No place for alt-right among conservatives
Last year around this time, I was arguing with some of my fellow conservatives about the insanity of finding any common cause whatsoever with the so-called alt-right. The issue wasn’t that every avowed nationalist who claimed membership in the alt-right was a Nazi or Klansman. It was that the alt-right was open to Nazis and Klansmen. And why wouldn’t these newly minted white supremacists welcome such pioneering organizations to their cause?
Right-wing cynics, hucksters and opportunists deliberately blurred these distinctions in the name of a right-wing popular front. Steve Bannon is by most accounts not a bigot in his personal dealings. But when he ran Breitbart.com, he had no problem making it a “platform” for the alt-right. Milo Yiannopoulos was a Breitbart star for his defenses of the alt-right and its supposedly hilarious Holocaust jokes. He was only let go (and disinvited from the Conservative Political Action Conference) when it was revealed he was equally broad-minded about some expressions of pedophilia as he was about some expressions of Nazism.
In Bannon’s case, and in the case of many on the right, the motivation wasn’t racism or anti-Semitism; it was the need to win at all costs (or to make a profit).
Win what? Well, that varied. At first it was the war on the “establishment.” Then one alleged civil war on the right or another. And, ultimately, the fight to get Donald Trump the presidency.
As the primaries wound down, the imperative for unity intensified. Trump was making it as clear as possible that he welcomed support and praise from any quarter.
The right’s game of footsie with the alt-right ostensibly ended when Trump won. At least, that is, until recently, when the president invited speculation that the old popular front is still operational.
The alt-right thinks it will replace the traditional right. It won’t, for the simple reason that the vast, overwhelming majority of conservatives are patriotic and decent. They don’t want anything to do with people who want to overthrow the Constitution and set up racial Bantustans.
No, the real threat to traditional conservatism is the mindset that made it possible to form even a theoretical alliance with the alt-right in the first place: the idea that winning and fighting are self-justifying.
Many on the right have convinced themselves that the real problem with conservatism is a lack of will. During the campaign, when Trump attacked the ethnicity of an American judge or the parents of a fallen Muslim U.S. soldier, the response from his defenders on the right was usually, “At least he fights!”
Such amorality was warranted, many explained, because if Hillary Clinton had won, America would be “over.”
The election is over. Yet that spirit not only endures, it has intensified. Trump’s conservative critics face the same ultimatum. “The choice, for sane conservatives,” Conrad Black writes, “is Trump or national disaster.”
Black is hardly alone in making this or similar cases. The upshot of them all is that the test for “sane” conservatives is loyalty to the president, not to any coherent body of ideas or ideals.
I’d point out that such thinking could invite the worst and most opportunistic creatures to infiltrate the movement. Except they already have.
Jonah Goldberg is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.