Welcome to the seventh edition of The Bloom Briefing: Notes from the Resistance. This week, I focus on critiques of the left’s perceived exclusion of other members of the anti-Trump crowd, an incident emblematic of white privilege in Anaheim, and tension between the new right and the old right.
Should the Left Become More Moderate to Expand the Tent?
At least two articles appeared in the last week asserting that Democrats, the Resistance, the Left (pick what you want to call the opposition to Trump) need to be less extreme so as not to turn off moderates and conservatives who would otherwise engage with this movement and stand in opposition to Trump.
In Reason, the libertarian journal, David Harsanyi argued that “the Resistance is the best thing that’s happened to Trump.” In the New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise made a similar argument. While Harsanyi basically suggests that the Resistance is bad and wrong and just a different type of evil, Tavernise focuses more on the practical consequences of the Resistance’s approach, arguing that its tactics alienate moderate and conservative voters who have reservations about Trump.
The first problem with either line of thinking is that they presume the Resistance to be something homogenous. The Resistance includes people like Evan McMullin, Conor Friedersdorf, David Frum and even David French, George Will, and Bill Kristol (to varying degrees). Just because folks at protests don’t reflect a moderate’s or conservative’s view of the world doesn’t mean a moderate or conservative can’t support the Resistance.
The movement doesn't reflect all of my values either. I'm way more conservative on some issues than the resistance is, and I'm way more progressive on others. Perspectives like the two linked above seem to take as given that Bernie Sanders or someone to the left of him is the leader of the resistance. This is laughable. Democrats are trying to catch up to the Resistance. The Resistance is out front, and local organizations (rather than the DNC) are the groups communicating information to constituents about when to show up to town halls and where to protest.
The second problem with a line of thinking that blames the left for turning off moderates and conservatives is that it ignores the history that brought us to this point. Moderate Republicans abdicated all responsibility. Conservative Republicans abdicated all responsibility. They could have actually acted on the NeverTrump mantra, but the vast majority of them didn't. Now they want progressives to moderate because basically the entire elected Republican Party backs Trump? This isn't Democrats' fault. It's not liberals' fault. It's not progressives' fault.
Could the Resistance be more open? Sure, of course it could. But casting the blame at the Resistance for not being more inclusive of conservatives and moderates who are against Trump seems more than a little disingenuous. Conservatives and moderates had the opportunity to get someone other than Trump (Kasich, Bush, McMullin, even Rubio). They failed. Now their choice is the left or the illiberal non-democracy of Trump.
There’s not a lot of sympathy among the Resistance for that position. I have no problem telling folks that if they want to save the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 10th amendments, their only option is to stand against Trump at every turn. Treating Trump like any other president ignores the different-in-kind threat he poses to the foundations of American democracy.
Finally, the third way in which these critiques of the extremism of the left fail is that they take the “average Resistance member” and pit him against Trump. These things are not equal. “Average Resistance member displays same disregard for Bill of Rights as Trump” is a headline of false equivalency. Trump is President of the United States. The average member of the Resistance doesn’t work in government at all. It makes no sense to hold a run-of-the-mill citizen to the same standards of constitutional scholarship as the president.
Often, the Resistance makes bad arguments on a whole host of subjects (many of which I attempt to point out here). That’s not the point. You can’t take the worst arguments on the left, pit them against the best arguments on the right, say, “look, neither has an appreciation for 1st amendment freedoms,” and call it a day. Bad arguments for limiting free speech on the left aren’t the same as Republican state legislatures working to criminalize protest.
On the tactical level, I would concede some of Tavernise’s critiques. The left can by overly hysterical and overly self-righteous. I wrote out some guidelines for Resistance members for how and when to engage Trump supporters (and waverers) a few weeks ago (“On the Ethics and Morals of Resistance”). It's important that we hold ourselves to high standard when engaging with folks more conservative than ourselves who have doubts (but not the outrage) about Trump that we do.
But however much the right might seek to place the blame for Trump on the left, it’s imperative to remember that these folks on the middle, the ones Harsanyi and Tavernise claim are turned off by the Resistance, they have agency. They have a choice. Support the Resistance, agitate against Trump, and align themselves with the protection of the founding principles of the American republic. Or console their hurt feelings by moving closer to Trump just to score points against a group of people they don’t like. It’s hard to favorably judge people who opt for the latter.
Viva la Resistance!
White Off-Duty Cop Assaults 13-Year-Old Latino Kid; Kid Arrested
Earlier this week, there was an incident in Anaheim. This began with a group of schoolchildren, by appearance of various ethnic backgrounds, many of them Latino, walking home from school. Evidently, they stepped on the yard of an off-duty police officer. At this point, the off-duty cop shouted some obscenities at one of the girls which involved the word ‘cunt’. You can watch a video of what happened next here.
I’m not going to describe what happened because I want you to watch the video. The raw footage of what happened will let you make up your own mind about how to interpret the events.
Following the incident, police arrested the 13-year-old kid you can see being grabbed violently by the off-duty cop in the video. They also arrested another kid, a 15-year-old. The off-duty cop wasn’t arrested despite firing his gun in the general direction of a group of schoolchildren. The two kids were arrested on assault and battery charges. How was what the cop did not worse?
By all accounts, the cop provoked the situation, escalated the situation by making it physical with a kid, and then escalated it again by pulling out a gun, and then escalated it again by firing the gun. But it’s the kids who were arrested, along with protestors who blocked traffic in Anaheim later that night to display their frustration with police protecting their own rather than local children.
This is a near-perfect encapsulation of white privilege. By virtue of a white man’s connection to an institution of power (the police force) and his race (can you imagine if this guy were Muslim or black?), he is protected while a group of Latino kids is not. When the left goes stark, raving mad about injustice in America, it is incidents like this that undergird that emotional reaction. How can you watch that video and not feel a sense of fury, a sense of injustice?
Current Tension within the Republican Party
At Jacobin, a self-described socialist publication (I don’t think it’s very good most of the time), Angela Nagle has written about how the “transgressive aesthetics” of the new right stands in stark contrast to more traditional conservative principles. It is a tension, she argues, which cannot hold.
In contrast to traditional conservatism, Nagle argues that
“The real creative energy behind the new right-wing sensibility online today springs from anonymous chan culture. Nihilistically reveling in shock, transgression, and trolling, you’re more likely to find these young men posting diaper porn, My Little Pony hate, and swastika-laden Pepe memes than listening to Wagner or reading Alain de Benoist.”
“Infighting over the precise definition of “alt-right” may continue for years to come, but the broadest interpretation encompasses various, often warring, factions from the white supremacists who consider themselves the rightful owners of the term, to followers of Nick Land’s Dark Enlightenment, to the “alt-light,” which includes social media figures like Milo Yiannopolous, right-transhumanism, traditionalist neo-masculinism, and right-wing chan-influenced culture broadly. What these factions have in common is that they constitute a total break from the preexisting American conservative movement and, in different ways, they all seek to reassert the power of some combination of the last remaining identity group yet to be admitted to the identity politics tent — white heterosexual men.”
If you’re confused about chan culture (I was unfamiliar with it until recently), this lengthy piece fills in much of the background. For the connections between online gaming communities and the new right, I suggest this piece by Matt Lees in the Guardian as well. These groups of internet-dwellers are helping create a new right.
There’s a kind of anarcho-libertinism to these groups. By anarcho-libertinism I mean the idea that one should be free to do whatever one wants in all circumstances. This isn't a freedom of speech movement (though it hides behind such language). This is a movement that emphasizes a total lack of responsibility for the consequences of speech. It is explicitly amoral. The imposition of any type of moral framework at all is to be attacked, commonly with the basest and vilest forms of hateful imagery.
Many of these folks are behind the hate mail sent to journalists. Images and hate-mail sent to Jewish (and other minority) writers include all manner of references and allusions to "final solutions." In a particularly extreme (though not extraordinary) example, after conservative writer David French criticized Trump in the National Review during the campaign, he was sent photo-shopped pictures of his children in gas chambers (that’s a link to an article about it, not the pictures).
While the conservative movement in the U.S. has long embraced a politics of white grievance, it has mostly done so while rejecting that politics’s worst impulses. Hate speech and hate crimes have been denounced for what they are: unacceptable attempts to oppress certain groups of people. Yet Trump has failed to denounce an avowed supporter who shot up a Quebec mosque or a white supremacist who attacked two Indian-American engineers in Kansas earlier this week in what, from witness accounts, was clearly a hate crime.
Nonetheless, it’s not clear that this anarcho-libertinism and far-right extremism can exist side-by-side in the long-term with the Republican Party. After all, the idea of Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham supporting a pro-porn, pro-sex, pro-violence videogame crowd is pretty far-fetched. The new right found a pair of champions (Bannon and Trump), and they managed to come together with traditional Republicans for one election, but it’s not clear or obvious that this alliance can continue without serious fractures.
As Nagle writes, “When liberals are no longer in power, the philosophical irreconcilability between [the right’s] paleo-conservatism, which aims for a return to traditional marriage while disapproving of porn and promiscuity, and the amoral libertine Internet culture from which all the real energy has emerged, will soon begin to show.” The question, of course, is which of these groups will prevail.
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