Trump, the alt-right, and the normalization of bigotry

Freedom to say anything doesn't mean freedom from criticism about what you choose to say

Donald Trump has the oafish bravado of a child who soiled his pants and successfully blamed the smell on someone else. You can always tell when he’s told a lie: his lips pucker up into a mass of wrinkles and his eyebrows hang dangerously low as if he’s in shock that he managed to utter a coherent sentence for a change.

From the towering heights of any one of his luxury apartments, he has enjoyed a perfect view of the downtrodden masses: specially created binoculars tailored to his tiny little hands ensured he missed nothing. That red power tie he’s famous for? It used to be blue before he drenched it in the blood of his enemies.

I admire the man. For too long have politicians navigated through scandals by playing semantic games, but Trump is unable to do this: he has about as much finesse as a snot-filled tissue.

No, if the Donald says it didn’t happen, then it just didn’t. The evidence is optional to him, much like sexual consent and black rights.

How on earth did this blithering narcissist get into the Oval Office?

‘’The left did this!’’ Thus spoke political satirist Jonathan Pie. Ask neuroscientist Sam Harris and Trump’s victory was a rejection of political correctness. Others say Hilary Clinton’s weak candidacy was the key factor. Whatever facet you focus on, the common thread is a feeling that the establishment had abandoned working people.

Well, alright then. As a ‘’Liberal’’ myself I admit to being troubled by some of the more outlandish things *we’ve* done.

The idea of no-platforming people, even people who have incredibly hateful ideas, is both counter-productive and wrong. People like Milo Yiannopoulos make a living out of winding up American Liberals by being as provocative as possible. Yiannopoulos is rapidly assembling devotees through his ‘’edgy’’ arguments about Feminism, Transgenderism, and basically any other controversial subject that he can rub his oily, salon-tanned hands on, and he’s doing it by appealing to freedom of speech. As the poster-boy of the alt-right movement, Yiannopoulos is one of those who claim that the left have become too sterile, too constricting in their policing of language and humour, too intolerant of ideas that they disagree with.

He is living proof that if you can only talk quickly enough with a rich British accent, then you can robe even the most ridiculous of claims in a veneer of intelligence.

Like the alt-right in microcosm, Yiannopoulos is about as principled as a butcher at a PETA conference, and yet, it’s very much touchy liberals who enable and encourage his troubling antics. We shouldn’t be talking this man down, or protesting his attendance at a University: if you don’t let the unprincipled liars of the world speak, then you deny yourself the wonderful opportunity of lambasting them back to antiquity.

Liberals seem to have an insecurity problem: they have conviction and sincerity in their beliefs, but none of the assurance that usually accompanies these traits. As a group, we would rather prevent controversial speakers from taking to the podium than just debating and ridiculing them on a stage. It’s not that no-platforming *caused* Trump’s victory, but it is indicative of the inability of many Liberals to listen to people they disagree with.

What kind of a mindset does it require to think that this is a useful way for us to tackle our disagreements? Like a toddler denied a ‘’bikky’’, if we just stamp our feet and cover our ears long enough, then we’ll get what we want, is that the idea?

Evidently, with the support of the KKK, Trump did enjoy endorsements from some pretty nasty folks, but unless we want to suggest that an electorate that easily exceeded the entire population of England was randy for a new age Hitler, I think we can agree that Trump was largely voted in by non-racists. And this is the point, by screaming ‘’But Trump’s a racist!’’ at every person voting for him, we were essentially accusing his voters of being guilty of the same crimes, refusing or unable to acknowledge that his mass appeal mostly came in spite of, rather than because of, some of the controversial things he’d said and done.

For sure, Liberals needs to come up with a more diplomatic way of bringing people over to their side. Our shrill bleating, our self-righteous indignation, our observable insecurity in our own ideology, all of these only serve to push people away. Criticism is vital, mockery even, but when we indulge in mass character assassination, we don’t undermine the beliefs of our opponents: we cement them.

That said and done, the alt-right really need to get a grip.

For a group so infatuated with freedom of speech, many of them seem to be awfully thin-skinned. And thin-skinned in a suspicious sort of way, too: it’s not every man or woman who feels the need to shrink to anti-Semitic tropes and fat-shaming the moment their views come under fire.

Just because you have the freedom to say what you want doesn’t mean that you should say *everything*. A right to do something is not the same as it being a good idea to do so at every opportunity. If we applied this kind of logic, we’d live in an incredibly warped world. Before the day is over, I could urinate all over the carpet of my bedroom floor; eat 20 or 30 bananas, take out an inordinately obscene loan to fund my new-fangled love of tobacco and smoke 60 cigarettes a day, washing them down with a few litres of Johnny Walker Black.

Why not? Well, because it would be inconsiderate to my flatmate and my body; because I want to try and be responsible to the best of my ability; because I would like to keep my girlfriend.

Likewise, just because freedom of speech allows you to be an absolute jackass doesn’t mean that you should go out of your way to be one.

I don’t think the alt-right as a whole are racist, I really don’t. A clutch of sexually repressed adolescents with a penchant for online gaming and curry-stained sweatpants: that sounds more like them.

But, with the normalisation of bigotry in the name of free speech, the alt-right will find themselves increasingly providing a cover for people with sincerely ugly beliefs about ethnicity, sex, culture, religion and more. Even now it’s hard to tell the genuine fascists apart from the common trolls.

I don’t know about you, but I like my racist thugs nice and visible.

What the left need to do is twofold: many Trump supporters didn’t feel like the system was working for them, we need to do more than just criticise these people, we need to empower them with an alternative narrative about how things could be. Trump, for all his grievously obvious faults, was at least claiming to be in favour of some big material changes for the US population: a return to protectionism, a Muslim ban, a big tax cut across the board, ‘’draining the swamp’’. Never mind if you agree with his policies-I certainly don’t-in many ways he was threatening to overhaul the Neoliberal agenda that has dominated US politics for decades, and that struck a chord with millions of disaffected voters.

Did we really think that Hillary Clinton, burdened with the grin of an ambitious shoplifter, and with all the good-natured sincerity of a barista who’s just spat in your coffee, was the best candidate to steer America into a new age of politics?

The idea that another Democrat may well have lost to Trump is sort of beyond the point. The very fact that a corporate stooge whose twinkling eyes betray thoughts halfway between throttling babies and privatising buggies was our preferred candidate ought to be troubling. Liberals ignored the appeal of Bernie Sanders on the one end and Trump on the other, instead opting for a middle-ground that left too many feeling unsatisfied.

We need a more muscular Liberalism that isn’t afraid to tackle big problems with big ideas, not the watered down cookie-cutter ‘’progressives’’ that have been given a free rein for too long. The time for compromises is gone.

Secondly, though, Liberals need to stop cracking the whip over their own backs. We made some mistakes, but calling out bigotry on the part of the Alt-right was not one of them.

The alt-right should be uncompromisingly criticised whether they are merely trolls or actively intolerant. If criticism of your beliefs triggers your latent homophobia, say, then *you’re* the touchy one, not the leftist who thinks you’re being a bit of an asshole.

Bigotry with Botox remains bigotry: let’s confront it at the podium so that everyone can see just how stupid it is. You can’t tackle a problem by speaking over it.


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Daniel Hewett 6 Articles
I am fascinated by controversial and difficult topics. My articles try to be good-faith examinations of why any given idea can seem beautiful to one person and noxious to another. To this effect, I will always try my best to offer a fresh perspective and a balanced outlook.

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