A couple weeks back, before the events in Charlottesville blew up the world and gave a stimulus-style boost to the statue-removal industry (public infrastructure in reverse?), I asked on Twitter for definitions of the “alt-right,” and baited liberal readers to explain how or whether they distinguished between the “alt-right” and the generic “right” that liberals also seem to hate just as much. One reason for doing this is that for a lot of people, “alt-right” has become a lazy shorthand term to use against any and all conservatives. Don’t like Ted Cruz or Mitch McConnell? Just call them “alt-right.” For a certain cast of the liberal mind, all of the right is now the “alt-right.”
To my pleasant surprise I got a number of intelligent and serious responses, noting that the real “alt-right,” like we saw in Charlottesville, are distinguished from the old-fashioned right by its explicit anti-Semitism, and the kind of “blood-and-soil” nationalism—which is clearly distinct from patriotism—that we also saw on display in Charlottesville. To this might be added a contempt for the rule of law which is the bedrock of any decent constitutional government, which embraces a mob mentality that erodes the rule of law. (On this point, see Lincoln’s famous Lyceum Address of 1838, whose teaching is just as relevant today as it was then.) For my part, if I should ever get the chance to confront Richard Spencer, I think I’d conclude my cross-examination with the proposition that by his views and actions he had implicitly renounced his American citizenship, and should therefore be deported.
The term “alt-right” probably originated with one of the more idiosyncratic thinkers on the right, Paul Gottfried of Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, way back in 1988. You can read some of his observations on the scene here. (NB: Gottfried has always been a strong critic and opponent of my peeps in the Claremont school of political thought, and especially Harry Jaffa, but I have always found Gottfried worth reading.) And while the “alt” in “alt-right” is supposed to be shorthand for “alternative,” given that it also tracks with computer keyboard shorthand, instead of using “alt-left” for the mirror image of the alt-right such as the Antifa thugs, I prefer “ctrl-left,” which is obvious shorthand for “control-left,” which seems to to me a fitting epithet to use in rebuttal.
A final question concerns the extent to which Trump has legitimized or summoned forth a latent neo-facist right. I’ve known about Richard Spencer and his movement for several years, having stumbled across an organized event by him online one day. From CNN you’d think he sprang full-blown from the Trump campaign only in 2016. But there is a sense in which Trump’s blunt and crude messaging in 2016 unleashed the alt-right in part because conservatives have been too timid for too long in resisting the liberal narrative about racist America. But it was only “blunt” and “crude” because he expressed widely-held sentiments of millions of decent Americans.
Here it is worth taking in the words of another of my old teachers, William B. Allen, who was chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission under President Reagan. Allen recently did a turn on the Seth Leibsohn-Chris Buskirk radio show on this point, and a podcast and transcript is available over at American Greatness. Allen reminds us that the left doesn’t just hate Trump—they hate us. This is why Allen, who opposed Trump in the 2016 GOP nomination campaign, now supports him.
The whole thing is worth listening to, but here is the key part:
Just before I left the Commission on Civil Rights I appeared before the Wednesday morning caucus of Republicans in the House of Representatives, and gave them a similar account, and explained what was necessary. I said it is time to stand up and tell the country what is going on, how it is being divided, and what the danger is. And not one of the entire delegation in 1992 was ready to do that. In fact, most explicitly said to me, “We can’t do that because we’ll be called racists.” What I am saying to you is that it is cowardice—the cowardice of conservatives—who put their political careers ahead of their country’s future.
Trump differs because he is unconcerned about being called a racist. All the more embarrassing since Trump is not a conservative. But one thing about Trump is that he is no coward.
Chaser: While we’re on the subject of Antifa and the “ctrl-left,” I’m wondering if there was a single instance of violence at any of the Tea Party rallies a few years back that terrified so many liberals and journalists? I’ll wait. . .