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.
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