On the intellectual and ethical flabbiness of alt-right: The truth about a misguided movement

The alt-right worldview is narrow and its demographic future is unlikely

Published September 6, 2016 11:58AM (EDT)

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 20: Stephen K. Bannon looks at his computer to see who will be the next caller he will talk to while hosting Brietbart News Daily on SiriusXM Patriot at Quicken Loans Arena on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images for SiriusXM) (Getty/Kirk Irwin)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 20: Stephen K. Bannon looks at his computer to see who will be the next caller he will talk to while hosting Brietbart News Daily on SiriusXM Patriot at Quicken Loans Arena on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images for SiriusXM) (Getty/Kirk Irwin)

While there are various strains and heterogenous thought leaders, generally speaking the alt-right, or alternative right, thumbs its nose at “mainstream” or “establishment” conservatism, embraces  nationalism and believes that immigration and multiculturalism are threats to white identity. Many of these alt-right activists are intellectually, historically and ethically incoherent and misguided. While their underlying concern may be valid — e.g. the decline of Western civilization — their solutions, expressions and their anti-Semitic, anti-women, racist smearing are truly deplorable.

In their degradations of black and Hispanic Americans, they engage in a disturbing throwback to the days of codified discrimination, including slavery and Jim Crow and our founding documents designating black people as subhuman. This ignores the conservative worldview that government should be limited--that big government shouldn't restrict basic civil rights. Members of the alt-right also often express rancid sentiments about the abilities of women, ignoring the powerful contributions of female conservative champions like Margaret Thatcher. Many of them argue that superior IQ justifies white male supremacy even though it's Jewish individuals and Asians who score the highest on such tests. And they try to ignore or downplay the Judeo side of the contribution to Judeo-Christian civilization.

While the substance of Hillary Clinton’s speech denouncing alt-right is utterly true (though its occurrence, as Jonah Goldberg argues at National Review seems a political rather than moral calculation), its delivery seems a bad idea because it gave free publicity and legitimacy to such morally decrepit expressions. That’s why alt-right leaders were thrilled at the Clinton billing. Instead, this moral stain should be purged out by conservative leaders (and ones without the Clinton baggage), as Goldberg argues, the way that the tin-hat John Birch disciples were shut down for their irrationality.

Many alt-right individuals are channeling the disturbing Malcom X narrative on gender and race, albeit from a white perspective and from Malcom X’s earlier message — he grew out of the narrow, racialist tribalism that characterized his work with the Nation of Islam (NOI). After he was ousted by NOI, Malcom X traveled abroad and learned to embrace people at a human level first before looking at the world through a racial lens. In his late life, just prior to his assassination by NOI, he embraced a globalist perspective, one that alt-right people eschew. Indeed, the label of “globalist” is far from a slur, despite alt-right activists trying to paint it otherwise. If these alt-right individuals truly understood American heritage they’d see that we have always been a globalist nation.

If the alt-right wants to preserve what’s right about America’s founding, they would see that America's amazingly successful democratic capitalism is a result of free trade, not the Trump Brand of big-government trade protectionism and heavy-handed authoritarianism. The neo-Nazism embraced by some in the alt-right is a slap in the face to the greatest American generation that fought to preserve our country from the most despotic globalist order. That’s the irony of their philosophy; in their denouncing globalists, the alt-right harks back to the most vicious and authoritarian globalism of World War II.

Many Trump supporters are furious with Never Trumpers, calling us turncoats and traitors to the GOP. Yet it was actually angry, shortsighted people, some with alt-right proclivities, who destroyed Republicans like John Boehner, Eric Cantor and propped up non-viable GOP candidates like Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell. Yes, the “establishment” leaders had grown unresponsive to the needs of the populist activists, yet the alt-right is an unhealthy, irrational and nonviable path forward.

The alt-right worldview represents a dying wing of the GOP. Rather than taking the early Malcom X approach to race, alt-righters would be more resonant with the American people if they embraced the Martin Luther King narrative of reconciliation. The alt-right is a sad, toxic backlash against societal decline enabled by liberal cultural takeover beginning in the 1960s, enabled by policies like LBJ's destructive "War on Poverty." The crossroads for conservatives is how to channel legitimate concerns and frustrations into a healthy challenge to the collapse of the family, the urban decay and many other ills associated with liberal culture and policy.

By Carrie Sheffield

Carrie Sheffield is a Salon Talks host, founder of Bold and adviser to Lincoln Network. She previously wrote editorials for The Washington Times, covered politics for POLITICO and The Hill and analyzed municipal credit for Goldman Sachs and Moody's Investors Service.

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