This morning, Wired published an excellent piece by Nitasha Tiku about the white supremacist guerrilla war going on at Google. You should read it, not only because it’s good and interesting, but because it’s important in understanding the modern white supremacist movement known as the alt-right.
When the alt-right first came to national attention during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, many (including me) argued that the media should avoid the term, and stick with more traditional — and accurate — terms like “Nazi’ and “White Nationalist.” There is, however, a specific trait that sets the alt-right apart from other hate groups: Their philosophy of life as a game or program, that can be hacked or “beaten” if one learns the rules.
The white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, did not wear white sheets or Confederate uniforms. They wore polo shirts and khaki pants, a uniform of respectability. This modern trend of the “dapper” white supremacist comes from leaders like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer, who rose to prominence online. It’s a hack, a specific attempt to deceive the public by manipulating their perception. This is from The Cut, in 2016:
“We have to look good,” Spencer told Salon…explaining that middle-class whites are less likely to join a movement that appears “crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid,” and that stereotypes of “redneck, tattooed, illiterate, no-teeth” are an impediment to achieving his goals.
Klansmen in white sheets are evil, everyone knows that. Skinheads in studded leather will scare people. But put on a polo and a neatly-creased pair of khakis, and maybe the media will debate your Confederate flag and the true meaning of your antisemitic chant, instead of ignoring you. Congratulations, you just beat the game.
A movement born online
The alt-right has roots firmly in the Internet and online culture. Though it first came to mass attention in 2016, it festered for years prior on 4chan and various subreddits. Alt-right leaders expanded their influence through platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Amazon, often gaming algorithms to gain exposure. But the views and tactics of the alt-right go back even further, to the pre-web days of Usenet message boards. Even the name takes a cue from Usenet: “alt” was the prefix for ‘alternative’ boards, where no one was moderating and users could find (among many more benign topics) nude photos of celebrities, recipes for explosives, and child pornography. A common belief in the early days of the Internet was that “alt” stood for “Anarchists, Lunatics, and Terrorists.”
It’s no surprise that a movement born on the Internet would attract “brogrammers” and similarly tech-oriented members. The alt-right grew as a conglomeration of online communities of disaffected young men. What’s important to recognize is that their programmer tactics extends to the real world — and as the real world becomes more interconnected and reliant on the Internet, their tactics sometimes work.
So-called “lifehacks” are common and generally harmless. Here, for example, is a bot that understands Comcast’s internal policies and employs machine learning to get you a lower price on your cable bill. But the alt-right’s approach can be traced to one of the earliest and most nefarious lifehacks: so-called “seduction techniques,” first developed on the Usenet board alt.seduction.fast and later published by reporter Neil Strauss in his book, “The Game.”
Hacking goes IRL: The Seduction Community
Disciples of the seduction community, self-designated “pickup artists,” bring a hacker’s mindset to dating and conversation. By employing the right sequence of interactions — “negging,” or complimenting a woman in a way that’s actually a put-down, feigning disinterest, and initiating physical contact in the right way at the right time, a pickup artist believes he can unlock a sexual encounter as if it were the secret boss level of a video game.
Usenet’s seduction board was founded in 1994, but its teachings are alive and well on 4chan and Reddit, where so-called incels (short for “involuntarily celibate,” men who aren’t having the sex they want) were banned in November for preaching violence against women. More than one prominent alt-right leader came directly from the seduction world: Daryush Valizadeh, alias “Roosh V,” has written extensively on seduction and published more than a dozen of his own guides. Mike Cernovich, promoter of the false Pizzagate scandal and the idea that “date rape does not exist,” is the author and self-publisher of Gorilla Mindset: How to Control Your Thoughts and Emotions and Live Life on Your Terms, a guidebook for men who want to “improve [their] health and fitness, earn more money, and have stronger relationships….[and] live a life others don’t even dare dream of.”
Cernovich is divorced, incidentally (which he blames on “feminist indoctrination”) and was once charged with rape. But since we’re on the topic of books, it’s a good time to talk about Theodore Beale.
It’s notable that Theodore Beale appears in Tiku’s Wired piece. A former WorldNetDaily contributor and alt-right thought-leader writing under the alias “Vox Day,” Beale plays various roles in Google’s racist guerilla force. Perhaps most importantly, he is the author of a “manual for fighting advocates of social justice,” which Beale believes James Damore is using. An excerpt:
Whatever you do, do not agree to any gag orders or sign any confidentiality agreements that will handicap your ability to use the documentation you have acquired to prevent them from spinning a Narrative about what happened.
Beale’s manual is a chapter from his self-published 2015 book, “SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police,” which sold thousands of copies on Amazon and includes a foreword from Yiannopoulos. And here we have to dive…a little bit deep.
2015: Theodore Beale hacks the Hugos
Beale, an author of self-published science fiction and a well-known troll in the SciFi community, is also the self-appointed nemesis of best-selling author John Scalzi. Scalzi is a prominent voice for progressive thought and inclusion, particularly through his blog, Whatever. From 2007 to 2013, Scalzi served three terms as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), a prominent membership organization for authors in those genres). When Scalzi’s last term ended, Beale attempted to run for president. He lost, drawing only 10% of the vote, and shortly thereafter was expelled entirely from SFWA after calling fellow member (and African-American) N.K. Jemisin an “ignorant half-savage.”
Are you with me so far?
The Hugo Awards, one of science fiction’s most prestigious awards (if not the most prestigious) are presented annually by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) at Worldcon. Nominations and winners are determined by a vote of WSFS members. In 2013, conservative-leaning authors Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen (who, not incidentally, has a background in computer programming) engineered a scheme to rig the Hugo Award nomination and voting process. Claiming the awards were biased in favor of progressive authors and diversity, they arranged a block-voting scheme that would advantage conservative and libertarian authors. Voters who joined this block called themselves the “Sad Puppies.” The scheme repeated in 2014 and 2015, though it generated no awards and only a scant few nominations. Enter Theodore Beale.
In 2015, Beale engineered his own Hugo voting scheme, which he called the “Rabid Puppies.” Unlike the Sad Puppies, the Rabid Puppies were wildly successful, owing in large part to Beale’s sizable audience and bylaws that allow any person to join WSFS and vote, as long as they pay a fee. Nominations went to 51 of 60 Sad Puppy books, and 58 of 67 Rabid Puppy books. The ensuing response at WSFS is best summarized as “bedlam,” with nominees refusing their nominations and presenters withdrawing from the ceremony. Authors as prominent as George R. R. Martin condemned the Puppies for ruining the Hugos, and within two years the rules for voting were changed.
Beale, for his part, referred to the Rabid Puppies effort as “a giant Fuck You — one massive gesture of contempt.” None of the Puppy nominees won an actual award, except one: the Marvel Studios film Guardians of the Galaxy.
The complicated saga of the Hugo Awards and their “Puppy” schemes perfectly illustrates the defining attribute of the alt-right. Unlike past generations of white supremacists, they are not content to declare their position and recruit those who agree. Like the Rabid Puppies, the Pickup Artists, and the polo-shirt clad Charlottesville marchers, the alt-right approaches the real world like a piece of software, learning the rules so they can hack them.
Beale built his popularity by espousing white supremacy, but he’s made money using his large following to game Amazon’s algorithm, which gives preferential position to top-selling books. When “SJWs Always Lie” debuted in 2015 (in the midst of the Rabid Puppies uproar), it became the center of a Kindle self-publishing war. A pseudonymous author countered with a parody, “John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular: How SJWs Always Lie About Our Comparative Popularity Levels,” to which alt-right authors responded with parodies of their own. Within days, a half-dozen parodies, parodies-of-parodies, and parodies-of-parodies-of-parodies were sitting on Amazon’s various genre best-seller lists. Breitbart, where plenty of Beale’s friends and fans still write, gleefully reported that he had “turned Amazon’s Kindle Store into a Battlefield.”
Beale’s most recent gambit, again centering on his obsession with Scalzi, was to debut a pseudonymous self-published book, The Corroding Empire, on Amazon the day before Tor released Scalzi’s novel, The Collapsing Empire. The two books have almost identical covers, right down to the font in which Beale’s chosen pseudonym — Johan Kalsi — is printed. When a person searches Amazon for Scalzi’s book, guess what the algorithm presents right beside it?
A “Dirty War” against guerrilla hackers
I am genuinely sorry to fill your head with the saga of Theodore Beale, but again, it’s important to understand how the alt-right operates. When a senior engineer at Google describes the actions of white supremacist employees as “a denial-of-service attack on human resources,” that is not a mistake and hardly a metaphor. The alt-right’s guerrilla tactics are a specific carry-over from its members’ approach to programming and video games: Learn the rules, and you learn how to hack them.
When James Damore’s internal memo leaked and became a nationwide scandal, he and many media outlets portrayed himself as a naive savant just asking innocent questions. This was by design. A white supremacist openly calling women and people of color inferior can be neatly discarded by the mainstream. A naive programmer, asking honest questions about what science says, is not so easily dismissed — and he might just have a shot atwinning a discrimination lawsuit.
It’s not far from Damore’s act to the tactics employed by Yiannopoulos — generate controversy, stir up the hate of the “Social Justice Warriors,” and you are rewarded with (a) publicity in the mainstream media, and (b) the adulation of your alt-right sympathizers. When Yiannopoulos books controversial speaking gigs, like his notorious appearance at Berkeley last September, the gig itself takes a back-seat to the controversy. By stirring up protests (and dozens, if not hundreds, of think-pieces about so-called “attacks on free speech,”) Yiannopoulos builds his brand. It doesn’t matter if he even gets to take the stage — in fact it’s often better if it doesn’t. We know this for sure because we’ve heard it from the man who developed Yiannopoulos’s strategies — although he originally developed them for someone else: Tucker Max, the author and provocateur who first rose to fame from the Seduction Community.
In December, Ashley Feinberg at the Huffington Post exposed the styleguide used by Andrew Anglin, founder and editor of the white-supremacist web site Daily Stormer (piieces of that styleguide had previously been leaked by — guess who — Theodore Beale). While any casual visitor would likely recognize the Daily Stormer immediately as racist and antisemitic (prominent use of the “Happy Merchant” meme is a big clue), in Anglin’s rules we still see an intentional and deliberate effort to manipulate readers and platform algorithms:
“By simply commenting on existing news items…we can never be accused of fake news — or delisted by Facebook as such.”
The guidebook urges writers to block-quote from mainstream news outlets, “to co-opt the perceived authority…and not look like one of those sites we are all familiar with where you are never certain if what they are saying has been confirmed.”
The Daily Stormer even encourages doxxing and harassment, if it leads to pageviews:
“If you’re writing about some enemy Jew/feminist/etc., link their social media accounts. Twitter especially. We’ve gotten press attention before when I didn’t even call for someone to be trolled but just linked them and people went and did it.” [Emphasis mine]
In today’s Wired piece, Tiku quotes Google site reliability engineer and diversity advocate Liz Fong Jones on the moment she realized some of her fellow employees, who had been discussing the potential negative impact of diversity initiatives, weren’t acting in good faith. It came when excerpts from her private conversations were leaked to, and published by, Theodore Beale.
The resulting deluge of threatening comments, messages, and DMs, woke Fong Jones up to an ugly reality: “We didn’t realize that there was a dirty war going on, and weren’t aware of the tactics being used against us.”
It’s a lesson we all must learn, sooner rather than later. The alt-right isn’t participating in a good faith discussion about the accepted premises of progressivism and diversity. They aren’t marching in polo shirts and khakis because they are clean-cut and honest members of polite society. They are hackers, seeking to use written and unwritten rules we all observe— social mores, etiquette, and electronic algorithms that shape our daily experiences — to spread their views, make money, and eventually engineer a white ethnostate.
This is what sets the alt-right apart from other white supremacist movements, and what makes them far more dangerous than what came before.
Seriously? This is a thing now? Wear a safety pin to show “you’re an ally?” So immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, and others who were targeted and persecuted and (further) marginalized by the Trump Campaign will know they’re “safe” with you?
No. Just no. Please, take it off.
Let me explain something, white people: We just fucked up. Bad. We elected a racist demagogue who has promised to do serious harm to almost every person who isn’t a straight white male, and whose rhetoric has already stirred up hate crimes nationwide. White people were 70% of the voters in the 2016 election, and we’re the only demographic Trump won. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is there’s a white nationalist moving into the Oval Office, and white people–only white people–put him there.
We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by putting on safety pins and self-designating ourselves as allies.
And make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for. Making White people feel better. They’ll do little or nothing to reassure the marginalized populations they are allegedly there to reassure; marginalized people know full well the long history of white people calling themselves allies while doing nothing to help, or even inflicting harm on, non-white Americans.
Remember the white guys in the 1770s who wrote all about freedom and equality and inalienable rights? Remember how they owned and sold slaves? Yeah, if that’s the spirit you want to evoke, go ahead and wear your safety pin. I’m sure lots of white people will smile when they see it. They might even congratulate you. But immigrants and people of color will recognize it as a symbol of your privilege.
Also, you know who is going to be out wearing safety pins like crazy? Trump voters.
If you really want to be an ally, and make a difference for the people harmed by Trump, there are plenty of ways to do that. In fact, here’s a link to a whole list of ways you can be a better ally to marginalized communities. Unfortunately, few of them will provide the kind of visibility or reassurance that you think your safety pin will.
I know, I know, you’re uncomfortable. You feel guilty. You think people are going to suspect you of being a racist, and you want some way to assuage that guilt and reassure your neighbors that you’re one of the good ones. But you know what? You don’t get to do that. You need to sit in your guilt right now. You need to feel bad. So do I, so do all of us. We fucked up. We didn’t do enough to change the minds of our fellow White people. We unfriended them instead of confronting them. We looked the other way or laughed uncomfortably when our aunts and cousins made racist comments. We were content then to be one of the good ones and now we want congratulations–but we fucked up, and now other people are going to pay the price.
Because guess what: Even if you aren’t a racist, you still benefit from racism. I’m a white guy with money. This isn’t going to hurt me much. Yes, I’m bisexual, and therefore subject to some of the threats against marginalized groups. But it’s highly unlikely I’m going to be told I’m not American, or picked up by ICE and held in detention until I’m deported, or beaten or executed by police who decide my mere existence presents a threat to their safety, or denied the right to make my own decisions about my own medical care. For the most part, I’ll go about my daily life the way I always have–and if I want to, I can put a safety pin on my shirt and congratulate myself for being so woke, for being one of the good ones. Meanwhile I’ll be benefitting, every minute of every day, from a system that is designed to favor me over people whose skin looks darker than mine.
Don’t do it.
If you really need some way to show your support, if you just can’t bear to sit in your discomfort for even a little bit longer, here’s my suggestion: Instead of doing the thing white people invented to make ourselves feel better, follow the example of the people from the marginalized communities you want to support.
I recommend carrying a big sign. You can make your own, it’s easy. On the sign you should write, in big bold letters, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
And hey, if you want you can use your safety pin to fix it to your shirt.
Hey, fellow white person. How much do we suck, huh? You know I used to defend the white racists who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution by saying “Well, they didn’t live the words they wrote, but they framed our country around morals that made us better than themselves.”
But that was kind of bullshit, because here we are 240 years later and we just elected a white nationalist demagogue, pretty much for the sole reason that he’s a white nationalist demagogue. We really fucking blew it, and we won’t even be the ones to suffer the consequences.
So now lots of white people are making themselves feel better by putting on safety pins, which is really bullshit. But not you and me. We’re going to do some things that will actually help the people we (as a racial cohort, anyway) have harmed. We aren’t going to congratulate ourselves on it, we’re not going to wear some stupid symbolic badge that says “Hey, I’m a good white person” so other white people will congratulate us on how woke we are. We’re just going to do these things because they’re the right things to do when you believe in fairness and equality and all those things the white racist founding fathers wrote about but didn’t believe.
Here are some really easy ways we can take concrete action that will bear results:
1. Be intolerant of intolerance
The first thing we have to do is make it clear that racism, discrimination, and intolerance are no longer values that we as a society will value. That means confronting other white people and making them feel marginalized for behaving in ways that do harm. You have to stand up against friends, relatives, and even strangers when you hear them saying racist or discriminatory things.
It’s not that hard; you say “What the hell is wrong with you?” and you walk away. One instance might not make a difference, but if it happens often enough, and if white racists learn that intolerance costs them social standing, they will eventually change–after all, the whole motive behind most white racism stems from loss of status.
The one exception is when you witness actual discrimination against another person. In those cases it is your responsibility to defend that person, not only by condemning the hate speech, but by staying with that marginalized person and treating them as an actual human being. You want to help people feel safe? Then forget your safety pin and do the work of actually helping people feel safe.
2. Seek out marginalized voices and perspectives
Here’s a question: How many black people do you follow on Twitter? How many black authors do you read? If you’re like many white people, the answer is not very many. I know I didn’t for a long time; I had to make a conscious effort to change that.
America is a culture that segregates by race, sometimes intentionally but often as an unexpected consequence of our social tendencies. Social media makes this worse–we’ve all heard of the echo chamber effect at this point. The best way to break free of that is to proactively seek out voices you aren’t hearing from.
The great thing, though, is that once you start paying attention to people different from you, whether that’s people of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims, people with disabilities, Desi people, East Asians, etcetera, you will begin to encounter other new voices that you’ll appreciate. But you have to take that first step.
Here are a few people I would suggest following, who have helped to broaden my own exposure. You can find them on Twitter, or in longer form work if you’re not so much into Twitter. Just Google their names. This is not a comprehensive list, nor does it cover all communities, it’s just a good starting point in my opinion.
Deray McKesson; Roxane Gay; Shaun King; Baratunde Thurston; Raquel Cepeda; Rebecca Cohen; Xeni Jardin; Sara Yasin; Kumail Nanjiani; Anil Dash; Jamelle Bouie; Rembert Browne; Heidi Heilig; Ta-Nehisi Coates
3. Confront your racism and don’t be fragile
Here’s something I can promise, if you take my advice on #2 and start paying attention to more marginalized voices: You are going to encounter some opinions that will upset you. Some that might make you feel discriminated against, some that might even make you feel victimized by racism.
Don’t stop listening. Don’t tune out. Lean into your discomfort. Force yourself to consider other opinions, and understand why people might say something you find offensive. I’m not saying you can’t still disagree–in fact, the ability to respectfully disagree is itself a skill many Americans, especially White Americans, are not great at. So learn.
You’ll learn a lot of terms you might not have encountered before, among them “White Fragility.” This is a reference to the tendency among White people to take offense when they are called out for saying or doing something discriminatory or even racist. It’s that thing you may have noticed where some White people think “racist” is itself a discriminatory slur, and instead of listening and examining what about their behavior might be problematic they get offended and even demand an apology from the person they have offended.
So don’t be fragile. Your feelings might be hurt, sure. You might even be offended. But resist that urge, and make yourself listen. Lean into the discomfort. All of us are programmed by a culture that embeds racism, and if we are going to be allies we have to recognize we are all capable of racist actions–only by listening can we learn to do better.
And remember, you don’t have to AGREE with everything you hear, nor do you have to express your disagreement. You just have to listen to other people’s views and try to understand where they’re coming from.
4. Use your privilege to support marginalized movements
Join a Black Lives Matter march. Attend a meeting of your local community group. Go to a Black church. When people ask what you’re doing there, say “I’m here to support you.” Then ask how you can do that.
Your whiteness affords you privileges that can be a powerful asset for activists of color and from other marginalized groups. For one thing, police and politicians tend to take a movement far more seriously when there are white people participating–consider the difference in the way the Occupy movement was treated, versus the protesters in Ferguson Missouri.
However, you have to resist the urge to appoint yourself a leader. You might think I’m joking, but it’s something White people are programmed with, often by the prevalence of “White Savior” narratives in our entertainment media. Your job is to follow the leaders of the movement and do what you can to support them, even if you think you might know a better strategy.
On a related note, be prepared for the moment when a reporter with a camera will seek you out at a protest to be the spokesperson for the movement. As a white person in a minority space, I promise it will happen–it’s happened to me more than once. When that happens, here’s what you say: “I’m just here to support the movement, because I believe in it. You should speak with the leadership, I think they’re over there.” Then point in the direction where the reporter can find group leadership. Resist the urge to make further statements, because I promise it will be your face on the news that night, and none of the people of color who greatly outnumber you.
5. Give your time and money
There are a ton of organizations that do good work protecting marginalized groups in the courts, through lobbying and public advocacy, and through education and community organizing. You can donate money to them, and often you can donate time by volunteering.
Among those I would personally endorse: The Southern Poverty Law Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Civil Liberties Union, International Rescue Committee, Planned Parenthood, and the Disability Rights Network. All of these organizations are effective and deserve your money.
If you can’t volunteer for a large organization like one of these, you can find a food bank or other organization in your community that helps serve vulnerable communities. Your local Black church can almost certainly help direct you.
6. Be proactive about inclusion in your daily life
If you are in any position of authority, be it at work or for an organization or club, you have an opportunity to be more inclusive of people from other backgrounds and communities. But the mistake a lot of White people make is to think that simply not discriminating is enough. You can do more, and do better, by taking proactive measures to invite people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized people into your space.
If you’re recruiting at work, don’t simply put your ads on the usual web sites and newspapers and expect that to be enough. Seek out places where you can recruit people underrepresented in your workplace; in many locales predominantly Black colleges and Black business associations can help you recruit. LGBTQ community centers will have job posting boards, and your town or city may have organizations that exist specifically to connect immigrants, refugees, and racial minorities with the community.
Make sure that the space where you meet is accessible to people with disabilities, who may be confined to a wheelchair or otherwise unable to use stairs, or to reach buttons or door handles. It’s also good to be convenient to public transportation, since many people from poorer communities rely on public transit to get them around.
Also, don’t be afraid to outright say in your job listing or community post that you encourage participation from members of minority communities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, people with past convictions, and so on. This sends a signal to people who might otherwise assume that they are not welcome, and can go a long way to diversifying your environment.
7. Avoid segregation
Once again, American culture tends in many ways to self-segregate, for many reasons that I won’t get into here. For whatever reason, White spaces tend to be very White, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something to fight that tendency.
If you’re willing to put a lot of effort into it, you can move. I realize that’s extreme, but I think it’s a powerfully transformative measure, especially if you have children. Growing up in a diverse community surrounded by people from different backgrounds tends to make people more accepting and open-minded, whereas growing up in homogenous spaces (like most suburbs) can make people fearful and insular.
Even if you don’t move, you can find easier and cheaper ways to diversify your own surroundings, or spend time in places that are less familiar. In many cases it’s as simple as going into the city nearest to you, and particularly neighborhoods that are not associated specifically with White tourism. In New York City, which is famously diverse but also strikingly segregated in many neighborhoods, you can eschew the Met or the Natural History Museum in favor of the New Museum or El Museo de Bario; skip dinner in Little Italy and go get soul food at Sylvia’s or matzo ball soup at a kosher deli.
Most houses of worship are very welcoming to people who don’t necessarily share their faith, especially parents seeking to expand their children’s horizons. Find a local mosque or synagogue and participate. Join a community group in a community different from yours. Your local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters is just waiting to help connect you with a “little” who, in many places, is likely to be from a family of color or an immigrant family.
If you’re willing to do a little work and a little traveling, there are lots of ways to make America less segregated.
8. Do the work to be inclusive
Finally, one of the easiest things White people can do (and yet often refuse to do) is to simply keep up with what’s happening in communities other than White communities, including the language people use with and about one another.
One does have to wonder how many White Americans out there will be wearing their little safety pins to indicate support for marginalized communities, but not even willing to learn the difference between Latinx and Hispanic, why “person with disability” is preferable to “disabled person” or “handicapped,” or recognize that “they” is now an accepted singular pronoun for those who wish to avoid gendering.
What many label “political correctness” is in fact a minimally difficult effort at using language that shows respect and engagement with communities that are not the predominant weilders of power in the United States. When White people complain that “they can’t keep up” with the changes in the way marginalized communities prefer to be addressed, what we are really saying is that we can’t be bothered to learn new words simply because they make other people feel more included and respected.
So take the time to learn new words, and learn what emerging issues are of concern to non-White people. If you’re following the other suggestions above, this actually won’t feel that difficult–but all of these things go a long way to actually help include and support non-White communities who have been harmed by recent American events. You can save your safety pin for laundry day.
As the third and final debate of the 2016 Presidential Election concluded last night, it was clear to anyone that Donald Trump’s collapse was complete. After a performance in which he threatened to end 215 years of peaceful transition of Presidential power, vascilated between condemning and admiring Vladimir Putin, and lashed out at the last minute by labeling Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman,” even the most die-hard conservative commentators had to admit that he’d lost.
Except, perhaps, Rudy Giuliani, who has transformed from America’s mayor to America’s greatest sycophant.
But Trump’s catastrophic collapse is not his alone. Certainly the election is far from over, but polling data shows that barring some unforeseen development, Hillary Clinton will win the election in a landslide so dramatic that the Democrats will likely take the Senate and possibly–even in spite of prohibitive gerrymandering–the House. As one could tell watching Bill Kristol practically collapse into tears on Morning Joe, the Republican Party is in dire straits, done in by an identity crisis and a fundamental sickness of which Donald Trump is a symptom, not a cause.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Only a scant 22 months ago, the Republicans were picking up massive gains in every body of government, from Congress to Gubernatorial mansions to state and local offices. As the 2014 election set records for low turnout, Tea Party Republicans seemed the only people motivated to go to the polls and signify their disapproval of President Obama and his policies.
But was it really ever about his policies? Trump’s rise provides evidence for something many on the left, myself included, have been saying since the earliest days of the Tea Party: That their energy and anger was never really about taxes or sovereignty or the Constitution, it was about race, white nationalism, and xenophobia. This was clear from the start to anyone who paid attention; people claiming to be driven by tax policy didn’t know anything about actual tax policy; what they “knew” was that President Obama was an African Muslim bent on taking their guns and destroying America.
This is the energy Donald Trump seized, and rode past 17 other candidates, all of them (arguably) more qualified than him, to the Republican nomination, despite the party establishment’s best efforts to stop him.
But why? Why couldn’t the Republicans trust their voters to choose policy and electability over racism and xenophobia, to save them from certain doom at the hands of Donald “The Groping Narcissist” Trump?
Simple. Because Republican policy has been broken for years, so broken that to get voters to support them, the GOP built a coalition of hate and fear. But as the population of people to be feared has grown, and more people added to the list, that coalition has found themselves outnumbered and incapable of winning the important elections.
Republicans knew as early as the 1960s that they could not win elections on the merits of their policies. The roots of Donald Trump’s rise are in Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which used coded rhetoric and stoked latent Confederate resentment after the Civil Rights Era to win white racists to the Republican Party. Nixon replaced Johnson’s War on Poverty with a War on Drugs, which was only ever really a war on black communities.
By the 1980s it was Ronald Reagan, telling the story of a fictional “inner-city welfare queen,” playing on racism to get poor whites to vote against welfare programs from which they benefitted; but racism alone was not enough to win every election, so in the late 1970s and early 1980s the Republicans formed a pact with the so-called “Moral Majority,” the American theocratic movement that feared gays, abortion, and atheists.
Muslims, who through the 70s and 80s took a back seat as villains to the Soviets, would have to wait until the end of the Cold War to be labeled as the greatest enemies of the state, and while murmurs of white anxiety about Mexican immigrants were heard, it would not be until the 1990s, when recession made the job-destroying consequences of Republican policy vividly apparent, that white conservatives began pointing fingers at Mexico and the need for southern border security.
But the predominantly white population on which these tactics worked was ever shrinking as a percent of voting population, and as culture shifted and LGBTQ Americans gained mainstream acceptance the GOP lost one of their wedge issues. Republicans had a wake-up call in 2012, and in the miniature identity crisis that followed considered the need to alter immigration and jobs policies to appeal to Latinx Americans, soften on anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and otherwise shift to invite a wider section of America’s increasingly diverse voting base.
Instead, the party went the other way, intensifying their rhetoric until they alienated even those relatively few diverse voters who still aligned with them. Rather than work to embrace minority populations (who, combined, now constitute a majority of Americans) the Republicans advanced new voting requirements to prevent those minorities from voting, a desperate and despicable ploy to preserve the power of their alliance just a little bit longer.
Many experts cited Republican fears about alienating their base, and the need to win local and primary elections dominated by Tea Party voters. The implied assumption there, however, and one that I believe is correct, is that softening would not successfully attract new voters because Republican policies are fundamentally flawed. This is why there are no more Rockefeller Republicans, and almost no more of Bush’s “compassionate conservatives.” The only way to get people other than the most wealthy corporate elite to vote against their own self-interest and to support the Republican party is to appeal to their hatred and bigotry.
And so the GOP candidates and party establishment finds themselves now, cursed with a candidate who cannot win–and whose catastrophic candidacy seems poised to drag the entire party down with it–as the inevitable product of a machine they created.
The only solution? If the Republican Party wants any chance at winning major elections in the future, it must evolve. The United States is never going back to the way things were in the 1950s, and it is past time that one of our two major parties stop pretending otherwise.
Our immigration system is antiquated and broken, and voters will embrace realistic, reasonable immigration reform. Closed borders and isolationism are neither practically feasible nor appealing to Americans who embrace our diversifying culture. No more mythology about immigrants bringing crime and drugs; reforming the way ICE approaches immigration enforcement and transforming it into something humane and decent would win a lot of votes.
No more “tough on crime” laws. Mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws are devastating to communities and carry a huge tax burden to enforce. In recent years, the curtain has been drawn back to reveal the ugly reality of American law enforcement. Modern policing is oppressive and incompatible with any party that claims to value a small government that doesn’t intrude in people’s lives. Put forward meaningful reforms on law enforcement, including community policing and sentencing guidelines.
While you’re at it, bring the War on Drugs to a definitive end. The idea is totally compatible with the core values of reducing regulation, shrinking government, and minimizing tax-funded public expense. The War on Drugs costs Americans billions every year, it destroys families and communities, and it doesn’t do anything to prevent drug abuse. Legalize drugs, tax their sales (Republicans prefer use taxes to income taxes, right?) and use the revenues to fund rehabilitation and education that might actually solve drug abuse problems–like the catastrophic opioid epidemic that generally already begins with the legal use of prescription drugs.
Abandon the anti-science stance that allows you to deny climate change is an existential crisis, and bring the same energy and enthusiasm to that problem that the GOP does to all other matters of national security. Stop allowing corporations to pretend carbon emissions aren’t the problem, and instead work with them to incentivize solutions.
It’s time to reevaluate all Republican policies, but especially the most hard-line, because the beliefs to which you cling hardest are the ones with the least rational justification. Trickle-down does not work, that’s a proven fact. Christianity has never been our official religion, and it never will be, so stop trying to force it on us. The Second Amendment affords Americans the right to self-defense, but right now Americans need defense from the Second Amendment.
All of these reforms would change the GOP from an out-of-touch relic that relies on trickery and manipulation to achieve any power, and provide a viable second party alternative to voters who feel frustrated by our broken political system. Would they alienate the racist white voters who have come to define the Republican Party? Abso-fucking-lately they would. The GOP would need to be prepared for a lot of angry phone calls, bigotry, and death threats of the variety those on the left currently receive on a daily basis. You’d probably also see a number of GOP politicians jump ship to become independents or join the Liberarian Party.
But that’s okay; embracing meaningful changes in policy would attract conservative-leaning voters who right now align as reluctant Democrats, or feel totally disenfranchised. In all likelihood, a GOP that kept to conservative principles while embracing science and realistic policy measures would lure bright centrist politicians away from the Democratic Party to replace fringe Tea Party extremists who jump ship.
And perhaps most importantly, such changes would again provide the American voter with two viable parties from which to choose. As a very left-leaning Democratic voter myself, I desperately want a reasonable and attractive Republican Party to force my politicians to work hard and put forward real solutions to our problems.
Will the Republican leadership see it this way? Almost certainly not. For one thing, appeals to racism have been so intrinsic to the party for so long that many of the officials themselves are racists. Others are corporate shills who aren’t interested in doing work that actually benefits the country, just the next rhetorical trick that will keep Americans voting against their own self-interest. My expectation is that the GOP will keep on the same path, maybe even further intensifying their rhetoric, until their victories are limited only to the whitest and most bigoted state and local offices, and congressional districts so gerrymandered they look like the letters of some alien language.
But wouldn’t it be nice if Trump were the last of the racist Republians? If Nixon’s Southern Strategy was finally laid on the ash-heap of history, as they say, and America entered 2017 with two rival political parties ready to face the realities of the 21st century instead of trying to turn back the clock?
Human progress moves slowly; that’s a fact. In government, in the United States, it is almost incentivized to move slower still. But Donald Trump and his catastrophic, embarassing bid for the Presidency is a death knell for the Republican Party. The question is whether it can reinvent itself and rise, or be itself consigned to the ashes.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
When Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a sociopath, white supremacists online took pains to find photos of the victim looking “thuggish” and threatening, even circulating fake photos via email and social networks. They pulled the same trick when Mike Brown was gunned down by a police officer, circulating fake photos of Brown in an effort to make him appear violent, to fit the white supremacist stereotype of the scary black man.
These were conscious efforts to control the narrative, to distort reality until it resembled the manufactured and false narrative white supremacists require to support their beliefs. Such efforts are often successful, too, because white supremacists are not some fringe cult, isolated and easily identified by their Klan hoods and swastika tattoos. White supremacists are all around us, in our police stations and our schools and our legislatures, and their ideas infect the mainstream like a virus.
Those fake photos of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin made their way into mainstream news outlets that were sloppy in their fact checking, and into the inboxes and news feeds of millions of Americans who would never call themselves racists, but didn’t have the time or the inclination to check their veracity. They succeeded in distorting and confusing the narrative, not only for the white supremacists themselves but for millions of otherwise well-meaning individuals.
This is the ugly truth that makes so many white Americans uncomfortable, the one most white people refuse to believe: White supremacy and racism are pervasive aspects of American culture. Continue Reading