Trumpwatch: Neo-Nazis At The Wheel

The de-Trumpening continues, as our upcoming orange overlord continues to backpedal on many of his more outrageous campaign promises, to the chagrin of his most obsessive fans. We may soon be looking at the cheerful prospect a full-scale anti-Trump revolt as the hardliners who he spent the last year and a half courting turn against him.

Or perhaps not. A disturbing number of Trump-adjacent people have been floating the idea of a reinstatement of the post-9/11 registry for immigrants from Muslim-majority countries (some even bringing up the WWII internment of Japanese Americans as a potential road-map), and for reasons we’ll get to in a minute, Trump himself may soon no longer be the most critical component of a right-wing apparatus that would probably be more effective without his incompetent ass leading it.

Over the last several days Trump announced several cabinet and staff appointments, and they’re sobering indeed. Let’s run down the list:

Mike Pence, Vice-President

Pence has been a known quantity for some time, but I feel like people aren’t giving this guy the caution he deserves, especially considering speculation that Trump, who seemed blatantly ill-suited to the Presidency from the beginning, may in fact be blatantly ill-suited to the Presidency, leaving him to basically serve as the rabble-rousing figurehead while Pence does most of the actual work.

Frankly, the idea of Pence at the wheel worries me more than an actual Trump-led America. He may not be as outspoken or inflammatory as Trump, but Pence has some truly ugly views, including support for shock-based conversion therapy and discriminatory “religious freedom” laws. He’s basically your classic religious-right hardline conservative, and the fact that he’s one Trumpian breakdown away from the top seat should be cause for serious concern.

Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor

If you know who Stephen Bannon is, you’re almost certainly as horrified by this news as I am already, and no further explanation is needed. If not, read on.

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the internet over the last several years then you’re probably aware of the birth of the “alt-right”, a loose far right-wing movement than can best be described as old school 20th century European fascism filtered through several layers of 4-Chan and Gamergate, both of which played important roles in its rise. The core tenets of the alt-right– white supremacy, violent nationalism, traditional “family values” that vilify LGBT people and enshrine sexism– are well-worn ground, but they’re granted a unique internet-powered shot in the arm so that, for example, alt-righters tend to frame their misogyny in terms of Pickup Artist and MRA ideologies and language alongside more old-school ideas about what role women should play in society and the home.

The thing to keep in mind is that these are really just thin veneers of modernity applied to ideas that have been kicking around for decades or even centuries, and many people in the movement don’t try particularly hard to hide it; frequently, alt-righters who start an argument gabbling about genetics and IQ profiles will quickly descend to quoting neo-nazi slogans word for word.

Where does Bannon come into these? He’s the executive chairman of Breitbart.com, a sleazy internet rag that’s become a sort of unofficial nexus for the disparate threads of the alt-right. Its content over the last few years in particular has skewed more and more extreme, playing host to thinly-veiled white supremacy and parroting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about “international bankers” controlling the world. Whether or not Bannon himself personally believes any of this is irrelevant when he’s presided over (and profited from) a website whose main focus is the production of racist and xenophobic lies. His appointment by Trump represents the knowing elevation of the alt-right and all that it stands for to the White House.

This should be completely unacceptable to anyone with a moral bone in their body. If you’ve been taking a “wait and see” approach to Trump, stop waiting: with this move, he’s shown us everything we need to know.

An interesting wrinkle to Bannon’s hiring is that the old-guard Republicans who are being elevated to other positions in Trump’s administration reportedly don’t mesh well with alt-right figures, being leery of their open racism and propensity for wild conspiracy theories (Breitbart.com was a major clearinghouse for Hillary Clinton health conspiracies during the campaign). This is actually fairly par for the course for autocrats and dictators, who tend to preside over fractured, squabbling courts filled with back stabbing and internal power struggles, often exacerbated by the autocrat’s tendency to turn on and purge underlings who displease them (another feature of the Trump campaign– he even apparently fell out with Pence to the point of almost dropping him as VP at one point).

Jeff Sessions, Attorney General

Another hardline conservative, with a predictable history of opinions and judicial action on civil rights, immigration and LGBT issues. His views on race are particularly troubling— he was denied a position as a Reagen-appointed judge after a Senate hearing highlighted a litany of racist comments.

The important thing to keep in mind about the non-cabinet picks is that Trump can’t simply assign these roles unilaterally, and Republicans are likely to balk at his decision to go outside the party mainstream and into the further reaches of America’s right wing. If so, it could be an interesting litmus test of how Trump will respond to being challenged. I suggest keeping a close eye on how he handles this sort of opposition, as almost all strongman leaders begin their dictatorial trajectory with their own staff and subordinates before expanding their grip into the general public.

Mike Pompeo, Head of the CIA

How do you feel about a proponent of mass surveillance, torture and unlawful imprisonment being in charge of one of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world? Not great? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

America’s intelligence apparatus transformed into a truly dystopian beast under Bush and Obama, and a Pompeo-led CIA seems poised to throw off the (extremely weak) shackles that were placed on it during Obama’s second term, bringing us at the very least back to the untamed paranoia of the immediate the post-9/11 years.

People like Pompeo (and, come to think of it, Trump himself) would very much like the USA to return to the survival-at-all-costs siege mentality of that time, and unfortunately they have the recent string of heinous attacks in Europe to win the America public over to their way of thinking. I shudder to think of what they’d do with another major terrorist incident on US soil.

Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor

Speaking of which, there’s this guy, who’s been offered the job of National Security Advisor. Flynn is by all accounts the sort of sabre-rattling conservative who likes to buy into the whole “clash of civilizations” deal: the idea that the (enlightened, progressive) West is at war with the (barbaric, uncivilized) Muslim world, not just abroad but on American soil, where concerned citizens must be wary of the spread of Shariah law. The obvious parallels to Red Scare-era McCarthyism apparently sail right by these people’s heads.

The frustrating thing about this sort of rhetoric is that ISIS (the closest actual thing to the worldwide Islamist conspiracy imagined by proponents of this mindset) very much believe the same thing, differing only in which side they choose to support. The idea that the west and Islam are locked in a total war that only one side can survive helps their recruitment efforts enormously, and convinces members to accept any atrocity they’re ordered to commit; imagine what will happen if Muslims– who have perhaps witnessed the murder of their fellow citizens in drone strikes and bombings– hear this worldview coming from the mouth of one of America’s top military figures? How can you effectively argue against radicalization in that sort of environment?

This ridiculous situation can only lead to an endless cycle of violence, whereby terror is used to justify war which is used to justify terror, and rinse and repeat. The only way to stop the cycle is for one side to refuse to rise to the bait; with groups like ISIS having already made the decision to fight to the death and Islamophobic hawks providing military strategy and guidance to the US government, I severely doubt we can count on that happening.

There are more staff picks to come, some of which will no doubt be at least as alarming as the ones already announced (Sarah “drill baby drill” Palin is apparently in the running for Secretary of The Interior, which should be highly disconcerting to anyone who cares about the environment), but these selections give us a very clear idea of the sort of government that Trump intends to preside over. It also tells us that his strategic softening and post-election calls for reconciliation are entirely hollow, and that he’ll lead exactly the way he promised to: by leaning heavily into both the old-guard conservative right, and the emerging neo-nazi alt-right movement that embraced him so enthusiastically during his campaign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Trumpwatch: Neo-Nazis At The Wheel

  1. Andrea Harris

    Anomie:

    “Working class white Americans have massively high rates of poverty and disenfranchisement”

    No they don’t. There are a number of poor whites, and working-class whites aren’t doing super great as a whole, but most working-class white Americans are still better off than working-class non-white Americans. As for disenfranchisement, it’s mostly in their heads. Public policy actually cares about white Americans way more than others. But in any case, it’s moot: Trump wasn’t voted in by “poor working-class whites” he was voted in by the middle-class, who are always the most anxious about losing what they have and therefore are most susceptible to con-men like Trump playing on their fears and desires.

    Reveen:

    “I feel that we have to be slightly fair to Trump.”

    Well I don’t. Not one little bit. He ran on a campaign that was basically identical to Hitler’s only without the wit and the charm of the Austrian guy, and is pulling in a crew of the worst people the USA has to offer to run this country, which has more nuclear weapons than any other and a populace whose most privileged socio-ethnic group is on the verge of a psychotic meltdown. This is beyond trolling to see how far he could get, it’s irresponsible in a way I can’t even find the words to describe. We terrify the rest of the planet when we’re just angry, with Trump at the helm and his ineptitude, unconcern, ignorance of any facet of governing, and general fuck-you attitude, the world might just decide they’ve had enough of our shit. And we’ve taught them all to fight dirty. If we make it out of this mess with nothing more than a few embarrassing memories it will be MORE than we deserve, for letting this piece of shit garbage human into the highest office in the land.

    Reply
  2. braak

    it’s a little disheartening that the most optimistic prospect of the next four years is that Trump abandons all of his campaign promises and decides to run an administration based solely on corruption and self-enrichment

    Reply
  3. anomie

    Nah I mean, let’s be fair to Trump: he’s an idiot but he knows exactly what he’s doing, that being rewarding loyalty and choosing people who align with his own views (to the extent that he has any investment in those views).

    Trump ran on a campaign of backlash against “political correctness”. By “political correctness” what Americans meant was a culture in which black people and women could become president of the United States, and where homophobes, racists and misogynists feel uncomfortable about expressing their views publicly. Trump clearly endorses these views; he’d love nothing better than for his comments about grabbing women by the pussy to be something he doesn’t have to apologise for. The same is true of most of the Republican Party, which is why they are going to rubber-stamp everything he does even if they are personally uncomfortable with it: if they take a stand against Trump, their voters may turn against them, or things they have said about women might also be considered offensive, or whatever.

    As someone who has lived in the US for a while, this hasn’t been much of a surprise. Working-class white Americans have massively high rates of poverty and disenfranchisement, but for them, that’s not the issue. They’ve always been poor, and government and corporations have always fucked them over. It’s just when they vote for whichever party is anti-civil rights (the Democrats until 1960, then the Republicans subsequently) they are poor and fucked over but also respected on the basis of their skin colour and firm belief that women are the property of men, whereas when they vote for whichever party is pro-civil rights (the Republicans until 1960, then the Democrats subsequently) they are poor and fucked over and also mocked for being white trash, anti-choice troglodytes and made to believe their racist and misogynist views are unacceptable in polite company.

    When they first came out in droves, in 2009, I was still technically living in the United States and it was pretty clear that having a black person in the White House was the moment that woke them up and drove them to the point of “ok, the Democratic Party has gone too far this time.” This was the beginning of that whole birther movement (people arguing Obama wasn’t born in the United States) as well as the Tea Party that grew out of it and, in the 2010 elections, gained majorities in Congress and most of the US state governments. In 2012 the Tea Partiers stayed home again because Mitt Romney was basically too nice and conciliatory towards minorities; in 2014, they came out again and expanded their majorities to the largest the Republican Party had held since 1929. In 2016 it was clear from early on (at least to me) that the Tea Party candidate was going to win the nomination and probably the election unless Hillary Clinton took him extremely seriously. Which she…… did not.

    The “alt-right” (let’s call them what they are, which is white supremacists) are getting about as much credit as they deserve. What the majority of Trump voters (who are, after all, ~47% of the US population) feel about them is not so much horror as embarrassment, as in “yeah I’m no fan of treating black people with a minimum of basic human respect either but jeez these people go way too far… what is this, the 1950s??” IOW what average Trump supporters feel towards white supremacists is fairly similar to what average Clinton supporters felt towards average Trump supporters prior to the latter winning a presidential election. (Nowadays the reaction is the somewhat more sensible but still pretty unhelpful “AAAAAAAAA THE SKY IS FALLING OMG WE’RE ALL GONNA DIEEEE”, which I guess is also how Trump supporters would feel if David Duke was elected President in 2020.)

    (Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen. Probably.)

    Anyway, yeah. America is pretty much fucked for the next four years. What I’m hoping is that people with more progressive views are also going to start getting really pissed off now, and maybe we’ll see some kind of left-wing grassroots movement. I’m not extremely optimistic, though. Having seen what the Democratic Party is like in power, their effectiveness at governing and organisation is pretty minimal, and I’m seeing no indications that’s going to change with them in opposition.

    Reply
  4. reveen

    I feel that we have to be slightly fair to Trump. Because he probably doesn’t actually have any interest in leading America down the far right rabbit-hole, and his appointment of far righters has more to do with them being important backers and cronies. We already know that Trump is completely out of his depth, he probably doesn’t even realize what he did with these nominations.

    The best case scenario I’m crossing my fingers for is for a lot of these staffers to get drummed out, replaced by Trump, or impeached over time, leaving us with a merely incompetent and cronyist presidency rather than a psychotic one. Hopefully the infighting that apparently occurred in the transition team will intensify when inauguration drops and Trump’s administration will shed a bit of the far right fat.

    That doesn’t really matter though, because for one thing the government is still going to be deep in the Red, to the point that if the Democrats win even gubernatorial race, the Republican party will the 2/3rds majority necessary to pass constitutional amendments. The federal government is likely to just be a circus that distracts us from the nightmare going on at the local level. Maybe Trump will have a Christmas Carol style epiphany and follow up on his flip flops and five seconds of gay rights advocacy, but good fucking luck doing anything about it.

    I do think that the alt-right is being given too much credit, a bunch of losers on the internet are little more than the tip of the iceberg of the American far right in general that’s being legitimized and normalized. The alt-right is just peeking around the edge of the shifted Overton window.

    And of course, the Electoral College is shit, First Past the Post is Shit. Blah blah blah.

    Reply

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