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I have a theory about the rise of the Alt Right. Or maybe that’s too specific: I have a theory about why the American Right has become considerably more verbally aggressive, politically incorrect, and nationalistic over the last 2-4 years, a phenomenon that encompasses Trump and Trumpism, the Alt Right, the rise of Breitbart and Steve Bannon, etc.
Before describing this particular theory, let me first point out a couple of theories that I completely agree with, and that are undoubtedly driving this trend as well:
- The Left has gone all-in on identity politics for everyone but white men, and has openly and aggressively pursued policies that would result in an ever-smaller white percentage of the population. It was inevitable that whites in general, and white men in particular, would adopt some form of identity politics in self defense.
- The Left has simply become so extreme in its lies, its methods, and in its ideological intolerance, that the Right feels no choice but to radicalize in response.
My theory, which again is only part of the picture, has a lot to do with this post I wrote a couple of years ago about “disparate impact.” As I mentioned in that piece, my first reaction to Murray and Herrnstein’s “The Bell Curve” was one of discomfort; even if it’s true, who does it help to talk out loud about it like this? Well, this is why it’s necessary:
In the absence of any evidence of discrimination, the only way that the grievance industry can survive on a large scale is to presume guilt, by excluding the possibility that differences in success between groups could arise naturally. There is, of course, no logical or scientific reason why such differences are impossible. Instead, the lack of differences must be assumed; it is an article of faith. […] Therein lies the moral imperative to publicly acknowledge the likelihood, or at least the possibility, of group differences in ability and aptitude. If you assume away the differences as a matter of first principles, every disparity justifies a witch hunt.
In retrospect, my 80s/90s childhood took place during a strange equipoise in political rhetoric about race. There was no longer any frank, mainstream discussion of racial matters, as one could still see in the 1960s with the Moynihan report. There was also little overt racism. Political correctness had rendered some ideas unutterable. But the change in language was still perhaps only a matter of manners and fairness; it did not yet distort people’s perception of the world.
An example of this was the 1988 Bush campaign’s “Revolving Door” ad* criticizing Dukakis for releasing murderers and rapists on furlough in Massachusetts, or the more notorious “Willie Horton” ad. One need not look very hard for a racial subtext in those ads, but it is a subtext. The text of the ad is a completely legitimate attack on Dukakis’ record on crime. It is notable that the Dukakis campaign, in addition to crying racism, responded with its own ad about a federal escapee named…Angel Medrano.
Of course, Bush won in a landslide. A fair summary of the median voter’s view might be: “We don’t think of ourselves as racist, but we’re not going to let you use the fact that blacks commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes as a reason to disregard our own safety.”
Then, at the end of turn of the century, my generation reached voting age and went to college. Having been raised in those halcyon days when none dared mention the harsh realities underlying American race relations, we were free to soar into flights of fancy, with winds from the faculty lounge at our back.
The phrase for this is “alternate reality,” and it encompasses far more than racial matters. You spend your whole childhood hearing how women can do anything men can do. Maybe our teachers who spouted that understood that it would be silly to take it literally, that obviously there are good reasons why women can’t play in the NFL or be expected to take on an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. But they didn’t pass those disclaimers along. And if you take “women can do anything” literally, how far of a jump is it to decide that women can be men just as well as men can?
That leaves young fogeys like me in a conundrum. I hate to lose arguments, and I particularly hate to lose arguments that are used to attack my people and my way of life. But if I play by the rules of political correctness, I have to concede a number of points that will lead to my defeat.
In any political argument nowadays, there is a PC-sized elephant in the room. When a liberal argues that “patriarchy,” or the less strident “discrimination,” is to blame for the unhappiness of childless career women, the elephant is: “Well, women were made to have babies, and people tend to be unhappy when they aren’t doing what they were made to do.” When a liberal points out the high suicide rate for transsexuals, the elephant is: “Well, transsexuals are mentally ill, and are often given crackpot ‘treatments’ that make the problem worse.” The only way the Left can win these arguments is if the elephant goes unacknowledged. And that means the only way for the Right to win is to be defiantly un-PC.
In purely analogous terms, when the Left shouts “racist,” “sexist,” and “homophobe” to shut off areas of debate, they employ a similar strategy to the Palestinian terrorists who launch rocket attacks at Israel from atop schools and residential apartment buildings. They know that the Israelis have little option than to fire back at the source of the rockets if they want the attacks to stop, and they know that it will be Israel that takes the blame for the inevitable civilian casualties. They value human life so little that the propaganda value alone makes it worth the cost. This puts the Israelis in a morally wrenching position. As Golda Meir said, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”
Most religious people and conservatives are well-mannered, and go out of their way not to make anyone feel bad. So of course the Left claims that every vestige of Christianity and traditional life not only makes them feel bad, but is actively harmful to them. Conservatives like to laugh at those weak little snowflakes with their safe spaces, and man does that miss the point. This is an act of aggression, not weakness. They want you to surrender to their demands rather than be thought of as a meanie. And for several years, many otherwise conservative leaders have decided that this path of least resistance is the prudent one.**
But not the Alt Right. Not Trump.
My daughter likes to climb up on our fireplace hearth. We never use the fireplace, and the hearth is only a foot high, but there is a piece of wood trim at the front that she tries to use as a balance beam, and I am constantly scolding her to get off of it. It can support her weight temporarily, but it wasn’t made to support her weight, so it’s starting to loosen.
Our disintegrating norms of politeness and comity are like that wood trim. They look nice, and they can withstand a fair amount of stress without breaking. But they simply were not made to support all the weight we now put on them. When the upper caste seeks to extinguish the religion of the majority, when it seeks to replace the masses with other masses more to its liking, that’s not something we can fix by putting a little love in our hearts. Winsomeness will not save us.
This is something not even the left realizes. They expect that conservatives will fall in line because not falling in line would be a social disgrace. Because they don’t feel the pull of family, or religion, or ethnicity, they don’t realize how strong those forces are. They don’t realize how close to the breaking point the left’s social power is when they attempt to pull apart those ties. And they think that the good-old-fashioned American neighborliness will overcome the disorienting effects of Muslim immigration.
American neighborliness is both lovely and robust but there are some weights that it simply can’t bear.
I’m not a particularly nice Mormon.
My niceness is probably slightly above average for the American population at large. It’s probably well above average for a lawyer. But for an active Mormon…no way. And I know for a fact that most of what niceness I do possess is largely due to having grown up in the Church. Niceness is part of our cultural DNA, and it is a wonderful thing. But since my niceness is learned rather than natural, I view it with a certain detachment.
I’m worried about the nice Mormons. That’s most of them. It’s true that as a Church we’ve been much firmer in resisting the cultural tide than almost any other group, but I attribute that to our relatively strong culture of obedience to our leaders. I sense that a lot of the nice Mormons have a difficult time reconciling the nice person they know themselves to be, and the horrible bigot the media tells them they are.
Stubborn contrarian meanies like me are pretty well inoculated from all that. I don’t think Mormons can ever embrace the outright cruelty of many on the Alt Right, but if our niceness is not leavened by a fair amount of hard-headed realism and willingness to fight, a lot of us won’t survive the day. By dint of “natural selection,” we may see the archetypal Mormon evolve from, say, Mitt Romney to Brigham Young.
[Bad boys get all the ladies].
Speaking of Mitt…
In 2012 the Republican Party nominated the paragon of Mormon Nice for president, and he was tarred as a racist, sexist, murderous robber baron. Republican voters saw this, and quite reasonably thought, “If they’re going to call our candidate those names no matter what, what do we have to lose by picking a guy who can’t shut his mouth about all of these elephants in the room? We might win an argument for once.”
If the Left goes down to defeat within our lifetimes, this will be a big reason why.
*I was in first grade when the “Revolving Door” ad played on TV, and I remember it very distinctly. Imagine being that age and hearing that one of the presidential candidates let murderers out of prison on the weekends. That ad was seared into my mind, and it had not a thing to do with race, a concept of which I was only dimly aware. I can’t think of a single other political ad that I recall seeing during my childhood, but I will never forget about Dukakis as the guy who let 1st degree murderers out on weekends.
**I think most very conservative Christians would tell you that VP Pence is more their idea of a conservative president than is Trump. But let’s not forget that when corporations threatened to boycott Indiana over its religious liberty bill, Gov. Pence folded like origami. Would Trump have done so?