This is another in a string of recent book reviews by Carlos Lozada that contributes nothing to our understanding of books and the world. When I first started reading him, about a year ago, I was excited by his work. Now he just repeats cliches and engages in lame and inaccurate virtue signalling. There’s not one sentence in this new book review that makes me want to stop and think. There’s no perspective here that I haven’t already heard a hundred times.
Trump has been described America’s first white president for his explicit race-baiting and reflexive impulse to undo the legacy of his black predecessor. He may also be America’s first troll president, one who treats governance as a culture war, the Oval Office as a subreddit, and the bully pulpit as a means to cyberbully his foes.
Trump fits with the alt-right’s abusive culture, and studies of the psychology of online trolls highlight their deception, narcissism and manipulativeness — traits not inconsistent with what psychiatrists observe in our 45th commander in chief. “Why We Need a Troll as President” was even the headline of a bizarrely foreshadowing argument by a contributor to Spencer’s alt-right website during the 2016 campaign. “Trump is worth supporting,” the writer argued, “because we need a troll. . . . We need someone who can break open public debate. . . . The fact that Trump himself is part of this same farce is utterly irrelevant.”
Yet though alt-righters become gleeful when Trump shares racially misleading crime statistics or offers a both-sides take to neo-Nazis marching and engaging in deadly violence, “saying that Trump and the Alt-Right are simpatico amounts to whitewashing the Alt-Right,” Hawley contends. The core alt-right wants more than greater immigration restrictions and temporary travel bans against a handful of Muslim-majority countries. It wants nonwhites out of the country altogether. Trump and his aides have called for measures that, however extreme, fall short. White-nationalist writer Matthew Heimbach, for example, endorsed Trump’s candidacy with the caveat that Trump “is not the savior of Whites in America.” And even former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon — who has bragged of giving the alt-right a platform as head of Breitbart — is more a populist and economic nationalist, Hawley argues.
Over time, however, that the administration’s loyalty to the movement may prove less consequential. Trump’s jumble of beliefs — and really, does he have any guiding ideology beyond self-aggrandizement? — matters less than where a newly empowered and overtly racist political force attempts to take the country.
“What Trump has succeeded in doing, by exploiting the strands of right-wing populism in the country, has been to make the large and growing number of proto-fascist groups in America larger and more vicious,” Neiwert concludes. These groups won’t be deterred by a confused left or craven right. The conservative movement can’t purge them the way William F. Buckley cast out the Birchers, even if it wanted to do so — alt-right supporters “do not care what Ross Douthat thinks of them,” Hawley notes wryly. Nor will they be limited by the fumblings of the president they helped bring to power.
The alt-right is on the move, the distance from 4chan to Charlottesville just part of a longer march. I wonder if even Trump fully understands — or cares — what he has let slip.