Well, it looks like we’re going to have to keep talking about the “alt-right,” so it would behoove us to figure out our thoughts before being forced to declare positions based on the characterizations of those who will do anything to usher in a progressive dictatorship. To that end, let’s begin with a thoughtful comment that Mario made to this earlier post. In part:
I would, however, strongly disagree that there is no “no knock-down example of Bannon’s bigotry.” He calls himself a nationalist and has built and explicitly referred to his website as the platform of the alt-right. I know people confuse nationalism with patriotism, but nationalism is a specifically ethnic idea. German nationalism created Germany (and started WWII), Italian nationalism created Italy, Zionism is Jewish nationalism, Kurdish nationalism is still ascendant, and I would argue that all of those are appropriate expressions in their context. But there is simply no place for nationalism in the United States (with the possible exception of Native Americans), because America has always been a multi-ethnic idea.
Albeit without having made a specific study of Stephen Bannon, I’d suggest that Mario slips into precisely the progressive trap that those who cop to being “alt-right” are deliberately stomping through. Over decades of arguing with disingenuous leftists, some on the right take the approach of using terms for their subversive shock, but redefining them in a way that describes something wholly defensible, even admirable. The semantic strategy is akin to, as liberals like to declare, black Americans’ using the n-word to “take the power out of it.”
“Nationalist” is used in this way as if to state, “You call me a nationalist. Fine, I’m a nationalist, but only if you mean it as ‘upholding American values.'” Generally speaking, those who say they are “American nationalists” would incorporate precisely Mario’s notion of America’s being “a multi-ethnic idea.” Freedom and pluralism, that is, are intrinsic to anything that might be called “American nationalism,” as differentiated from the race-based German or Italian nationalism.
The racial component — the extent to which the alt-right is pushing back against progressives’ identity politics by forming an identity group of their own — is ultimately not a statement that the white race is superior, but that it isn’t implicitly inferior or evil. Again, the statement is, “If you’re going to define the culture of the United States of America as a ‘white culture,’ then yes, I’m that.” The concept is not, as Mario goes on to insist, to pick a particular era in American history and call it true; the concept is to affirm that America, in the amorphous, evolved way of a non-ethnic national identity, stands for something — something that President Barack Obama promised to fundamentally transform. Being an American nationalist, in other words, is upholding the values, traditions, and founding documents of the nation, as contrasted with rewriting the country according to a far-left vision.
Again, the alt-right isn’t asserting the transcendence of a particular race, but reacting to an attack that its adherents find to be unjust. Consider the racist rant of progressive activist Mike Araujo, at the first NotMyPresident rally in Providence:
Right now, our target is white supremacy. Is Trump white supremacy? No! He’s not goddamn white supremacy.
White supremacy is when we say, “I’m going to send my kids to a suburban school,” when we take ourselves out of the cities, and when we take the tax base out of our communities. That is white supremacy! …
Rejecting white supremacy means that you must reject your whiteness. And if you don’t, you are complicit in the murder of black bodies, in the rape of women, and in the displacement of our communities.
The appeal of the alt-right isn’t actual white supremacy, but the insistence that there is nothing wrong with moving to the suburbs and giving your own children the best shot you can at a fruitful life. If “white supremacy” means moving out of progressives’ urban hellholes, then a much broader group than the KKK will sign up… and a lot of other people of diverse ethnicities, too.
One guiding premise of this movement is that, if you work hard and make reasonable decisions, then over decades and generations, you and your family can advance. That’s the American dream, and if you listen to those who articulate the alt-right position, belief in the culture and civic society that makes the American dream possible is “American nationalism.”
As usual, the problem and the discord comes from the left, which has (in true racist fashion) sought to declare American culture evil and the American dream as white supremacy. The complaint that the American dream was only available to white people has given way to the feverish propaganda that wanting the American dream is racist and that pursuing it is “white supremacy.”
One of the real and insidious dangers of our time is that the left, in attempting to maintain its evil strategy, will succeed in pushing moderates and traditional conservatives to declare for one side or the other. They want the choice to be between supporting the American dream and receiving the politically correct seal of approval — between securing your children’s future and not being labeled a bigot.
While it’s still possible, we’re better off drawing the alt-right toward what is correct and just in its reaction to the left than pushing it toward the harder line that progressives have long insisted defines conservatism — and America — through and through.