How Trump Fuels the Fascist Right
by Bernard E. Harcourt, November 29, 2018
President Trump makes constant use of the language and logic of the “new right,” a toxic blend of antebellum white supremacy, twentieth-century fascism, European far-right movements of the 1970s, and today’s self-identified “alt-right.” And his words and deeds have empowered and enabled an upsurge of white nationalists and extremist organizations—from Atomwaffen to the Proud Boys to the Rise Above Movement—that threatens to push the country into violent social conflict. Amplified by social media, this new right rhetoric is inciting unstable men to violence through pipe-bomb mailings and temple shootings. It is crucial for the American people to identify and oppose this radicalization, in order to steer the country back to a steadier path.
Everything about Trump’s discourse—the words he uses, the things he is willing to say, when he says them, where, how, how many times—is deliberate and intended for consumption by the new right. When Trump repeatedly accuses a reporter of “racism” for questioning him about his embrace of the term “nationalist,” he is deliberately drawing from the toxic well of white supremacist discourse and directly addressing that base. Trump’s increasing use of the term “globalist” in interviews and press conferences—including to describe Jewish advisers such as Gary Cohn or Republican opponents like the Koch brothers—is a knowing use of an anti-Semitic slur, in the words of the Anti-Defamation League, “a code word for Jews.” Trump’s self-identification as a “nationalist,” especially in contrast to “globalists” like George Soros, extends a hand to white nationalists across the country. His pointed use of the term “politically correct,” especially in the context of the Muslim ban, speaks directly to followers of far-right figures such as William Lind, author of “What is ‘Political Correctness’?”
Trump is methodically engaging in verbal assaults that throw fuel on his political program of closed borders, nativism, social exclusion, and punitive excess. Even his cultivated silences and failures to condemn right-wing violence, in the fatal aftermath of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, for instance, or regarding the pipe-bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc, communicate directly to extremists. We are watching, in real time, a new right discourse come to define the American presidency. The term “alt-right” is too innocuous when the new political formation we face is, in truth, neo-fascist, white-supremacist, ultranationalist, and counterrevolutionary. Too few Americans appear to recognize how extreme President Trump has become—in part because it is so disturbing to encounter the arguments of the American and European new right. But we must—and we must call Trump out for deploying them to gain power.
Building on the ugly history of white supremacy in this country, and on European far-right movements of the late 1960s and 1970s, a new right has emerged in America. The central tenets of this American new right are that Christian heterosexual whites are endangered, that the traditional nuclear family is in peril, that “Western civilization” is in decline, and that whites need to reassert themselves. George Shaw, an editor at a leading new right publishing house and the editor of A Fair Hearing: The Alt-Right in the Words of Its Members and Leaders (2018)—a collected volume intended to give voice to the self-identified “alt-right,” including well-known figures such as the co-founder of AltRight.com Richard Spencer, the evolutionary psychologist Kevin MacDonald, the founder of American Renaissance Jared Taylor, and a 2018 candidate for the Republican nomination for the US Senate seat in Florida, Augustus Invictus—opens his introduction on the race question: “If alt-right ideology can be distilled to one statement, it is that white people, like all other distinct human populations, have legitimate group interests.”
The main goal of the American new right, Shaw explains, is to discuss “the one topic that white conservatives are not allowed to discuss,” namely “race.” All the recent conservative losses, in his words, represent “a transfer of power from white males to one or another nonwhite and/or non-male fringe group.” Spencer, in his contribution to A Fair Hearing, describes the superiority of certain athletes who are “white, and not just white, but Anglo and Germanic,” with clear reference to Aryan supremacy. A main guidepost of the new right, Shaw highlights, is that “Jews not only wield obscene levels of power in Western societies, they use that power to damage native white populations.”
“White genocide is underway,” Shaw warns, and those responsible are Jews, Muslims, leftists, and non-whites. Note how these claims of white genocide and Jewish power resonate in Trump’s discourse. His last campaign ad in 2016 vilified three opponents, all Jewish: George Soros, the former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, and the CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein. Last August on Twitter, Trump adopted white nationalist propaganda that the South African government is engaged in a genocidal campaign against white farmers.
In all this, the American new right draws heavily on European thinkers. Thanks to efforts like Steve Bannon’s European tour and the increasing exchange of ideas and publications, this American new right is beginning to form part of what has been called a “Nationalist International”—though the US arm of this movement remains somewhat distinct because of American exceptionalism on “race.” Shaw’s collected volume includes, tellingly, a chapter by the intellectual leader of the Swedish new right, Daniel Friberg. The European influence is evident.
The French new right thinker Guillaume Faye, author of a leading manifesto of the European new right, Why We Fight: Manifesto of the European Resistance (2001; English trans. 2011), identifies the greatest threats to European civilization as “demographic decline,” “homophilia,” and “xenophilia”—the latter of which, he writes, is “improperly called ‘anti-racism.’” With a doctorate from Sciences Po and a reputation as a founder of the French new right in the late 1960s, Faye now puts forward an extreme geneticism. “A people’s long-term vigour lies in its germen,” Faye writes, “in the maintenance of its biological identity and its demographic renewal, as well as in the health of its mores and in its cultural creativity and personality. On these two foundations a civilization rests.” A civilization or people who ignore this, he warns, “inevitably perishes.” For this reason, Faye constantly cautions against anything that might distract from full frontal resistance.
Similarly, Friberg, in his manifesto, The Real Right Returns: A Handbook for the True Opposition (2015), writes in defense of the “relatively homogenous ethnic composition of the European nations” and against “uncontrolled immigration,” “sexual liberalism,” the “right to birth control,” and radical feminism, as well as “‘humanism,’ ‘liberal democracy,’ ‘tolerance,’ and ‘human rights,’” or to sum up: “equality, feminism, mass immigration, post-colonialism, anti-racism, and LGBT interests.” “Jews, homosexuals, Muslims, or other minorities,” he states, constitute groups who are indifferent to the interests of “Europe’s native populations” and “traditional European values.” When, on a visit to Europe this summer, Trump spoke of Europe “losing its culture,” he was speaking directly to the new political constituency built on the concept of white genocide.
A central strategy of the European new right is to argue that anti-racism, even multiculturalism itself, is actually racist because it encourages “dissolution of European identity” and “the multi-racialization of European society.” As Faye argues, “anti-racists use their fake struggle against racism to destroy the European’s identity, as they advance cosmopolitan and alien interests.” Friberg adds that “to be ‘anti-racist’ is […] to be part of a movement which is directly linked to a reckless hatred for Europe and her history.”
That argument has been incorporated into American new right discourse. This and other new right ideas like the trope of “cultural Marxism,” as the Yale historian Samuel Moyn has documented, circulate back and forth across the Atlantic. Multiculturalism is now racist: “‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ do not ultimately enrich white lives,” Shaw contends, “but rather tend to make white societies poorer, more dangerous, and finally unlivable for whites.” Richard Spencer builds on this line of reasoning. Race becomes, in his words, “a weapon used against [whites] in all aspects of life: affirmative action, the ‘diversity’ racket, white Guilt, white privilege, etc.” To combat this “double standard,” Jared Taylor concludes, it is vital to recognize that white racial pride and preference are not “hate” or “racism,” but on the contrary, “healthy racial/national pride.” Whites must be allowed, in Taylor’s words, “the right to pursue their unique destiny free from the embrace of large numbers of people unlike themselves.”
The white paper “POTUS & Political Warfare,” written by Rich Higgins when he was a member of the strategic planning office of the National Security Council before being fired by H.R. McMaster, advances the same charge against anti-racism and multiculturalism. “Group rights based on sex or ethnicity,” Higgins wrote, “are a direct assault on the very idea of individual human rights and natural law around which the Constitution was framed. ‘Transgender acceptance’ memes attack at the most basic level by denying a person the right to declare the biological fact of one’s sex.” (Last week, the Trump administration pressed the Supreme Court to address its ban on transgender personnel in the military.)
The rise of this American new right discourse has afforded Donald Trump cover to radicalize his long-standing tribalism. Back in the New York City of the 1980s and 1990s, Trump’s interventions as a local race warrior—for instance, taking out full-page ads in not one, but four New York City newspapers, at a cost of $85,000, following the rape of a jogger in Central Park and the arrest of five African-American and Hispanic teenagers, to shout in all caps “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”—were widely regarded as the quixotic folly of a real-estate magnate. (Despite the DNA exoneration of the five youths in 2002, Trump never apologized, but instead doubled down.) Today, though, Trump has become the new right president, buoyed by a domestic base and increasingly global far-right movement built on white supremacist propaganda.
President Trump is no mere entertainer or buffoon, as many want to believe. Instead, he is carefully, skillfully, and consistently speaking directly to his hardline nationalist supporters in their exact language, making their tropes and memes his own. This is patently clear if you study closely his press conferences, campaign speeches, and tweets. Just this month, for instance, at a White House news conference, Trump rehearsed perfectly the new right’s core argument regarding the racism of anti-racism. The exchange occurred during questioning by Yamiche Alcindor of PBS Newshour, when she asked President Trump whether calling himself a “nationalist” might embolden white nationalists. Here is the exchange:
Alcindor: “On the campaign trail, you called yourself a ‘nationalist.’ Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists. Now people are also saying…”
Trump: “I don’t know why you say that, that is such a racist question.”
Alcindor: “There are some people who are saying that the Republican Party is now supporting white nationalists because of your rhetoric.”
Trump: “Oh, I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that. Why do I have my highest poll numbers ever with African-Americans? Why do I have among the highest poll numbers with African-Americans? That’s such a racist question.”[Alcindor tries to speak.]
Trump: “Honestly, I know you have it written down and everything. Let me tell you, that is a racist question.”
It is hard to imagine a more immaculate enactment of the Faye-Friberg conceit of inverting anti-racism into racism. Trump knows exactly what he is doing—as he does when he disparages “globalists” or Soros, mocks “political correctness,” or uses demeaning and dehumanizing expressions such as “infest,” “animals,” “rapists,” and “shithole” countries to describe immigrants and African nations. These are deliberate fodder for his white nationalist base.
Trump shares with the new right a deep consciousness of how important language is. In fact, many of the new right’s cardinal texts work as dictionaries that redefine, recast, and infuse with political meaning ordinary language—what they call “metapolitical” dictionaries. One of their main battles is over words and usage. In Friberg’s words, it is over “shaping people’s thoughts, worldviews, and the very concepts which they use to make sense of and define the world around them.” Essential reading on this, Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works (2018) helps identify semantically how so much of new right discourse functions along fascist lines.
Empowered by President Trump, the new right is being dangerously radicalized. An entire section of Shaw’s A Fair Hearing is titled “Counterrevolution,” and it spells out extreme methods to “rout” the left. This includes a chapter on how to “physically remove” leftists. The language is violent and explicit. “Physically removing leftists has gained so much traction because the idea is instinctively both logical and appealing,” Invictus writes, continuing:
The means of physically removing leftists, however, is not as simple. While throwing commies from helicopters à la Pinochet has become the alt-right’s favorite policy proposal, this is clearly an inefficient solution. The Pinochet regime only executed 120 communists in this manner, and we are faced with many thousands of times this number.
It should not come as a surprise that a “Free Helicopter Rides” meme is growing among far-right extremists, or that there have been sightings of right-wing protesters wearing T-shirts celebrating Pinochet and others bearing the legend “Antifa Removal Unit.” Or that the expression “Right Wing Death Squad,” “RWDS” for short, has entered chatroom discourse. “Civil war is already upon us,” Invictus writes; and this calls for counterinsurgency strategies. In “POTUS & Political Warfare,” Higgins explicitly tied the political struggle to “the Maoist Insurgency model.” The result is a radicalization of the counterrevolutionary politics we have seen since 9/11. “Physical removal and the restoration of order is possible within the bounds of the Constitution,” Invictus concludes. “To delay the ultimate showdown is simply to postpone the inevitable, and to surrender the initiative.”
We have been insufficiently attentive to how carefully crafted and targeted Trump’s new right discourse and politics are, how they deliberately encourage and mobilize extremists, and normalize them as a crucial political constituency. President Trump is enabling extremists through what sociologists refer to as “scripted violence.” We tend to say that Trump is “dog-whistling” to white nationalists and supremacists; but it is far more serious than that. Speaking openly to the new right, Trump is rallying and emboldening a counterrevolutionary politics. If the American people do not act soon, we risk being caught in a downward authoritarian spiral or violent civil strife.
Originally published on the New York Review of Books.