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We need to stay (very) wary of Trump

To people who say we should give Trump the benefit of the doubt (consider him right till proven wrong), and especially to people who say we should unite behind the man soon to become “our” new president, I say “No!” A thousand times “No!” Trump has already given us good reason in his campaign rhetoric, past behavior toward women, etc. to mistrust him. It’s up to him now to earn our trust, something I don’t think he can do. As far as uniting behind him goes, what’s that all about? Simplistic patriotism?

No. We need to stay wary of this man and his minions, ready to oppose actions he may take in the near future, as well as the racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant actions already being taken by some of his supporters.

I usually ignore the writings of conservatives and right-wingers, but this morning I did some research into the “alt-right,” a term I’d never heard until my sister mentioned it in a phone call yesterday. It’s something to do with Trump, but what?

Here’s what I’ve come up with after hours online…

The alt-right opposes traditional conservatism, hence its name. According to Wikipedia, its internet postings generally “support Republican president-elect Donald Trump, and oppose immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness. Though the alt-right has no formal ideology, various sources have stated that white nationalism is fundamental to it. It’s also been associated with white supremacism, Islamophobia, anti-feminism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.” Pretty much everything we’ve been trying to fight for years. The article goes on to say that the alt-right opposes both legal and illegal immigration, and takes a “hardline stance” on (mostly Muslim) migrants to Europe.

A lot of alt-rightists are also “paleoconservatives” or “paleocons.” According to Wikipedia, these are believers in “a conservative political philosophy found primarily in the United States that stresses tradition, limited government and civil society, and religious, regional, national, and Western (read white Anglo Protestant) identity.” Along with all of the above, paleocons “press for the restoration of controls upon free trade, a greater emphasis upon economic nationalism and isolationism in the conduct of American foreign policy,” and want to return to the traditional “assignment of gender, ethnic, and racial roles.” To say “yikes!” is to be too flip. If they had their way, we’d have no abortion, recognition of gay marriage, or concern for civil rights, and Jews would be blamed for Communism and a host of other evils.

Paleoconservatives’ non-interventionism and opposition to immigration stems from their skepticism regarding the extent to which European culture can be adopted by non-Western peoples. Sam Francis wrote: “We believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people and that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character. We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into the United States that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority in our lifetime. We believe that illegal immigration must be stopped, if necessary by military force and placing troops on our national borders; that illegal aliens must be returned to their own countries; and that legal immigration must be severely restricted or halted through appropriate changes in our laws and policies.”

This is scary stuff. Trump’s pronouncements haven’t just been coming from off-the-cuff individual nuttiness – there’s a movement behind him. And Stephen Bannon, his campaign “CEO” and nominee for White House chief of staff exemplifies it. Who is this guy?

Ryan Lizza tells us in “Steve Bannon’s Vision for the Trump Coalition after Election Day” in the 10-16-16 issue of The New Yorker. “Donald Trump and his campaign CEO Steve Bannon seem more interested in creating a post-election platform for a new ethno-nationalist politics than they do in defeating Hillary Clinton…This week, Donald Trump’s campaign took a new and even darker turn. As multiple women accused the Republican presidential nominee of sexual harassment and sexual assault, Trump gave speeches on Thursday and Friday that had two themes: he denied all the charges against him, most notably by arguing that his accusers were not attractive enough for him to assault, and he claimed that the accusations are part of a global conspiracy against him, involving the Clintons, the news media, and international banks. ‘Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special-interest friends, and her donors,’ Trump told a raucous crowd of supporters in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Thursday. Referring to Trump’s linking Clinton to ‘international banks’ and ‘global financial powers,’ Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, issued a statement that Trump ‘should avoid rhetoric and tropes that have historically been used against Jews and still reverberate today.’

Trump has long been a conspiracy theorist. He gained a prominent role in American politics in 2011 by questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace. In 2012, he claimed that ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.’ During this election, he has alleged that Obama founded ISIS, that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and that the Justice Department colluded with Hillary Clinton to let her off the hook in its investigation of her use of a private e-mail server while she was the Secretary of State. It’s no surprise, then, that Trump has been advised for decades by Roger Stone, a prominent political strategist and conspiracy theorist who believes that Lyndon B. Johnson had Kennedy killed and that George H. W. Bush may have tried to kill Ronald Reagan. It’s also not shocking that Trump has been a regular guest on the radio show of Alex Jones, who, among other interesting things, believes that Americans are in danger of being controlled by ‘clockwork elves.’

But it took someone a little smarter – and more cynical – than Trump, Stone, or Jones to distill Trump’s platform of protectionism, closed borders, and white identity politics into one message about a global conspiracy. The man behind this new message is Steve Bannon, who became the CEO of the Trump campaign in August. Bannon is on leave from Breitbart, the right-wing news site where he served as executive chairman, and where he honed a view of international politics that Trump now parrots.

Bannon, who is 62, is new to right-wing rabble-rousing, compared to someone like Stone. Raised in a blue-collar Democratic family in Virginia, he served in the Navy, went to Harvard Business School, and became wealthy as a mergers-and-acquisition dealmaker for Goldman Sachs, in the 1980s. In 1993 he added to his fortune by buying a share of the royalties for “Seinfeld.” Bannon met Andrew Breitbart, the founder of the news website, while financing conservative documentaries in Los Angeles in the 2000’s (Breitbart started the website in 2005, as a conservative news aggregator). In the fall of 2009, Bannon and Breitbart worked together on a business plan to launch a more ambitious version of the site, and Bannon joined its board in 2011, once the financing deal closed. When Breitbart died in 2012, Bannon became executive chairman and took over the site,” changing its politics from conservative to alt-right.

According to Lizza, “alt-right is a new term for white nationalists, who care little about traditional conservative economic ideas and instead stress the need to preserve America’s European heritage and keep out non-whites and non-Christians. Under Bannon, Breitbart promoted similar movements in Europe, including the United Kingdom Independence Party, the National Front in France, Alternative for Germany, and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands.

In 2013, Bannon encouraged Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, who led the opposition to immigration reform, to run for president, but Sessions declined to enter the race. At early candidate forums, Bannon noticed that, while most Republicans stuck to the Party’s small-government message, Trump was hitting the protectionist themes that had proved popular at Breitbart and on the European right. He tried to get a national newspaper reporter to interview Trump, and was told, ‘My editor would think I’d lost my fucking mind. Donald Trump’s a clown.’ In early 2015, Breitbart tilted toward Cruz, but after Trump entered the race that summer, with a sharper anti-immigrant message, Breitbart evolved into an unofficial arm of the Trump campaign. When Trump fired his campaign director, Paul Manafort, in mid-August, he made Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, his new campaign manager, and named Bannon his campaign CEO.

Bannon has a few unusual views that are important to understanding Trump’s current speeches. He believes that the white working class is the key to the election, because the Clintons have never been able to win without this demographic. While Bill Clinton won two Presidential elections with the support of white working-class voters, recent changes in the electorate have made the Democrats more reliant on minority voters and college-educated whites.

The rhetoric that Bannon is feeding him makes it increasingly likely that Trump will lose in a landslide. Trump’s response to poll numbers indicating this has been to tell his supporters that the election is ‘rigged,’ creating a sense of grievance about that can be exploited after November 8th. Trump and Bannon have given up on trying to defeat Clinton. They seem more interested in creating a platform for a new ethno-nationalist politics that may bedevil the Republican Party – and the country – for a long time to come.”

Now that Trump has won, it’s we, the complacent liberals and progressives, who, I believe, must retain a feeling of alarm and be prepared to act on it. First, do as I have, and inform yourself about the man and the movement behind him. Second, start thinking of ways to oppose, and hopefully block, him and it. The Republican majority in Congress is still small enough for Democrats to block some legislation, and maybe even a Trump Supreme Court appointment – just as the Republicans have been doing to Obama for eight years. I don’t know how effective the current street protests are or can be (see Micah White’s The End of Protest), and they could further increase divisions in this country. In the end, we’ll need the support of many Trump voters to stop him and truly reunite our country. I don’t think a lot of them knew everything about the man they voted for, or even if they did, supported all his stances. On the economic issues, they need to understand that a millionaire capitalist who also happens to be a dyed-in-the-wool narcissist isn’t going to help them regain jobs and dignity.

Speaking of dignity (and safety), all of us – regardless of color, ethnicity, religion, politics, country of origin, gender, or sexual orientation – deserve to have ours preserved. Stand up for these rights on behalf of all groups! Treat everyone, including those who continue to support Trump, with respect and kindness; but refuse to let this unexpected and potentially very dangerous new leader turn our country into something we don’t recognize and can’t live with. “America, RIP,” a letter to the editor of my city’s newspaper said today. No. We don’t have to – we can’t – sit by and let that happen.

P.S. If you need to lighten up and get further motivation for the work ahead, watch “Michael Moore in Trumpland,” available on Amazon for $5.