Timothy Shenk: The dark history of Donald Trump’s rightwing revolt – The Guardian

Of all the forces unleashed by the rise of Trump, the one that may pose the greatest threat to the relevance of the conservative intellectual establishment is the gleefully offensive movement known as the alt-right. Nurtured by online forums such as Reddit and 4chan, along with white-nationalist standbys such as American Renaissance, the alt-right has become a vehicle for the simmering anger of mostly white and mostly young men – with strong links to the earlier varieties of racialpolitik promoted by Francis, who is sometimes cited as a founder of the alt-right. Mainstream conservatives have reacted with shock and horror to this development. “The nasty mouth-breathers Buckley expelled from conservatism have returned,” declared a typical response from Commentary, one of the major journals of the establishment right.

But the new iconoclasts of the alt-right can’t be purged from a conservative movement they have no desire to join, especially when they can reach an audience of millions on social media. If there is an heir today to the young William F Buckley – who launched his career with exuberant attacks on the hypocrisy of the liberal establishment and managed to make conservatism look like a stylish rebellion against the powers-that-be – it might be someone like Milo Yiannopoulos, a professional provocateur who has become a spokesman for the alt-right. At one typical event this spring, Yiannopoulos, who refers to Trump as “Daddy”, delivered a lecture with the title Feminism Is Cancer after being ushered into the auditorium on a throne held aloft by students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. Yiannopoulos’s critics are rightly concerned that his main agenda is promoting himself, but Brand Milo is a booming business.

The future looks more precarious for the guardians of True Conservatism. They have strong support from leading figures in the Republican party such as Paul Ryan, and retain control over an infrastructure of donors, thinktanks and journals. A landslide defeat for Trump could still revive their cause, but they could just as easily be swept aside by a rising generation of rightwing activists with a more Trumpian set of concerns.

From: The dark history of Donald Trump’s rightwing revolt | Timothy Shenk | News | The Guardian

2 comments on “Timothy Shenk: The dark history of Donald Trump’s rightwing revolt – The Guardian

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  1. A very informative piece, yes, though I would have been drawn more to the analysis of the two main types of American “conservatism,” the contradictions between them that become more pronounced during periods of American-national retrenchment, and the alternative available to the center-left (or “progressive center”).

    Also interesting in light of today’s campaign news on the sidelining of Manafort and his replacement by the Breitbart supremo.

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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