*Photo Credit: feministing.com
A culture war is upon us, and at its root is incessant reactionary politics on both extremes of the political spectrum. On a scale not seen in decades, political and racial polarization in the United States has risen to disturbingly high levels. People who would like to see dignity and respect restored within the national conversation must put aside partisan bickering and examine their own side carefully. While people on the Left can be divisive with identity politics, the Right is guilty of its own alienating tendencies as well.
For a long time, the Left has dominated media and the narrative in mainstream American culture, and in many ways it continues to do so. For example, many Hollywood celebrities reiterate Left wing talking points about race in order to appear relevant in the culture, or because the Hollywood echo chamber has convinced them that these ideas are the right, and perhaps the only, way to solve race related problems in this country. In addition to racial politics, Left wing ideas and policies in general are being promoted by late night talk show hosts like Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah. The 2016 election was the culmination of this strategy, and is where the reaction from the Right intensified.
Donald Trump came into the 2016 election as an unserious candidate with brash speeches and politically incorrect rhetoric. People on the Right had been intellectually hiding in a cave in the mainstream culture, afraid that their opinions would result in an outraged liberal calling them a racist or some other form of bigot. So, they kept silent. When Donald Trump came into the fray, however, nothing stopped him. This encouraged some on the Right to come out of the shadows and feel less afraid to express their perspectives. They were no longer afraid of being tarred and feathered, as Trump easily brushed aside all criticisms of his character.
Trump had a populist message that resonated with these people, even though he was pro-choice until running for office, supported an assault weapons ban as recently as 2000, and gave money to Democrats. Trump also supported single payer health care, and massive infrastructure plans that Republicans used to hate. However, in the minds of the average Republican, the culture was what mattered. Conservatives were sick of being silent, and Trump was the less-than-perfect mouthpiece for their frustrations. As a result of the 2016 election season, conservatives had a victim card to play in the culture. They could justifiably complain about their experiences being on the margin. They could bash the Left for calling average Americans racist. Conservative commentators used the victim card of the downtrodden working class white Trump supporter who was not spoken for in the culture because they lived in the flyover states.
This type of victimization gave conservatives a sense of righteous indignation that obscured the full story. The anger from conservative and libertarian leaning Republicans gave rise to amoral people in Right wing culture like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer. A firebrand like Milo triggers the Left, so some people on the Right do not care that he penned a piece in Breitbart defending the white nationalist alt-right movement. Breitbart continues to be a popular Right wing website, despite promoting the alt-right, and writing headlines that resemble those of old KKK newspapers. Many on the Right are in opposition mode, so anything goes so long as it triggers the Left or fits into the victimized Trump supporter narrative.
The same way the Left engages in anti-male and racially tinged rhetoric, so does the Right with anti-Muslim and anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric. Many conservatives are convinced that allowing Muslim refugees in from the Middle East will bring crime, terrorism and sharia law. This rhetoric persists even though communities in the United States with high populations of refugees have lower crime rates than the average community, and even though the likelihood of a refugee being a terrorist is astronomically small. The Right makes similarly fear-mongering claims about illegal immigrants coming from Mexico. The president that the Right elected famously claimed illegal immigrants were rapists and criminals, even when the facts show they are less criminal than the average American.
What is it about Right wing culture that allows this sort of rhetoric to persist? Why does this part of the Trump base, which contains the alt-right and alt-right sympathizers, feel that they have an intellectual home on the Right? Many of these people have absolutely no regard for the idea of limited government, hence the support for big government infrastructure programs and protectionist trade policies. Richard Spencer — founder of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank — openly dismisses constitutional principles because they do not do enough to “protect the White race.” Even when disregarding Spencer’s explicit identity politics, there has been a growth of special interest politics on the Right after the rise of Trump.
This is demonstrated by Trump’s rhetoric about coal miners and other disaffected members of the working class, as well as the appeals to victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Looking after special subsets of the population with economic policy is traditionally a tactic of the Left, so why do these Trump supporters feel more aligned with the Right? Clearly there is something about the Right that makes these angry people feel socially aligned with them, so I believe it is very important that the Right asks itself some serious questions.
The fundamental problem with the Right today is a lack of standards and accountability for their own side. They do not do enough to dismiss problematic rhetoric and revolting actions from within their own party, even without Trump. For instance, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and other respected conservative politicians have publicly endorsed Judge Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. While some within the conservative movement have been extremely critical of Moore given recent accusations of pedophilia, others have come to his defense. Alabama state auditor Jim Ziegler compared Moore’s relationship with underage girls to that of Joseph and Mary from the Bible. Others have claimed the accusations are a political hit job by Democrats, even though the primary accuser voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. In addition to the disgusting allegations being levied against him, Moore also has a long track record of controversies, including comparisons of the Koran to Mein Kampf, getting suspended from the bench for defying the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and claiming the September 11th attacks were due to America’s “godlessness.” The fact that this man not only won the primary in Alabama, but was also endorsed by sitting Republicans in Congress, indicates that some serious introspection is required on the Right.
Beyond the obvious immorality of Roy Moore’s actions, there is a problem surrounding the types of people the Right associates with on social media. Unfortunately, both conservatives and libertarians are often caught on a slippery slope towards the alt-right. This happens when they focus only on triggering the Left and being against political correctness; all the while not developing a serious and coherent political philosophy. This also happens when people on the Right are taught that any comment condemning racism is simply overreacting, triggered Leftism. Of course, triggered Leftists do exist, but it is crucial that people on the Right look past the emotions and hysteria in order to engage in real discussions with people. Unfortunately, many people on the Left do not want dialogue, so the opportunity to find common ground is lost. When this discourse does not happen, one step at a time, these people fall into a bubble of their own and into the trap of dog-whistle racism or even explicit white nationalism. This is the story of Richard Spencer – a former conservative libertarian working for the Ron Paul campaign who slid down a path of anger and resentment into eventual outright racism.
Even when these conservatives and libertarians do not explicitly associate with Spencer, many who are active on online circles associate with people like Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, and Lauren Southern. Jones has spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories through his popular website InfoWars about Jews and Charlottesville, as well as the idea that Jews run the world through a globalist mafia. Watson is less extreme than Jones, but clearly demonstrates a willingness to work with and speak to alt-right sympathizers, as he too works for InfoWars. Southern is a commentator who recently went through an issue with Patreon, her former funding mechanism, after she worked with the Far-Right group “Defend Europe” to prevent refugees from escaping to the Mediterranean coast. While some may argue that these people are fringe voices, or that the alt-right itself is incredibly small, the first step in allowing any fringe group to creep into the mainstream is to ignore them while they are on the rise.
In order to avoid this trap of association with the wrong people, conservatives should, as Ben Shapiro says, “put the shoe on the other foot” when it comes to comments the people on their side are making. Conservatives are rightly outraged over the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, but this is only because he is a Hollywood Leftist. Many engage in whataboutism when it comes to Trump’s numerous misogynistic comments and actions, and excuse his anti-immigrant rhetoric. A popular Right-wing figure like Shapiro routinely rips on Trump for his transgressions, but he is unfortunately in the minority. It was not enough for people on the Right to simply wag their fingers at Trump’s racist comments about Judge Curiel during the 2016 election cycle, nor was it enough when they tut-tutted at Trump’s “both sides” comments post-Charlottesville.
While the Left certainly plays a role in dividing the country through identity politics, so does the Right by excusing bad behavior and by associating with people who promote or make excuses for white identity politics. Yes, the media cried wolf about racist republicans for years, but in some ways, Trump is the wolf that finally showed up on the doorstep, and Republicans let him in. Just because the media were hysterical does not mean that Trump’s base of supporters who backed him in the primaries were justified in looking the other way when the actual wolf showed up.
We could all use more perspective on these issues instead of lashing out with reactionary politics and stubbornness towards those with which we disagree. There is room for common ground in the middle, if both sides could step out of their respective bubbles. As horrible as it may sound, conservatives should stop running to the shelter of Fox News, Breitbart, and Rush Limbaugh. Liberals should stop running to the shelter of the CNN, Huffington Post, and the Young Turks. Society functions best when political discourse is vibrant and not when it is tense. In the end, conservatives do not want to admit it, but they need liberals to check them on their rhetoric. And liberals do not want to admit it, but they need conservatives to check them on their sensitivities. There is a way to achieve this without being at each other’s throats constantly, and without resorting to divisive politics.