This week in two respects was the inevitable outcome of the Trump-Bannon campaign and movement. On one level, a radical and self-described revolutionary such as Stephen K. Bannon with no experience in government was never going to fit into a position as a White House staffer. He does not play well with others, let alone “stay in his own lane.” His specialty is attacking, destroying, creating chaos — tools he put to use in a campaign but are utterly inappropriate in governing. (The same could be said of President Trump.) Bannon reportedly understood he could last only a short time. He was right about that.
Now while Bannon’s demise was inevitable, so was the train-wreck, potentially fatal news conference in which Trump’s true connection to white nationalism came gushing forth. Forget the canard that Trump’s campaign capitalized on economic insecurity. (On average, his voters were richer than Hillary Clinton’s.) Don’t buy the notion that this was all President Barack Obama’s fault and the result of identity politics — a kind of blame-the-victim that posits 21st century white racism is caused by 1960s racial and gender politics.
No, at the heart of Trump’s campaign and the center of the Fox News operation, which incubated a Trump-ready electorate, has always been an appeal to white grievance, which Trump and Bannon were all too happy to gin up with fables about immigrants stealing whites’ jobs, African American killing fields in big cities, murderous illegal immigrants and, quite blatantly, an appeal to Southern infatuation with the Confederate myth of the “lost cause.” Trump’s vilifying all Muslims with a broad brush and his description of Mexicans as murderers were not incidental to his campaign; they were its distinguishing features.
Hillary Clinton was impolitic but accurate in seeing Trump’s overt appeal to the “deplorables,” and even more accurate in her speech describing Trump’s racist message. In her Reno, Nev., speech she declared:
Race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas … all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.’”
Alt-Right is short for “Alternative Right.”
The Wall Street Journal describes it as a loosely organized movement, mostly online, that “rejects mainstream conservatism, promotes nationalism and views immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white identity.”
The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the “Alt-Right.” A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party.
This is part of a broader story — the rising tide of hard-line, right-wing nationalism around the world. . . . Of course there’s always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, steeped in racial resentment. But it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it, and giving it a national megaphone. Until now.
On David Duke’s radio show the other day, the mood was jubilant.
“We appear to have taken over the Republican Party,” one white supremacist said.
Duke laughed. There’s still more work to do, he said.
No one should have any illusions about what’s really going on here. The names may have changed. Racists now call themselves “racialists.” White supremacists now call themselves “white nationalists.” The paranoid fringe now calls itself “alt-right.” But the hate burns just as bright.
There were traditional Republicans in Trump’s coalition who thought the racial rhetoric was “just for the campaign,” and those voters fixated on illegal immigration who saw Trump as a vehicle for their policies. But without the white-grievance mongering — baked into his working-class white, less-educated voters — he would never have won.
And yet, being the president of the United States and simultaneously of a white nationalist movement is entirely untenable. In Charlottesville, white nationalism showed its ugly, hateful face — and so did Trump. And that is something the American people as a whole are never going to buy into. It’s an old, malignant ideology that once exposed is not sustainable as a governing philosophy or acceptable as an administration’s message.
The forced marriage between self-deluded, traditional Republicans and white-grievance mongering has collapsed. That’s a good thing. It also means the GOP is in shambles. Come to think of it, considering the circumstances, that’s a good thing, too.