“Alt-right,” a new term that has gained traction in the current election cycle. Short for “alternative right,” it has most recently been especially linked with Donald Trump’s newest campaign CEO, Steve Bannon. Bannon has been chair of Breitbart News, a conservative media group that promotes ideas more extreme than mainstream conservatism. “. . .[W]ith the rise of the Tea Party came Breitbart News, a site founded by Andrew Breitbart, a prominent conservative activist and journalist [who died in 2012],” according to a CBS News report. At first, Breitbart News’ stances were fairly mainstream from a conservative perspective: “big government is bad, gun rights are good, defend the constitution at all costs, etc.”
Over time, however, “Bannon turned Breitbart into not only the most-read conservative web outlet but also the most incendiary one,” according to the CBS News report. “It was happy to embrace fringe beliefs like birtherism and play footsie with blatantly racist notions of black criminality. It wasn’t interested in looking even faintly objective, instead inventing easily understood ‘narratives’ of crusading conservative heroes and their many victories against the hated left.” This is the Bannon now orchestrating the Trump campaign for the presidency.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) places the Alternative Right in the category of “extremist ideology” (along with Holocaust Denial and the Sovereign Citizens Movement, among others). SPLC describes the alt-right as “a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew ‘establishment’ conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.” Furthermore, “Alt-Right adherents stridently reject egalitarianism and universalism.”
This ideology strongly suggests “backlash” – a reaction, most likely based on unfounded, irrational fear, against social gains won over the past several decades:
- The first African-American President (elected twice).
- The passage of federal laws making discrimination illegal (even though a lot of work still needs to be done to reduce discriminatory practices).
- The surge of women into the workplace, including large numbers in the professions and at the highest echelons of all sectors (even though women still earn significantly less than men in similar jobs).
- The entrance of people of color into the workplace, including large numbers in the professions and at the highest echelons of all sectors (even though, again, we have a long way to go toward achieving full equality).
- The undisputed contribution, throughout our history, of immigrants to our society.
- The legalization of same-sex marriage. It should be noted that the sky has not fallen since Vermont became the first state to honor civil unions in 2000, nor has it fallen since the Supreme Court made its historic decision…
As I have pointed out frequently, the US is well behind our peer nations on many social fronts. In effect, in my opinion, we have not gone far enough in creating a truly just society for all. But alt-right groups deliberately aim to reverse whatever gains we have made, gains supported by the vast majority of Americans and with which we live daily.
The stakes are extremely high at this moment in time, not only as we move into the final days of the presidential election but also in the days after November 8. I strongly encourage a close read of SPLC’s article on the alt-right and implore us all to not be swayed, or scared, by distortions, lies, fabrications, or wild conspiracy theories. As citizens, we always need to remain vigilant, discern the truth and protect our democratic republic. The contrast between our social gains, won and yet-to-be-won, and the ideology of the alt-right is truly about the future of our country.
P.S. SPLC has also recently introduced a documentary , “Hate Rising,” in which Jorge Ramos “explores the mainstreaming of [radical right-wing] ideas on TV and social media, and in our communities and classrooms.”