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Just Say “Racist,” Not “Right,” “Far Right,” or “Alt-Right”

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By Walter Donway

November 25, 2018

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Today, the terms “right,” “far-right,” and “alt-right” have no specific, identifiable meaning except racist.

Today, the terms “right,” “far-right,” and “alt-right” have no specific, identifiable meaning except racist.

Notwithstanding, they are lobbed indiscriminately at President Donald Trump, his supporters, policies opposed by the liberal-left, ideas contrary to identity politics, and, more broadly, ideas not deemed ‘politically correct.’ We could clarify public discussion, now, by ditching the term “right-wing” and its variants. Then, you could unambiguously condemn racist organizations by calling them “racist, not “alt-right.” After all, the only reason that is not done is that it would cost liberal-left pundits and politicians an invaluable weaponized smear term.

We could clarify public discussion, now, by ditching the term “right-wing” and its variants.

Wikipedia reports that Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute and a professed “white nationalist” who advocates the ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing’ of nonwhites from America, created the term “alt-right.” Now, why should we adopt the preferred terminology of an avowed totalitarian racist (my characterization of Spencer)?

I can agree with the liberal-left that “racist” fairly characterizes Spencer’s position. I cannot agree that “alt-right” fairly characterizes Spencer, President Donald Trump, and Breitbart News (which, despite a single reported instance of a remark attributed to former Breitbart executive, Stephen Bannon, has repeatedly, at all levels, disavowed association with the term). I cannot agree because I don’t know what “alt-right” means.

In America, until fairly recently, “right-wing”—to the extent it was used, at all—meant pro-capitalist and anti-socialist. Or, more specifically: in favor of limiting government powers and, in particular, favoring freeing markets. It meant opposition to the New Deal and the Great Society welfare states as aggrandizement of power by an interventionist state. It meant ‘Republican,’ but more often the limited-government wing of the party. Sen. Barry Goldwater’s unsuccessful run for President in 1964 was viewed as right-wing because he made such statements as “It is a fact that Lyndon Johnson and his curious crew seem to believe that progress in this country is best served simply and directly through the ever-expanding gift power of the everlastingly growing Federal Government.” (It sure seems that “everlasting” was on the mark. Back then, the national debt was a rounding error of what it has become since then.)

In America, until fairly recently, “right-wing”—to the extent it was used, at all—meant pro-capitalist and anti-socialist.

In his oft-maligned opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Sen. Goldwater cited a single objectionable clause, which forced owners of private businesses and accommodations to rent to all comers. He argued that this violation of property rights, although for a “good cause,” must be opposed as a matter of principle. Capitalism was freedom to use your property according to your own judgment—even when you were wrong or immoral or hateful.

The 1964 presidential election might be identified, too, as roughly the coming of age of the term “right” or “right wing” as an American smear against the pro-capitalist wing of the Republican Party—a smear associating it with racism.

His [Mussolini’s] was socialism of the “right,” he assured voters, the only alternative to the socialism of the ‘left.’ The Old Left willingly adopted this usage—but must we?

The basic problem is that the political terms “right” and “left,” as used in our time, have a dubious genealogy. Although initially applied politically during the French Revolution, their modern coinage began in the run-up to WWII, when Benito Mussolini, an ardent Italian socialist, wished to dissociate himself from the internationalism of Soviet socialism. His was socialism of the “right,” he assured voters, the only alternative to the socialism of the ‘left.’ The Old Left willingly adopted this usage—but must we?

It was a winning idea. In Germany, the party of Adolf Hitler, the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, embattled at the polls and in the streets with Soviet-linked socialist parties, adopted Mussolini’s distancing terminology and became the National Socialist (Nazi) Party—the “right-wing” option for nationalist German socialist voters.

These were political obfuscation tactics worthy of a George Orwell novel. Commonsense suggests that the defining characteristic of government is the systematic application of force (against crime, via regulations, in collection of taxes, in war making). And that the relevant spectrum along which to distinguish governments is the extent of that exertion of force as compared with the extent of voluntary, private, free, non-governmental sphere.

Thus, a constitutional republic with strict limitations on government power—a government defined, say, by our Bill of Rights plus comparable economic freedoms—would hold down one end of the spectrum (say. the “right”). And an authoritarian or totalitarian government—monarchism (not limited by a constitution), military dictatorship, socialism, and communism—would hold down the other end (say, the “left”). On the spectrum between would fall governments with some mixture of controls and freedom, the so-called ‘mixed economies.’

The spectrum would be defined by the degree of freedom versus the degree of government intervention in matters outside the scope of law and order. There is nothing in this concept that excludes making the case for government’s appropriate role in any given area—or every area. Indeed, politicians seem to do nothing but make the case for extended powers government must have and additional laws government must enact to make us safer, more prosperous, more moral, happier, and even “freer.”

Unfortunately, in contemporary usage the terms “right”, “far right,” and “alt-right” have become verbal missiles lobbed daily at individuals and ideas that the liberal-left opposes. In a long article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the employment of the “alt-right” smear rises to the level of a literary genre.

The article, by Janet Reitman, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, is entitled “How Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism.” I am not arguing, at least not here, against the thesis of the article, which is that “white nationalism” has proliferated into a domestic terrorist issue under the noses of law enforcement agencies—local, state, and national—that have been obsessed with jihadists, foreign and domestic, and what some observers,  including in the Trump administration, insist on labeling “radical Islamist terrorism.”

On the Magazine’s cover, in exceptionally small print, is a list of 70 instances of the ‘white nationalist’ threat. That includes, for the more than three years from June 2015 to October 2018, 46 speeches, rallies, marches, protests, and demonstrations. But also 18 shootings, planned shootings, or killings, plus half-a-dozen planned bombings or attempted bombings.

I count 15 different organizations on the list, such as the National Socialist Party, Patriot Prayer, Identity Evropa, KKK, League of the South, Skinheads, Patriot Front, White Lives Matter, Red Elephants, Rise Above Movement, Nordic Order Knights, East Coast Knights, and Traditionalist Worker Party. All are reportedly ‘white nationalist,’ and, when mentioned in the article, characterized as racist. No other single policy is consistently attributable to them.

Racism may characterize any type of government. It is true that classic Marxism divides people based on economic class, not race. But the Soviet Union, for example, conducted large-scale ‘ethnic cleansing’ of minorities and became increasingly anti-Semitic under Stalin and later. The communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia targeted ethnic minority groups. There has been severe anti-Japanese sentiment in the People’s Republic of China.

But the Magazine article becomes a funnel directing opprobrium deserved by ‘white nationalist’ organizations and individuals at more substantial liberal-left foes. In a lengthy interview with 31-year-old William Fears of Jasper, Texas, who spent seven years in prison for kidnapping and beating up his girlfriend, and latterly became an admirer of Richard Spencer, the article drives toward its conclusion.

“Fears told me he had spent most of the past year celebrating the [to adopt Richard Spencer’s preferred terminology] alt-right’s covert domination of the news cycle.” It is not clear if Fears or the author of the article goes on, then, to assert that a comment by President Trump on the migrant caravan “was effectively promoted by alt-right websites like The Daily Stormer and Breitbart” (now, we have in the cross-hairs a serious foe of the Times and other liberal-left media) “and now rightwing celebrities like Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson were talking about it.”

Thus, with the insight of William Fears into how ideas permeate our culture, the article has created a smear by lumping together The Daily Stormer, Breitbart News, Fox News, and Ann Coulter.

Back to the words of Fears: “The idea that the alt-right is falling apart and it’s going to go away, it’s not true. The alt-right formulates all these ideas. What Tucker Carlson talks about, we talked about a year ago.”

You see? Tucker Carlson, like Breitbart News, Fox News, and Ann Coulter, is a mouthpiece of the alt-right—just as is The Daily Stormer. It has taken some 10 wearisome pages of text to load the Times article’s dump truck with accounts of individuals and organizations consistently characterized by racism. The same pages have labored to splice together racism and “alt-right”—as per authorities William Fears and Richard Spencer.

It is the same thought process as that of the black-clad, sometimes masked mob that rioted outside Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson’s home, battering its front door and screaming, “Out of town, racist scumbag!” On the immediately following weekend, the Times Magazine provides the ideological sanction for the attack and also refocuses attention on the out-of-control violence of the “alt-right.”

The article’s payoff has been to use Fears, whose chief experience seems to have been a Texas prison (no educational attainments are mentioned) to dump the “racist” smear on the pro-Trump, anti-liberal-left media. And to suggest that what Mr. Trump and the pro-Trump media say is channeled from the mouth of William Fears and his like.

This drive-by dumping would not be possible without the liberal-left appropriation of “alt-right” as a middle term connecting racism with support for Donald Trump and with opposition to the liberal-left. Although that term seemingly originated with Richard Spencer to muddy discussion of his racism by confounding it with traditional limited-government Republicanism, the Times is happy to play his game, here.

It is time to take “alt-right” (and “far right” and “right”) away from the racists and leave them labeled what they really are. At the same time, we can stop using it to befog the debate between Democrats and Republicans.

It is time to take “alt-right” (and “far right” and “right”) away from the racists and leave them labeled what they really are. At the same time, we can stop using it to befog the debate between Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans long-ago identified “right” and “right-wing” as a priority left-liberal smear term. They now have identified “alt-right” as in the same bankrupt tradition. Its use only convinces Republicans that the liberal-left has run out of real arguments and they decline to take their ideas from Richard Spencer and his ilk. They also decline to take their terminology from him.

 

 

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