The only racism now acceptable in the United States is racism against whites or, more accurately, against white men. A remark by Frank Joyce in a 2015 article for Salon magazine summed it up: “The future of life on the planet depends on bringing the 500-year rampage of the white man to halt.” According to Joyce, the Republican front-runners at that stage of the presidential contest, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, were all exponents of “white supremacist ideology”, notwithstanding Ted Cruz’s Latino background and Ben Carson’s African-American ancestry. A Republican president was always going to be “illegitimate” in the eyes of the Left. At least one advantage of President Trump’s patriotic populism is that it challenges the sectarianism of identity politics. As Trump promised in his Inaugural Speech: “we will discover new allegiance to each other”.
Progressives employ the White Male Privilege charge to explain everything from the wage gap between men and women to acts of violent jihad. On the eve of the 2015 San Bernardino massacre, for instance, Senator Sherrod Brown (Democrats) was claiming that “generally white males” were to blame for domestic terrorism. Not even the disclosure that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the perpetrators of the crime, were aficionados of Muslim Brotherhood literature compelled the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Saudi-funded operation that is essentially the US wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, to issue a mea culpa: “Let’s not forget that some of our foreign policy, as Americans, as the West, fuelled that extremism.”
White Male Privilege has replaced class struggle in the most recent incarnation of left-wing politics. Black Lives Matter (BLM), for example, blames institutionalised white racism for the low employment levels and high homicide rates among African-Americans. Some of this disparity, no doubt, results from the institutionalised racism that occurred before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and some small part of the problem would be a consequence of isolated (yet genuine) acts of discrimination against African-Americans. But it is a calumny to blame all ills on entrenched bigotry while ignoring the deleterious role of single-parent households, not to mention the pervasiveness of violence and life-destroying drugs, in many African-American communities. Because it conflates inequality with inequity, BLM’s analysis is little better than a conspiracy theory.
There are options for divesting the burden of White Male Privilege. Frank Joyce, for instance, urges whites who are aware of their race’s evil to “constrain” fellow whites, just as “some whites” played a role in ending slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow segregation and South African apartheid. Adopting a left-wing belief system, in other words, has the potential to release a white male from the shame of racial tyranny. Another (increasingly popular) alternative is simply to identify as Native American. Then there are “gender fluid” males who self-identify as female or “neutrois” or some other “non-binary identity” to escape the affliction of masculinity. The grimmest remedy of all, of course, is found in statistics showing white males accounting for seven out of ten suicides in the United States.
The White Male Privilege libel has affected the political landscape. Various populist and nationalist movements have emerged in response. Some—albeit a small minority—espouse white or right-wing identitarianism, which is a reflex-like riposte to left-wing identitarianism. One of their number, Richard B. Spencer, was the first to coin the expression “Alt-Right”. Not all who adopt the designation approve of Spencer’s ethno-nationalism. Even those who cohabit on “White Man’s Island”—as ethno-populist Hunter Wallace puts it—are keen to distinguish their “downhome” thinking from the Spencer’s National Policy Institute and its “fashy” tendencies.
The demarcation line for inclusion in the Alt-Right, according to Hunter Wallace, is white particularism. To be anti-anti-white, in the manner of Stephen Bannon’s populist nationalism, Paul Joseph Watson’s New Right, Alex Jones’s conspiracism or even Milo Yiannopoulous’s cultural libertarianism, does not warrant residency on White Man’s Island. Thus the Alt-Right derides Breitbart News as the “premier Alt-Lite conservative clickbait website run by some Jews out of Los Angeles”. Tellingly, Wallace believes Paul Joseph Watson reveals himself to be a trespasser on White Man’s Island by celebrating the diversity of Donald Trump’s supporters: “They include whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, gays and everyone else. These are the people who helped Trump win the election.”
Hunter Wallace and Paul Joseph Watson are, in their own way, both correct. Wallace is right to insist that White Man’s Island, in his interpretation of what it means to be Alt-Right, offers a haven for one form or other of white racism or, if you like, white racialism. Watson is also correct to argue that the Alt-Right, as defined by either Spencer or Wallace or any position in-between, constitutes “a tiny fringe minority” that had “no impact on the election”. He’s no less accurate to claim mainstream media has “given all its attention” to a non-existing nexus between this understanding of Alt-Right and Donald Trump’s patriotic populism or “sensible conservatism”.
Congressman Keith Ellis, the first Muslim elected to Congress and a leading contender to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), has accused Donald Trump of “bringing white supremacy back to the White House”. A part of the explanation can be found in the elevation of Stephen Bannon to the position of Chief Strategist and Senior Counsellor in the Trump administration. Congressman Ellis, at the time of Bannon’s appointment, was not alone criticising the former editor of Breitbart News for being a leading figure of white nationalism. A spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Read added: “It is easy to see why the KKK [Ku Klux Klan] views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of White Supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aid.”
Although Stephen Bannon’s populist nationalism is anti-anti-white, it has nothing to do with white nationalism and everything to do with economic nationalism. Journalist David Smith, perhaps aware of the irrationality of the white supremacist or KKK charges, wrote an article for the Guardian implying that Bannon’s economic nationalism contains an anti-Jewish element: “Bannon also encouraged Trump to paint rival Hillary Clinton as part of a global conspiracy made up of the political, financial and media elite, a message that many felt carried anti-Semitic overtones.” However, everyone who has ever worked with Bannon, friend and enemy, refutes the anti-Semitic slur. Meanwhile, few would deny that Trump is enthusiastically pro-Israel, as per his appointment of David Friedman as ambassador.
America has arrived at a crisis point because the dominant ideology of our age, left-wing-identitarianism or political correctness, is being challenged by a political movement wholly opposed to it. We can label this phenomenon populist nationalism or enlightened patriotism or any number of things but what it is not is some version of white male supremacism. Nonetheless, the rise and rise of Donald Trump, according to so many of his critics, has the hallmarks of a contemporary incarnation of Benito Mussolini. The American historian Fedja Buric asserted: “Today, the echoes of Fascism are all too audible to anyone willing to hear them.” Progressives and even some conservatives, from movie star George Clooney to Jeb Bush adviser John Noonan, warn that the Blackshirts—or even the Brownshirts—are on the march.
MNBC’s Chris Matthews called President Trump’s Inaugural Speech “Hitlerian” because of the reference to “America First”, which also happens to be the name of the American movement that remained anti-war right up until the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. It could be argued—especially with the benefit of hindsight—that many of the 800,000 members of the American First Committee (AFC) were wrong-headed, and yet branding the organisation “Hitlerian” is absurd considering it could boast amongst its ranks the socialist writer Sinclair Lewis and a young Gore Vidal. For Matthews to demonise the AFC and then link that organisation to Donald Trump’s “America First” catchphrase sounds like a case of latter-day McCarthyism.
It also suggests, as Jan-Werner Müller outlines in What is Populism? (2016), a “failure to draw proper distinctions”, something Hannah Arendt insisted was fatally detrimental to political judgment. Müller is a sharp critic of populism, believing it to be “a degraded form of democracy” that fails in its purported aim to “Let the people rule!” Nevertheless, he thinks equating the phenomenon of Trumpism with Fascism or even Nazism is a strategic mistake since it mischaracterises the challenge being posed. Contemporary populism, as Müller sees it, is not a “comprehensive ideology” or “codified doctrine” in the manner of mid-twentieth-century totalitarianism, but a consequence of the alienation and estrangement that always “shadows” life in a modern and complex representative democracy.
Müller offers a number of potential solutions, not least engaging populist adversaries with respect and genuine arguments. None of his remedies involve caricaturing Donald Trump as Adolf Hitler or his chief strategist as an anti-Semitic white supremacist. This tack simply confirms to “the outsiders” that “the insiders”—or “liberal elite”—always view the political opinions of ordinary folk with contempt. The problem is compounded when the voters themselves are attacked, as Hillary Clinton did with her “basket of deplorables” pronouncement at a fundraiser two months before Election Day. She charged “half of Trump’s supporters” with being “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it”. Clinton admitted to being “grossly generalistic” but the insinuation behind the “deplorables” jibe was never retracted: Trump’s populism signified a siren call to white supremacism and every other sinister force under the sun.
Populism, according to Jan-Werner Müller, is a “political fantasyland” in which an opportunistic leader claims to embody the interests of “the people” when all he represents are his own interests legitimised by the support of a segment of the population. In this “construction of a people”, actual people are invariably omitted from the leader’s reckoning. Müller quotes Turkey’s Erdogan, who once thundered at his political opponents: “We are the people. Who are you?” This is simultaneously the worst and best point made in What is Populism? On one hand, if the Muslim Brotherhood-associated Recep Tayyip Erdogan and American entrepreneur Donald J. Trump belong in the same “basket of populists” then populism, already a notoriously imprecise term, is robbed of all descriptive power. On the other hand, the Tribune of Anatolia’s remark brings us closer to the ultimate question concerning Donald Trump’s ascendancy: Should we consider it on balance emancipatory or, as Müller maintains, “anti-pluralist”?
Müller warns that it would be no less “dangerous” for democracy if the Left attempted its own “construction of a people”. What the Princeton professor of politics ignores is that progressives have already made an unofficial register of persons and un-persons. African-Americans, women, ethnic minorities, people who identify as LGBTQ+, immigrants, Muslims and every other self-identifying marginalised group have been assigned their place in a “rainbow of discontents” or what Hillary Clinton and the DNC hoped was a “basket of lifelong Democrat voters”. These modern tribes are the victims of White Male Privilege and, from the perspective of left-wing identitarianism, constitute “the people”.
The soft totalitarianism of PC rectitude reveals itself any time African-Americans reject Black Lives Matter, Muslims disavow the Council on American Islamic Relations, women renounce third-wave feminism or Latinos repudiate the ethno-nationalist Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán. In other words, any time a member of an ascribed tribe obeys his or her conscience rather than submit to the honour-shame strictures of the clan. In doing so these individuals—and they truly deserve that appellation—become “identity traitors”. This is the case for African-Americans who want to give the Trump presidency a chance and find themselves branded “Mediocre Negroes” by CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill.
Despite the bogus claims about President Trump’s association with the KKK and white supremacism, there is a case to be made for African-Americans choosing to be “identity traitors”. Throughout the campaign Trump talked of a Marshall Plan for inner cities and even spoke of a $130 billion scheme to transform inner-urban education. As stated in his Inaugural Speech, Trump’s economic nationalism is cognisant of the connection between “the factories scattered like tombstones across our nation” and those “trapped by poverty in our inner cities”. Unemployment is a great social injustice.
President Trump’s invitation to African-Americans—and all those patriotically inclined—to participate in a national revival could not have been clearer: “whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots”. A central contention in Müller’s What is Populism? claims that a populist leader, as he defines the type, seeks legitimacy on the basis of a spurious “homogenous people”; and yet “the people” of Trump’s nationalism are potentially as heterogeneous and diverse as the nation itself.
Michael Moore, who seditiously claims that the Trump administration will not be allowed to serve out its four-year term, believes the Democratic Party should double down on its identity politics formula, despite its failure to win the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives and various gubernatorial contests on Election Day. Here is a typical Michael Moore edict: “We’re all Muslim, we’re all Mexican, we’re all women, we’re all Gay, we’re all Lesbian, we’re all Transgender, all Queer.” Even allowing for hyperbole, it is apparent that a lifetime of radical posturing has left him, and a generation or more of progressives, ignorant of the first principles of Western civilisation. In an open society, surely, we do not find our humanity through identity, but our identity through our humanity.
The “Women’s March”, which took place in Washington the day after Trump’s elevation to the White House, tells us much about the perils of the politics of identity. One of the leaders of the 200,000-strong protest was none other than Linda Sarsour, a pro-Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood activist who advocates for sharia law in America: “You’ll know you’re living under sharia law if suddenly all your loans and credit cards become interest free. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?” Because the contemporary Left’s tribal tableau consists of a hierarchy of victimhood shaped by White Male Privilege, the protesters cannot hold Linda Sarsour and her Muslim Brotherhood connections to account. That would be racism. Since our modern-day tribes have few interests in common, they are bound together by negative cohesion—a hatred of The Man. Right now nobody embodies that role for tribal loyalists more than Donald J. Trump. Their intolerance for President Trump is only surpassed by a misplaced tolerance for each other.
At the root of today’s leftist ideology is a tribal war against individual self-determination. And the antidote to this creed—what we might call the Alt-Left—is not the Alt-Right, a right-wing imitation of left-wing identitarianism, but a colour-blind alliance of “identity traitors” and self-respecting white males united by enlightened patriotism and a shared stake in Western civilisation.