Among the many bizarre quirks of this presidential election is the fact that the case for Donald Trump is hardly ever made in print by people who actually agree with him. There have been numerous attempts at understanding the grievances and overall logic of Donald Trump’s supporters, but they’ve been the work of journalists who would never consider voting for the man. Take, for example, Tablet columnist James Kirchick’s recent reporting for the National Review on “white identitarian” support for Trump, or Slate’s Reihan Salam, who exhaustively explored the socio-economic unperpinnings of the real estate developer’s populist appeal.
Largely missing from the discussion are cogent, long-form defenses of Trump from the perspective of his supporters. Trump’s most prominent backers have been oddly incapable of arguing the man’s case, like during New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s shambolic appearance on Meet the Press a few days after he endorsed his former presidential primary opponent. In fact, Trump’s rank and file seems to have been largely epitomized in the media by the Louisiana woman who said she’d vote for Trump so long as he refrained from shooting her daughter in the street.
Because few mainstream opinion-makers back Trump, the pro-Trump position has largely been treated as a puzzle for the rest of the media and polite society to unpack on their own. Which is why Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos’s article, An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right, published earlier this week Breitbart, is one of the election’s most important if occasionally terrifying documents.
Bokhari and Yiannopoulos guide their readers through the various constituencies of the often Trump-supporting “alt-right” movement, those ideological factions whose open embrace of white identity politics, and rejection of both open markets and a muscular U.S. foreign policy, have made them anathema to maintream conservatism. The article introduces readers to “the intellectuals,” thoughtful people who just aren’t all that enthusiastic about liberal democracy, and who are honestly interested in topics like, say, purported biological differences between the races. “Natural conservatives” are earnestly concerned with the preservation of what they believe to be America’s white and masculine majority culture, while “the meme team” consists of web users bent on undermining social taboos, regardless of how vulgar or provocative their means may appear to be. The authors also touch on “The 1488rs,” actual Nazis and white supremacists who, we’re told, do nothing more than tarnish the reputation of the rest of the alt-right. Pay no attention to them, the authors urge.
There are plenty of valid criticisms one could level against Bokhari and Yiannopoulos: The piece soft-pedals the racial rhetoric common on sites like VDARE and Taki’s Magazine. The authors assume that all racism outside of the alt-right’s explicitly neo-Nazi camp, whose existence they readily acknowledge, is all for the sake of anti-establishment provocation. Critics argue that Bokhari and Yiannopoulos avoid reflection on the implications of actual Nazis being attracted to the movement in such disproportionate numbers. The piece also leaves an unnerving mystery in its wake: since the article is an abstract, largely ideology-based discussion of various alt-right tendencies, one gets very little sense of the real-world purchase of the ideas themselves. For instance, the piece repeatedly assures its readers that the alt-right doesn’t harbor any actual racial animus towards anyone. But with sentences like, “The alt-right believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved,” the burden of proof should be somewhat higher than just the author’s assurances.
Even so, the article, which is written in the elevated language of ideas and legitimate political discourse, is important for decoding the Trumpist phenomenon. And there aren’t exactly a lot of other articles like that out there! Before the Bokhari-Yiannopoulos opus, all you really had to go on as far as compelling Trumpist or quasi-Trumpest elucidations of Trumpism went was The Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson’s apologia in Politico this past January. Trumpism may be an ugly and un-self-conscious worldview. But as Bokhari, Yiannopoulos, and Carlson have invaluably reminded us, it’s a worldview nonetheless, and one that’s on the cusp of getting a major American political party’s reluctant stamp of approval.
And it’s a worldview that is not uninterested in the Jews, at least as they exist in the feverish imaginations of even the more polite (relatively) corners of the alt-right.
This week, Yiannopoulos appeared on Dave Rubin’s web series “The Rubin Report” and explained Trump’s attractiveness. In Yiannopoulos’s view, Trump is appealing in part because he has helped create an environment where even the ultimate taboo could be raucously shattered.
“Most of Generation Trump, the alt-right people, the people who like me, they’re not anti-Semites, they don’t care about Jews,” Yiannopolous, who notes his Jewish ancestry in the Breitbart piece, explained. “They might have some assumptions about Jews. They may have some prejudices about Jews, like the Jews run everything—well we do—like the Jews run the banks—well we do—like the Jews run the media—well, we do! You know they’re right about all that stuff. Now what you do with all that stuff is the issue.”
For Yiannopoulos, so long as one’s prejudices don’t transmogrify into actual hatred—a big if—everything’s just fine on the anti-Semitism front. There might even be some kind of residual benefit to all this jocular Jew talk that Trump’s rise has helped unleash: “They realize that saying stuff about Jews gets on the nerves of journalists,” Yiannopoulos said of the alt-right web trolls with which he proudly identifies. “Once you recognize it’s not really about the Jew thing, that it’s about trolling and provocation, and that’s the thing that they’ve identified that what works really well. When you look at it, it starts making sense.”
It’s not that there’s “a spontaneous outpouring of anti-Semitism from 22-year olds in this country,” Yiannopoulos tells viewers. Instead, these 22-year-olds have realized they can use anti-Semitic tropes to “get to people in positions of power, and people in positions of power keep biting.”
As an abstract category, the Jews—and, more specifically, sensitivities related to the Jews—are the alt-right’s ultimate foil, the sacred cow that’s the most exhilarating and, in their minds, the most dangerous to profane. That this abstract category is in fact comprised of actual human beings, with a long memory of seemingly harmless or easily rationalized fringe hatreds morphing into something much darker, is a possibility that never seems to cross Yiannopoulos’s mind.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.