TRUMP AND THE RISE OF THE “ALT-RIGHT”

During their first Presidential Debate on September 26, 2016, Hillary Clinton touched on what is perhaps the essence of Donald Trump when she suggested that he “lives in his own reality.” The debate quickly moved on to other topics, but the observation is central to an understanding not only of Donald Trump, but also the “Alt-Right”, or Alternative Right movement, that has taken over the Trump campaign and, therefore, the Republican Party since Steve Bannon of Breitbart News was named as “CEO” of the Trump campaign.
The mainstream media has largely missed the significance of what Trump and his Alt-Right cohorts have done by literally creating an alternative reality and a parallel universe of made-up “facts” to support their positions. The media has recently focused on the number of “lies” that Trump has spoken at his campaign stops. The New York Times, for example, published a lead article on September 24, 2016 listing 31 major lies by Donald Trump within the space of a few days, as if this would shame Trump into apologizing for his errors and driving away his supporters once they became aware that he was not a “truth teller.” This may have been the likely scenario ten or twenty years ago, when a politician or elected official might lose his or her “credibility” if they were caught in a red-faced lie. But this is 2016, and a new reality has set in.
Simply stated, Trump knows that most of what he is saying about the country and the world is not true. President Obama was not really born in Kenya; the President is not really a secret Muslim; our inner cities are not a “living hell” and our minority communities are not worse off now than they were ten or twenty years ago; our country is not really falling apart, global warming is not a hoax, and the Russians are not really our friends. More importantly, Trump’s most fervent supporters know that much of what he is saying is not true, at least from an objective reality point of view. Why then does Trump persist in repeating known falsehoods time and time again, and why is he still so competitive in the public opinion polls among likely voters?
Part of the answer to this question is that objective facts and objective truths are just not that important to a large percentage of Donald Trump’s supporters. What is important is what they “believe” in, and what they believe in is a witch’s brew of concocted “facts” that all the members of the Alt-Right tribe can agree to and which they continue to hold even after those beliefs are proved to be wrong. In other words, for those that firmly believe that the world is flat, the mere fact that there is overwhelming evidence that the world is round will not shake their belief that the world is flat. The same can be said for the hard-core global warming deniers. All of the overwhelming scientific evidence that global warming is a real and present danger will not shake Donald Trump’s belief, and those of his followers, that the “threat” of global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and others who would like to bring the US economy and its fossil fuel industry to its knees.
Which brings us to the “birther” issue, which launched Donald Trump’s political career and kept it going for nearly eight years after President Obama took office and nearly six years after the White House posed Obama’s birth certificate on its web site. It had become such an essential part of the Republican Right’s belief system that recent polls indicate that more than a quarter of Republicans still believe that Obama was born outside the United States, and another 25% “aren’t sure.” See US News, Trump’s Alternative -Reality Strategy, September 16, 2016. No wonder Trump was in no hurry to disavow his “birther” theory and acknowledge that the siting President was not an illegal usurper. And then when he finally declared in a much publicized news conference that Barrack Obama was born in this country, he couldn’t resist alleging that it was Hillary Clinton, President Obama’s Secretary of State for six years, who had really started the “birther” controversy, and that Donald Trump should be congratulated for finally forcing the President to disclose his birth certificate and putting the issue to rest.
Far from ending the “birtherism” controversy and exposing himself to embarrassing questions as to why it took him six years after the disclosure of the President’s birth certificate for him to finally stop challenging the legitimacy of the country’s first black president, he diverted the press corps’ and the public’s attention to an entirely new “trumped up” controversy, namely, who actually first started making these unfounded allegations.
As Mo Elleithee, Director of the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service, was quoted as pointing out in the US News article of September 16, 2016: “We’re living in a very confusing era. Facts are in question all the time. And people have created alternative realities. With the explosion of media that we have seen in recent years, people are getting their news and their info and their facts from like-minded sources.”
In other words, Trump supporters and Alt-Right believers never have to be exposed to MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post or any of the rest of what the Alt Right would consider to be the liberal media establishment. They don’t even have to watch CNN or Fox News, which occasionally take a stab at challenging right-wing orthodoxy and been known to question the veracity of some of Donald Trump’s more outrageous statements. They can just follow Breitbart News or one of the other Alt-Right news outlets, where they will never run the risk of being exposed to investigative news stories that found that Trump had never really donated millions of dollars to charities, as he said he had done, that Trump Foundation funds had been used to settle his private lawsuits, that there are federal and state investigations into Trump University, or that he made a contribution to the re-election campaign of the Florida Attorney General a few days before that Florida state official decided to not pursue a fraud investigation into the Trump University scandal.
During the Republican primary season, the Alt-Right was operating generally under the radar of the mainstream media. Once Trump became the Republican nominee for President, this all changed. On August 25, 2016 Hillary Clinton pointed out how the degree to which the Alt-Right movement was to Donald Trump’s campaign, accusing Trump of “taking a hate movement mainstream.” See CNN coverage on August 25, 2016. “He’s brought it into his campaign,” she alleged.
Much of the Alt-Right movement is comprised of racists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, xenophobes and other hate-based individuals and groups. As Andrew Anglin of the Neo-Nazi website The Daily Storm succinctly put it, “The goal is to ethnically cleanse White nations of non-Whites and establish an authoritarian government. Many people also believe the Jews should be exterminated It doesn’t get much clearer than that.”
The Alt-Right movement has gone so far as to create a pseudo-scientific basis for its racism, known as “Evolutionary Biology,” which at its core is a belief that biology has established that white people and black people are biologically and genetically different, that that this has evolved over time. In their Alt-Right journals, American Renaissance and Radix Journal, Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer have argued that the prevailing view in the equality of the races is wrong, and that there are fundamental differences in the races, referred to as “race realism,” and that because of these differences, there should be a separate and distinct “white racial consciousness.” Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart News tech editor, has challenged “the all-consuming cult of equality” between the races, and has argued that the “habits and predilections [of the races] might have diverged along with skin colour.” See “Science and Racism”, www.breitbart.com/london/2014/05/19. For his troubles, Yiannopoulos got himself banned from Twitter and other social media platforms.
The hyper-nationalism and nativism that is an essential element of Trump’s appeal to his supporters, i.e. “the Deplorables,” has an inherently Alt-Right racist tinge to it since, under Alt-Right orthodoxy, not only should America Come First, but America should be be a White America First. As Matt Fourney, one of the online luminaries of the Alt-Right world has explained (http//mattfourney.com/alt-right/): “The single defining characteristic of the alt-right is …about putting your nation first. It means that all people have the right to a land of their own: whites, blacks, Asians, you name it. For decades, globalists have sought to destroy white nations by flooding them with foreigners Alt-righters fight for the continued existence of white nations and white people.”
This is the dark underbelly of Trump’s call to build a Wall and to exclude entire categories of foreigners from entering the country, such as all Muslims, or at least Muslims from countries where terrorist groups are active. Not only will those foreigners supposedly take away the jobs of native Americans, and rape and pillage their way across the country, but the Hispanic, black, Arab and other people of color who are clamoring to enter Fortress America are primarily non-Whites, which is a threat to the Alt-Right vision of a White America.
That is why the deportation of 11 million undocumented Mexicans and other Hispanics is so appealing to the Alt-Right movement, and why Donald Trump and like-minded politicians who are riding high on the Alt-Right wave of populist disillusionment with traditional U.S. immigration policy. As Matt Fourney has explained: “In the United States, illegal immigration from Mexico and Latin America will make whites – the people who founded America – a minority by 2050. These invaders bring crime and corruption with them. In the U.S., Mexican drug cartels have ruined our major cities. Illegal aliens kill and rape American women. Illegal Mexicans deprive Americans of jobs.”
Fourney’s solution of mass deportation of Mexicans and other Latin Americans coincides perfectly with Donald Trump’s plans to deport all undocumented Hispanic Americans. There is a strong element of “racial cleansing” involved in the Alt-Rights anti-immigration policies and those of Donald Trump. Just as the predominantly Christian Serbs sought to drive the predominantly Muslim populations from Serbia and Bosnia by any means necessary, so too does the Alt-Right dream of a return to a white Christian America, free of Muslim infidels. As for what should be done to separate White America from Black and Asian America, the Alt-Right think tanks (to put it generously) are either silent or exceedingly vague.
The Alt-Right is also home to the Neo-Nazis, who are known as “1488ers,” a reference to the “14 words” of neo-Nazism (“We Must Secure the Existence of Our People and a Future for White Children”) and the number 88(for a doubling of the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, to represent “Heil Hitler”). (http//www.nationalreview.com/article/433650/alt-rights-racism-moral-rot).
The magnetic attractiveness of the Alt-Right movement to racists and Neo-Nazis is heavily linked to their penchant and near-worship of “Political Incorrectness,” a favorite term oten used by Trump in his stump speeches. For the Alt-Right, “political incorrectness” means that they can use racists terms and jokes. For example, the website The Right Stuff (http//therightstuff.biz/trs-lexicon/) refers to “Dindu nuffins,” or “Dindu.” This refers to “an obviously guilty black man,” according to The Right Stuff, who is trying to say “He didn’t do nothing.” Other politically incorrect terms, according to The Right Stuff include “electric jew” (television), “helicopter rides “ ( the right was to physically remove “Commies, Reds, University Professors and Journalists”), “merchant” ( a Jew), “ovenworthy” (“anything that would be substantially improved by immediate incineration”), “the plantation” (a “liberal social program [where] whitey still runs the show [and] darkie is still at the bottom”) and “fash” (fascism). It was no coincidence when Donald Trump Jr. publicly suggested on September 15, 2016 that if he or his father lied as much as the Democrats did, the media would be “warming up the gas chamber.” Not only was the comment an inappropriate joke about the Holocaust and the use by the Nazis of gas chambers to incinerate the Jews, but it is likely that Donald Jr. was very familiar with the Alt-Right websites where the use of such politically incorrect references to people as “ovenworthy” is commonplace.
Another key element in the Alt-Right Movement is what is referred to as “The Manosphere.” The Alt-Right sees itself as an opposition force to feminism, creating a men’s rights movement, or “Manosphere,” consisting of a network of forums, websites and social media focused on the concerns of the “heterosexual, masculine men.” It sees cyberspace and the internet as a male domain where, if women do not like the harassment, bullying and “hate trolling” that goes on there, they should “just log off” as Yiannopoulos wrote in Breitbart News (http.//www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/07/05/solution-online-harassment-simple-women log off/). Both Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia are clearly alpha-males who fall squarely in the center of the Manosphere and, therefore, deserved the respect and admiration of the predominantly male Alt-Right.
The focal point and ideological word factory for this Alt-Right movement is the Breitbart News, and when Trump named Steve Bannon of Breitbart News as the “CEO” of his campaign, the Alt-Right effectively took control of not only the Trump campaign, but also the entire Republican Party.
The Alt-Right is not to be confused with Conservative movement, which is, in many ways, the arch-enemy of the Alt-Right. A popular disparaging slur that the Alt-Right has for traditional conservatives is “cuckservatives,” a phrase merging the words “conservative” and “cuckold.” The phrase is particularly popular among the White Supremacists who view traditional white conservatives as traitors to their race, to the extent that they believe in integration and mixed-race marriages.
Given the fact that racism and neo-fascism is at the core of the Alt-Right, and that the Alt-Right, through the persons of Steve Bannon, is now in firm control of the Trump campaign, it is difficult to understand why Hillary Clinton’s reference to half of Trump’s supporters as falling into the “Basket of Deplorables” was considered to be a political gaffe by her. It may have been “politically incorrect,” but it is entirely accurate that, leaving aside the precise percentage, a large portion of Trump’s most ardent supporters, and the philosophical basis for his campaign (to the extent he has one) comes from the Alt-Right and its deplorable (or more accurately described “despicable”) collection of misfits, racists, neo-Nazis, misogynists, xenophobes, climate change deniers, and flat-earthers. Hillary Clinton was being charitable by merely describing them as “Deplorables.” The Republican Party should have ousted this dangerous and un-American group from its ranks long ago. Now it is too late. They now own the party. The party of Lincoln and of Reagan is now the Alt-Right party of skin heads and white supremacists.

THE CURRENT ASSAULT ON FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND OTHER CORE AMERICAN VALUES

 

One of the most troubling aspects of Donald Trump’s campaign, from a constitutional and legal perspective, is that he is the first presidential candidate in history (or at least in my lifetime) who refuses to accept as a “given” established core values of our constitutional democracy. These core values include Freedom of Speech and of Religion, which are embedded in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

If Donald Trump’s campaign is any indication of what a Trump Administration would be doing, then we can anticipate that the freedom of speech and expression exercised by non-violent protesters at his rallies would continue to be suppressed. Mr. Trump himself has repeatedly urged his supporters at his mass rallies to assault non-violent protesters. He has also made a continuing practice of belittling and berating the press for its coverage of his campaign and has even withheld press credentials from certain news organizations that have had the temerity to report on certain aspects of his campaign in a negative light.

On Monday, September 19, 2016, immediately after a series of bombings in New York and New Jersey, Trump blamed “freedom of expression” as a potential roadblock to the war against terrorism. In an interview on Fox News, Trump blamed freedom of the press for the fact that magazines were being sold that published bomb-making instructions. He did not identify which magazines he was referring to, but presumably, he was referring to Al Qaeda’s English-language propaganda magazine, Inspire, or jihadi websites that publish bomb-making instructions. What Trump failed to note – perhaps because he does not himself know – that these kind of magazines are not sold at any mainstream U.S. bookstores or newsstands.

Trump’s suggestion that First Amendment freedoms should be eliminated, or at least abridged, under the guise of supporting the fight against terrorism is reminiscent of Putin’s heavy-handed attacks on press freedom in Russia by labeling all media opposition there as unpatriotic or treasonous.

Over the past few years, numerous prominent Russian reporters have been found murdered or have “disappeared” after writing articles critical of Putin and his inner Kremlin circle. Similarly, the political opposition in Russia has been mostly crushed with the jailing or exile of several prominent political opposition leaders. As Timothy Snyder pointed out in a recent New York Times article on Russian fascism (09/21/16), Putin has long idolized Ivan Ilyin, the founding father of Russian fascism, who believed that individuality, diversity, and democracy were evil, and that the only thing that was important was a Holy Russia governed by a “national dictator.” Writing in the 1930s and 1940s, Ilyin looked to Mussolini and Hitler as the kind of leaders who could save Europe by destroying democracies and the individual freedoms that went along with them.

Trump’s real concern with the press and American media in general is that it has been largely critical of both him and the policies that he has espoused in his campaign, suggesting, for example, that his proposals to build a multi-billion-dollar Wall on the southern border with Mexico would be ineffective at stemming the flow of Mexican immigrants, a nonsensical waste of money and resources, and an environmental catastrophe. The press has also portrayed him and his campaign as xenophobic, misogynistic and racist, which Trump has considered being “unfair” and “false”, even though mainstream reporting is, for the most part, backed up with a wealth of documentary support. Trump has now ratcheted up his criticism of the press by suggesting that the media coverage of his campaign and press freedom in general is basically harmful to the country as long as we are in the midst of an existential war on terrorism.

What Trump seems to be missing, or at least ignoring, is that America’s longstanding tradition of a free and uncensored press is precisely part of what has made this country an exceptional example of how real democracies are different from autocratic pseudo-democracies such as Russia, Turkey and countless other “republics” in name only around the globe.

A likely reason why Trump has expressed such admiration for President Vladimir Putin of Russia is that, if elected, he would like to emulate Putin’s iron hand when it comes to the press and political dissent. Correspondingly, Putin’s embrace of Trump and aversion to Hillary Clinton springs from his belief that Clinton, as Secretary of State during the Russian parliamentary elections of December 2011 and the presidential elections of March 2012, gave the signal to the Russian opposition to demonstrate in the streets against the rigged elections and stuffed ballot boxes that kept Putin and his ruling party in power. Putin forced all nongovernmental organizations as “foreign agents” and branded all political opponents as enemies of the Russian state. It is not surprising, therefore, that Putin would support Trump and release hacked emails embarrassing the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton, since Trump has reciprocated by expressing agreement with most of Russia’s foreign policy, including the weakening of NATO and the democratic republics of Western Europe and Ukraine. Just as the institutions of democracy have been hollowed out in Russia and reduced to a sham, the undermining of democracy in the U.S. and Western Europe is also part of the grand design of Putin and his former KGB cronies.

Given Trump’s affinity for Putin and the way that he has been able to control the press and to suppress dissidents in Russia, it is likely that President Trump would take similar steps to “discipline” the U.S. mainstream press, but denying White House press credentials to reporters who consistently question Trump’s policies and practices, by having his administration challenge the FCC licenses of offending news organizations, and other measures designed to stifle a free press. Borrowing from Putin’s playbook, opposition political leaders would also be likely subjected to a barrage of investigations and prosecutions by a politicized U.S. Dept. of Justice, with perhaps Chris Christie or some other political hit man being appointed to the position of Attorney General of the United States. And since President Trump would have the pardon power, no doubt Christie’s Bridge Gate problems would also be quickly solved.

The President of the United States has awesome powers. If used without restraint in order to silence critics or to get even with political opponents, the U.S. government can quickly be turned into something more closely resembling the pseudo-democracies of Russia, Turkey or countless other “republics” in name only, which outwardly profess adherence to democratic principles and the electoral process, but in practice are nothing more than autocratic regimes. These regimes rule through raw power and fear, who perpetuate themselves through the brutal suppression of free speech and a free press.

Although we take the Freedom of the Press for granted, this country has gone through some extremely troubling periods when there were severe restrictions placed on the right of free expression and freedom of the press.  It is entirely within the realm of possibility that such rights can be suppressed once again under the administration of a Trump or someone like him. It should be remembered that in 1798, only a few years after the passage of the Bill of Rights and adoption of the Constitution in 1791, the governing Federalist Party attempted to suppress criticism by means of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made criticism of Congress and of the President a crime. Fortunately, Thomas Jefferson was elected President in the election of 1900, in part due to his opposition to the Sedition Acts, and he pardoned most of those who had been convicted under them.

During the Civil War, four New York newspapers were prosecuted in mid-1961 for “frequently encouraging the rebels by expressions of sympathy and agreement.” These actions all followed various “executive orders” issued by President Lincoln, including his eighth order on August 7, 1861, which made it both illegal and punishable by death to hold “correspondence with” or give “intelligence to the enemy, either directly or indirectly.” This was understood as an explicit direction for actions taken by various state and federal governmental officials to harass or prosecute newspapers and reporters who published any articles deemed to be sympathetic to the Southern cause.

During World War I, the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 imposed restrictions on the press, with offenders subject to fines of $10,000 and up to 20 years imprisonment for the publication of “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States ….”

Similarly, a Minnesota law that targeted publishers of “malicious” or “scandalous” information was not invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1931, when the decision in Near v. Minnesota struck down this state law as an infringement on the First Amendment’s freedom of the press. In 1938, in Lovell v. City of Griffin, the U.S. Supreme Court extended the reach of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press beyond just newspapers and periodicals, holding that freedom of the press was a fundamental persona right extending to “every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. This, of course, now extends to the internet.

In January 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held, in Obsidian Finance Group LLC v Cox, that the protections of the First Amendment’s free speech and free press clauses extend to bloggers on internet, and that they cannot be liable for defamation unless the blogger acted negligently. The Ninth Circuit explained that journalists and bloggers are essentially equal under the First Amendment since those protections do not depend on “whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story.”

One way that Donald Trump has said that he would consider restricting the freedom of the press is by loosening up the defamation and libel laws, which subject newspapers and other media outlets to possible lawsuits for the publication of information that is alleged to be false and defamatory. As the law now stands, however, there are severe legal restrictions on a person’s ability to successfully pursue a lawsuit for an allegedly defamatory article if that person may be considered to be a “public figure.” The reason for this is that in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, a 1964 case, the Supreme Court sharply restricted such libel cases by holding that when a publication involves a public figure, a plaintiff in a libel suit bears the burden of proving that the publisher acted with “actual malice,” meaning that the publisher had to know of the inaccuracy of the information or statement being published, or acted with “reckless disregard” as to the truth of the statement. In another watershed case, in 1971 the Supreme Court, in New York Times Co. v. United States, upheld the publication of the previously secret Pentagon Papers, which contained some highly critical information regarding America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. I recall this case very clearly since I was a law school intern in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan at the time that the case was argued in federal court.

If Donald Trump has his way, these and other restrictions on the ability of a public figure such as himself to sue the press for its negative reporting of him would be swept aside, and the country would embark on a new era of press restrictions and even criminal prosecutions of newspapers and investigative reporters, no doubt including the teams of reporters now delving into the illegal activities of the Trump Foundation.