14 November 2016
In the belly of the beast
Liberals and some mainstream Republicans are alarmed by the President-elect's selection of Steve Bannon of Breitbart News as his White House strategist. Bannon is perceived as a spokesman for the "alt-right," which for some observers has become synonymous for "white nationalism." To drive the point home, some indisputable white nationalists (David Duke, etc.) have been quoted praising Bannon's appointment. During the campaign I couldn't be bothered worrying about Bannon since Trump was worrisome enough in many ways. Now that the hue and cry continues I decided to take a look at Breitbart News, the site that bothers so many people. I didn't really see much to distinguish it from other right-media websites. Most of its main stories today focused on intemperate responses to Trump's election, some by celebrities, some by civilians. The message of the day seemed to be that "the left" were so many hysterical hypocrites in their calls for violence or actual acts of violence. I didn't see anything explicitly and specifically hostile to the groups supposedly targeted by the "alt-right," and I did see what looked like a favorable report on Sen. Sanders lamenting Democrats' inability to communicate with the white working class -- though the comment thread was pretty harsh on Bernie. My guess is that what people dislike about Breitbart takes place in the comment threads, which most likely serve as a safe space for angry white guys (and, I'd suspect, likeminded others) to dish out to everyone else what the left-media dishes out to them. It's not my cup of bile, but I suppose they're just as entitled to a safe space as anyone else. It's probably smart -- even, dare I say, strategic, for Trump to elevate Bannon, since doing so is like waving a red flag at a bull, or whatever a matador does. He's probably figured out that the more his opposition obsesses over "white nationalism," the more they don't get the real issues of 2016 -- and the more they alienate the voters they supposedly want back. The opposition's message right now should be "Don't be suckers," not "Don't be bigots." They should be talking about how Trump's supply-side Republican policies are going to make his supporters' lives more miserable, since Trump's opponents are already convinced that their lives will be hell for the next four years. But unless they focus more on changing how people vote than on changing how people think -- unless they diminish whatever transgressive appeal Breitbart has by ignoring it -- it could well be eight years of hell or more for liberals.