Since the election, emotions in this country have ranged from elation to fear. A divide that has been simmering beneath the surface of this nation has finally been brought to the forefront. It’s hard for me to imagine the people in this country being more different than each other relative to location.
New Hampshire is a great example of this dichotomy; while Hillary Clinton narrowly won the state, Trump’s populist rhetoric that caters to working-class individuals really seemed to strike a chord. Driving back home to Massachusetts one weekend allowed me to the see the stark contrast between a liberal college town and more remote areas that believe Trump is the solution to their blue-collar problems.
While many people are fearful of Trump and the decisions he will make in regard to issues ranging from the environment to reproductive rights, I think more fear should be directed toward the people beneath him. We’ve heard about Mike Pence and his twisted views on homosexuality, but the scarier figure to me is Steve Bannon, Trump’s appointee for Chief Strategist. Bannon, the soon to be former executive chair of Breitbart, a fiercely right wing news website that runs stories which are staunchly anti-feminist, xenophobic and at times Islamaphobic, and is now sitting pretty as one of the most important decision makers in the White House.
Bannon has been perceived as the figure who gave the alt-right movement a voice. A movement with a vitriolic ideology that has no organized leadership or structure, and operates exclusively online. They engage in racist memes and trolling to fight challenge the establishment and everything considered politically correct.
This is troubling for a few reasons, which can be summed up in one particular Bannon quote: “Are there racist people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely,” he told Mother Jones at this year’s Republican National Convention. “Look, are there some people that are white nationalists that are attracted to some of the philosophies of the alt-right? Maybe. Are there some people that are anti-Semitic that are attracted? Maybe. Right? Maybe some people are attracted to the alt-right that are homophobes, right? But that’s just like, there are certain elements of the progressive left and the hard left that attract certain elements.” This is taken from the article “Five Steve Bannon Quotes That Should Disqualify Him As Trump’s Chief Strategist,” which is quoting an interview Bannon gave to Mother Jones.
This comment is very troubling because of the implication that the movement he is leading attracts certain ideologies such as anti-semitism and racism. To be fair, Trump has publicly disavowed the loosely organized group that is the alt-right, but that doesn’t seem like it will be much of a deterrence.
While many of Bannon’s allies and former colleagues have come to his defense praising his moral character and with the Anti-Defamation League walking back their anti-Semitic claim of him, his presence still normalizes some of the most fringe elements of American culture. With Bannon not condemning racism and anti-semitism, it makes him complicit in the perpetuation of these hateful ideologies that seem to be rising ever since Trump’s ascension.
What is even stranger is the empirical evidence of hate groups and white nationalists voicing their ideology since Trump was elected and the double standard that applies to them. It is very strange to hear certain politicians call the Black Lives Matter movement a “hate group” or even terrorists, while at the same time not condemning certain groups that have been prominently hateful in the past but still exist today such as the KKK.
The empirical evidence I mentioned before refers to two events: a parade planned by the KKK that is to take place in North Carolina on Dec. 3, which is meant to celebrate Trump’s victory and the annual conference for the National Policy Institute (NPI), a white nationalist think tank which took place last week in Washington D.C.
Richard B. Spencer, the president of NPI, ended his vitriolic speech at the conference by exclaiming “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” In the video taken of his speech, many attendees are shown giving Nazi salutes and cheering after listening to Spencer.
Spencer is also heavily involved with the alt-right and actually claims to have coined the term. This is quite worrisome given the fact that Bannon has described Breitbart as “the platform of the alt-right” when interviewed by Mother Jones at the Republican National Convention in July.
While he has recently come out and said that he has zero tolerance for the anti-semitic and racist elements of the alt-right, I don’t think that will silence them all that much, nor will it help him distance himself from this movement. The movement has not only seemingly given life to, but also paved a road for them to the White House.
That brings me to my confusion, the confusion as to why Black Lives Matter protests are demonized and attacked for standing up against a tangible issue, while the KKK is able to parade around and spew hate.
My confusion continues to our warped perception of reality and how even though I hear my friends say “Well, it’s 2016,” sometimes to describe our progressiveness and acceptance within our country, people like David Duke and Richard B. Spencer are still visibly influential and normalized in some spheres.
In a way, Bannon is an extension of these men because no matter how many times he recants or retracts his statements, those statements and the website he operated for many years have opened certain doors we thought would never be opened again, and that’s scary.
Josh Biase can be contacted at Jbiase@kscequinox.com