For going on two years now, I have been following several Donald Trump groups, alt right groups, and just general far right reactionary groups. I have seen these groups grow from 500 or a thousand people to 20,000, 30,000, 50,000, and more.
When I joined them, I felt like something was changing, something new was happening, and I wanted to try and understand it. (as well as for an occasional laugh, it would be fruitless for me to deny that now.) Of course, it was fucking appalling. But I kept watching. I knew Trump would win the primary long before most people thought it was a possibility on the basis of what I saw in these groups. I’ve become familiar with memes and tropes and ideas common in the groups and I think I’ve gotten a fairly good grip on the culture. I’ve been pretty accurate in my predictions regarding the Trump and the hard right over this period of time, other than his victory in the general election. Because of these groups.
Since that time, when the subject of Trump, or the alt right, or neo-Nazis in conversation, sometimes I will suggest to my friends, people on the left, that they join a trump group or an alt right group, to see what’s going on in them. And I can’t remember one time offhand when the person I was talking to thought it was a good idea. (If I’m wrong, if I’m forgetting, feel free to correct me, but I can’t remember anyone wanting to.) My memory is that, to a person, anyone I know on the left who has heard the suggestion has expressed feelings somewhere in a range between lack of interest to horror, generally tending towards the latter.
So the other day I wake up to my feed full of people angry about the New York Times profile of the Ohio Nazi, Tony Hovater. I read the piece and it just seems like a profile of a Nazi to me. Completely unsurprising or notable in any way, other than its correlation with my own experience. I thought it was very well done.
Then I started reading my friend’s posts about the article, articles about the article. Apparently everyone is angry about the normalization of the Nazi in the piece.
Hey, guys. Hey, as someone who’s been watching this shit for two fucking years, here’s a little wake up, You really don’t have to worry about the New York Times normalizing Nazis because it’s too fucking late. THIS SHIT IS NORMAL NOW.
Like I said, for two years I’ve been telling people to join a Trump group, watch a Nazi website, do something to keep yourself familiar with this shit, and for two years I’ve been watching everyone ignore that advice and then act surprised when Nazis happen. Guys, THEY’RE HAPPENING. If the Times profile bothered you, if you were surprised that the Times would print something so bland about a Nazi, you just haven’t caught up to where we are. There’s just no way you would be surprised if you were really familiar with real world, ground-level, political landscape of 2017. It was spot on perfect, in execution and conception. You’re angry because you wanted the Times to treat the Nazi as though he were abnormal, but he just isn’t. You want to read about Nazis leading some sort of twilight existence, on the cultural outskirt, but THAT’S NOT WHERE THEY ARE. The New York Times didn’t normalize that Nazi. He’s normal. Journalists can’t hyperventilate at every Joe Dokes with a swastika poster, anymore. Normal people are Nazis, now. It was a perfect, accurate representation of the ordinariness, the commonness, of contemporary white nationalism and authoritarianism. It’s exactly where America is at, and if you don’t get that, you really need to.
They’ve come in and out of the libertarian group I run, they’re all over the far right pages. The people who actually call themselves Nazis are the minority, of course, and most of the people in the Donald Trump groups wouldn’t dream of referring to themselves as Nazis, right now, but they are not one iota less hateful. To be honest, they are probably more hateful than the guy the Times profiled. And half the people who wouldn’t dream of actually calling themselves Nazis are EXTREMELY sympathetic to great portions of the Nazi program. Shit, white nationalist ideas go down with barely a spoken objection in some of the straight Trump groups, quite often. They’re not problematic at all. The Overton window has shifted so far and so fast, the Nazis are in it now. It’s that fucking simple. They may be on the edge, but they’re well within the frame. The guy in the Times piece is in there, smoking a cigar, kicking back, and putting his feet on the ottoman. Again, guys – THIS IS NORMAL. THE NAZIS ARE NORMAL.
I’ve watched these groups proliferate, grow. You want to tell yourself that this is a fringe, that the worst, loudest, biggest assholes take over groups like that. That ain’t it. A couple dozen groups have become hundreds, thousands. I’ve read the comments, I’ve clicked on the profiles, and I’ve read the user info for all the perfectly nice, seemingly intelligent, well-spoken citizens cheering ICE incarcerating some sick 10-year-old, saying all Muslim-Americans should be deported, demanding football players who protest the police should be put in jail until they stop kneeling, that some reporter should be thrown in jail for asking the president an uncomfortable question, that Iran and North Korea should immediately be nuked. I’m not talking about five or six unpleasant comments on your local newspaper website, I’m talking about literally hundreds of posts with threads that are thousands of comments long, every day, in every group, exactly like this, in too many groups to count. They’re not monsters, they’re not the prison gang leader with the swastika on his neck. They’re just folks. They’re filled with hate. But they are still just folks, most of the time. This is America now.
Nobody thought Donald Trump could win the Republican primary because he was just so stupid, so venomous, and so obviously beyond the bounds of what WE tought were the cultural/political norms, but he did. No one thought he could win the election for the same reason, but he did. And he won not despite those flaws, because of them. A huge segment of the population of the United States is filled with hatred so intense they actively want a vastly more authoritarian government that will shove that hatred down the throats of the left. They want fascism. They’re hungry for it, whether they call it that or not. In the kind of Orwellian doublespeak this administration has become famous for, they call it “liberty” or “freedom” or “American values”, but they’re talking about hard authoritarianism. They’re talking about fascism. A lot of them would balk at the term, but they know what they want.
The guy in the apartment next to you thinks this country would be a lot better off if we dealt with drug users the way Trump’s friend in the Philippines does. One of your coworkers doesn’t like the term “Nazi” because his grandfather fought them, but he goes home every night and sits in front of his computer and considers whether or not some of the points Richard Spencer is making might not be exactly what America needs. The cop that gave you a ticket for speeding last night has a 14 words tattoo that he’s been hiding in the locker room for the last couple years, at least around the black officers. And the girl next to you on the bus, on the way home, she’s a fucking Nazi. I guarantee she’s a fucking Nazi.
November 8, 2016, all of us on the left and a substantial segment of the right watched in amazement as Donald Trump rode a burgeoning wave of race hatred and ideological tribalism into the White House. If you think victory has satiated this monster, you are very fucking mistaken. And if you think defeating the Republicans in 2018 or 2020 is going to stop it, destroy it, you’re delusional.
The new authoritarianism is here, it is part of the culture, and it’s making itself comfortable. Ethno-nationalism, white supremacy, hard right authoritarianism, has been back in Europe for awhile and now it’s here. Not the bad part of America you never actually visit, not some backwoods hillbilly America that we get to ignore in our little leftie bubble. Not the supermax the next county over. It’s all around you, it’s next-door, and it’s in a little town in Ohio where a nice, young, newly married couple are starting their life together.
This is something new. Remember when Bush was president, and you’d hold up a piece of cardboard and shout that he was a fascist with a bunch of your friends? Yeah, he wasn’t. Neither was Obama or Clinton or the other Bush or Reagan. They might’ve been terrible presidents, each of them. They might be terrible people. They might’ve done unforgivable things. Every single one of them was squarely within the tradition of Western liberal democracy, and so were the politics. Donald Trump isn’t. His followers aren’t. We are through the looking glass.
If the left doesn’t stop pretending these people don’t exist, pretending they’re an anomaly, pretending they will go away if the Democrats take back the house, or Mueller catches Donald Jr. red-handed, or your friend posts another meme about Donald Trump being orange, the left is going to get its fucking silly ass kicked again. It’s not going to get better overnight, and if Trump loses in 2020, trust me, I know these people – the hard right, the Trump right, the authoritarian right, is going to lose their goddamn minds. If Trump loses, it’s going to get worse. And what do you suppose happens then? What do you suppose happens when the apple pie fascists find someone capable to do the job? What happens when someone capable realizes there’s an opening? What happens when that person isn’t a fucking clown?
This is it. This is American politics in the 21st century. We are going to be fighting the lumpen neo-authoritarian right for the rest of our lives, likely. That’s the political territory. Whatever this nation’s faults in the past, it was never this before today, not in my lifetime. If it’s going to be stopped, it’s going to be stopped by people who understand what’s actually happening, not people with their heads in the sand and asses in the air. If you care, it’s time hike up your drawers, accept the facts, and familiarize yourself with the culture you’re part of, the parts of it that you’ve been trying to ignore. It’s not going away. It’s likely going to get worse before it gets better. We all need to understand what the fuck is going on before reality slaps us all in the face again, harder, with more permanent and deadlier results.