwords ironically. “Cultural Enrichment” is synonymous with rape, murder, terrorism and every other crime that was brought in by migrants during the European Migration Crisis.
Another favourite buzzword is “Cultural Marxism” which contains anti-semitic overtones, alleging after WW2 Jews in Academia proceeded to transform Western Society for the worse via the media and social institutions. But the Schizophrenic rabbit hole doesn’t stop there. “Cultural Marxism” caused the overall decline that led to “Degeneracy”. This is typified by the loss of traditional morality after the sexual revolution that has made everything permissible, which has caused the decline of the West. Ideologically these more extreme elements find themselves caught between European Paganism, Non Belief and Hardline Catholicism. Religious traditionalists seemed to have become drawn into the alt right. Ususally Pro Catholic or Monarchical groups will match the anti immigration rhetoric of the Alt Right as a way to return to an idyllic past that never existed. A fetish for the Crusades is common, with a meme centering on Pope Urban’s cry of “Deus Vult”. Yet this religious traditionalism isn’t immune to the Alt Right’s perpetual infighting. One of the more amusing Alt Right pieces I’ve read, makes the case that Saint George being a filthy middle easterner means English conservatives shouldn’t celebrate him..
The stereotype that overt racism is confined to Alabaman rednecks on mobility scooters (commonly promoted by the left to smugly make themselves seem more intelligent than they are) couldn’t be further than the truth. In an excellent piece from Vox on the dismissive attitude of the American left towards lower class Americans, they revealed the habits of those visiting a prominent white supremacist website were likely to be avid newsreaders and the opposite of the redneck stereotypes . Young supporters of the Alt Right are likely to be well educated, but it doesn’t preclude them from being racists or outright fascists. Indeed many of the disenfranchised new conservatives that have been attracted by the alt right are soon manipulated into believing all of these conspiracy theories. The new converts are usually the most vocal as well. Whenever one attempts to confront these Alt Righters, asking to justify whatever point they’ve made will be met with derision, usually through a picture or meme. They thrive behind humour and anonymity because they know that when defending many of their arguments in plain terms, they will not hold up. It’s why social media has become such an important tool for them. Nobody is ever likely to fact check their infographics when shared on social media, and they know it. Likewise the most powerful humour is always subversive. That’s why I always cringe hearing those on the left saying the right “Aren’t funny”. The alt right certainly are and their memes and cartoons can be much more witty and subversive than the “I’m not racist, but” jokes and other moralistic humour coming from the left.
It is very hard for those in the “Alt Right” to disassociate themselves from the neo-nazis when there is no coherent definition as to what the Alt Right Is. Libertarians and Classical liberals in the movement are tarred by association with vehement racists and authoritarians, who would happily shut free speech down if it only silenced the opposition. There is no central authority that can openly disavow them. Whilst the Alt Right remains a umbrella movement without a core philosophy, then the nastiest of all will continue to use the mantle. Regardless of whether these white supremacists are a minority or not, they continue to be dangerously influential online.
My Thoughts On The Election Candidates
With only days to go it’s unlikely that my thoughts on the Candidates will influence anyone. There will be few “undecideds” left in the race, given the months of incessant campaigning. Indeed the few undecideds left will be stuck in a huge chasm, given how divisive the election has been. There has never been clearer evidence of how Broken the US political system is to have the only choices as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Polling numbers for Jill Stein and Gary “What is Aleppo?” Johnson are abysmal, and frankly a fringe environmentalist and a man with zero sense of foreign policy or self awareness barely even count as alternatives. A majority of Americans are just as disatisfied with the candidates as I am. However if anyone of them is naturally more likeable, it’s the one with some semblance of personality. The huge enthusiasm that Trump’s supporters have towards their candidates is contagious, and like all other Populists he’s done his best to cultivate a fanatically loyal bunch of followers.
Trump has an advantage by virtue of billing himself as an alternative. It’s much easier to sell a message promising real change rather than the status quo, and Clinton defines the status quo. Some Political Pundits have said she “Reeks of Washington”. She is meticulously presented with zero spontaneity; prepackaged Washington, right down to every seam on her pantsuits. There is no real way of disassociating her from the Political Establishment, and in this election the most exciting movements have all posited themselves as being anti establishment. Of course I’m nowhere near as naive as to believe a Manhattan Multi Millionaire with decades long ties to prominent politicians is somehow anti establishment, but since he’s never been in Washington the message is an easier sell.
Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump painted themselves as the leaders who would radically change the system. “Make America Great Again” is brilliant in that it’s so vague but at the same time promises so much. “I’m with her” sounds like the phrase uttered by a reluctant boyfriend at a party having to decline something more appealing. In her official slogans and in her campaigning, Clinton’s message of change has seemingly centered on her gender, but given poor public reception that message has seemingly been re-assigned towards feminist character attacks on Trump. The Clinton campaign has been reduced to billing itself as Anti-Trump rather than being Pro-anything. Additionally she has been dogged by her illegal use of an email server and conspiracy theories as to the state of her health. The rumours have been far more persistent in sticking to Hillary than any that have been levelled against Trump.
Trump’s strategy has been quite simple – With every outlandish statement he receives more media attention to the expense of all of his opponents. Thus the manufactured controversies from his outspoken rants on twitter and at campaign events all prove to his benefit. It is no surprise that a former Reality TV star has been able to manipulate the limelight in his favour. He has treated the election campaign the same way he would treat an entertainment event, and after reflecting on the past year’s worth of antics, can anyone really argue the Election has been anything but an entertainment event? The only revelations that have truly hurt him are what his opponents have dug up, such as the Access Hollywood Tape. Yet despite that being billed as what was to kill his campaign, he has recovered from the noticeable drop in the polls after the tape was leaked. He has attracted a fanbase so devoted, that he has effectively become immune to controversy.
For his most controversial remarks (and incidentally the most broadcasted) such as on the Border Wall and on halting muslim immigration, his hardline stance has endeared him to his followers. However he has backtracked on nearly all of them in one way or the other. After opening the conversation and ensuring the issue is within the public sphere and billing himself as the candidate that’s tough on crime/terrorism/immigration, he can say whatever he wishes. The original hardline positions on “The Wall” remain stuck in the minds of his followers and in the public consciousness, but the more moderate approach is what he sells the Party Establishment in order to gain their support.It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not, what matters is that it puts him in the Spotlight and that it sounds amazing at the Campaign rallies. This huge mess of conflicting claims on all of his major positions has meant he can deny the truth of whatever he has said when confronted with it.
Much has been made of the success of Trump’s use of Social Media. While Clinton has a much more polished budget and well-edited videos going out to her followers, Trump’s video and online postings are much more visceral and genuine. Up until the last days of the campaign it is Trump himself who ran his twitter account, rather than a handful of professional social media experts. It’s not surprising that on every social media platform it is Trump that has a larger number of followers and commentators. He might tweet like a petulant teenager, but that’s part of the appeal in a Campaign that is much more focused on personality than it is on policy.
Many media reports have compared the possibility of a Trump win to the Brexit vote in the UK. Both would be major political upsets, however I think this is a flawed comparison. At only two days away from the election, while the polls are very close, Clinton generally still has leads of four or five percentage points in several major polls
In the final days leading up the Brexit vote, the weighted average for remain was only leading by two percentage points and the majority of polls in the days ahead generally only had a two or three percentage point difference, putting the Leave vote within the natural margin of error on the polls. Statistically, a Trump win (especially via the popular vote) will be an even greater upset than Brexit. There are hardly any polls putting Trump in the lead, and those that do are typically only by a percentage point at most.
It is also another attempt to smear the Brexit vote with similar allegations of racism. Brexit was certainly supported by the Alt Right, by Trump and by nearly every Populist Politician in Europe, but it was over a quarter of the entire British Public that supported it and the issue spanned far wider class divides. A desire to control immigration to sustainable levels is not racist, nor is a belief in the supremacy of the British justice system as the final arbiter of national law. A more important distinction is that a referendum and an election are structurally distinct. For all the division Brexit may have caused, it could only ever be a binary choice. However the US election only offering two choices with any possibility of a noticeable vote share, is symptomatic of the broken Political system within America.
Unlike some of my more socially conservative friends I find myself far less enthusiastic about a Trump win than Brexit. There may have been a shift under the Obama administration to using Executive Orders, but the US President is still largely constrained by Congress as to what he can achieve. We all recall Obama being revered as some sort of black Messiah in 2008 and yet while Obama has achieved a lot in his two terms, it was nowhere near what was promised to voters. Of course he did face a Republican Majority who was determined to block his every move. Depending upon how Republican lawmakers fare in their district elections, Trump may not face the same disadvantage, yet there are many in his party that revile him. To the rivals he hurled endless character attacks at like Jeb Bush, they would probably be more receptive to a third term of Obama than Trump taking the Oval Office, and are certain to be non-cooperative if they hold their local seat. Yes it is the US President who has the final say on whether to launch nuclear Weapons, but this is really rather cheap hyperbole by the Clinton Campaign. I recall similar conspiracy theories of a trigger happy Obama made by Republicans at the time
Perhaps the reason I simply cannot get behind the “Trump Train” is despite all of the conflicting statements, , his vague policy promises and everything else that’s objectionable about the man, even if I did believe him, I’ve seen it all before with Obama and Ron Paul. Trump is far less principled than either of those two former Presidential Candidates, but regardless of whether he wins or not I don’t see America changing much at all. Socially the country may go “backwards” a little, but the fundamentals of what is broken with the US system and the West today won’t be dealt with. Nobody can make it to the Oval Office without being tainted somehow. The jobs will continue to move overseas and cheap immigration will continue to fill the labour gaps. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the discontent in our societies grows.
The extreme rhetoric used by Trump is exactly why the Alt Right has put their full weight behind him. He became their “Meme Candidate” and they’ve helped to propel him to becoming the most successful candidate online. If on November 8th Trump does end up pulling off a surprising win, it will be viewed as a Coronation for the Alt Right. The Candidate they have put their hopes and desires into will validate their largely unwarranted sense of self importance, and will likely make the more extreme wing of the movement all the more vocal.
Yet the Alt Right is a tainted movement, now inextricable from the genuine white supremacists who have co-opted it for their own means. It has pitted itself as the extreme alternative online in an overarching culture war between traditionalism and progressivism. While I have no love lost for the far-left opponents they claim to be challenging, The Alt Right has proven itself a highly unlikable force, alienating its moderate followers with an extreme fascist rhetoric. Despite its prominence during the 2016 election, its anonymity prevents it from ever becoming a truly serious political movement. Indeed Clinton and the Media’s spotlight on the movement has backfired spectacularly. Now what had been a fringe online movement has attracted mainstream attention, and with every new report highlighting its potency in changing the narrative online, it takes an more prominence than before.
The Alt Right remains primarily confined to within the internet as equal parts echo chamber and meme factory. As “White Supremacy” and “Alt Right” become synonymous, the movement will become even more divided, and will inevitably die like most internet movements. Fewer of the disenfranchised New Conservatives will associate themselves with the label over time. What may emerge from the currently ill defined but tainted bubble of the Alt Right is some sort of splinter group, one that continues to embrace the populist candidates and alternative politics, but one that offers a rigid structure and one that doesn’t simply brush the Nazis under the proverbial rug.
Yet “The New Conservatives” are not going away. Whether they choose to label themselves as “Alt Right” or as another term does not matter, their concerns are still the same. If the 2016 election has produced anything of worth, it is shining a spotlight on these disenfranchised voters. In America and across the west they have latched onto Populist Candidates, putting their hopes into those that inevitably end up disappointing as all politicians do. If mainstream politicians do not embrace their critiques, then the centrist right will find itself battling to survive against the fringe populists who are at least willing to listen.