Indulge me for a moment and close your eyes. Now imagine a typical Trump supporter. Who do you see? An older white guy? A blue collar to go with that red cap? And what about the setting? Somewhere rundown in the Rust Belt? The Mid West? The Deep South? Anywhere but a college campus, that’s for sure.
But stereotypes don’t always accord with reality – and especially not with that part of the Trump coalition known as the ‘alt-right’. Admittedly, the alt-right is predominantly white and male. Some elements are undoubtedly racist and sexist, but what really characterises the movement as a whole is its vociferous opposition to the idea that whiteness and maleness are, in themselves, ‘problematic’.
By stigmatising whiteness and maleness, and not just racism and sexism, the cultural elites have created the conditions for a dangerous counter-movement – one in racism and sexism can thrive, as its members embrace labels that they suspect will be attached to them anyway.
Writing for the American Conservative, George Hawley explains that the alt-right represents a break with, not a hang-over from, the past:
“In my experience with the alt-right, I encountered a surprisingly common narrative: Alt-right supporters did not, for the most part, come from overtly racist families. Alt-right media platforms have actually been pushing this meme aggressively in recent months. Far from defending the ideas and institutions they inherited, the alt-right—which is overwhelmingly a movement of white millennials—forcefully condemns their parents’ generation. They do so because they do not believe their parents are racist enough.”
The alt-right can’t be dismissed as the last gasp of a dying generation; nor can it be written-off as a protest of the uneducated:
“The typical alt-right supporter does not lack education. The movement’s skillful use of the internet alone suggests otherwise. In interviews with people in the alt-right —including the movement’s leading voices and anonymous Twitter trolls—I found at least some degree of college education was a common denominator.
“To complicate matters further, many people in the alt-right were radicalized while in college. Not only that, but the efforts to inoculate the next generation of America’s social and economic leaders against racism were, in some cases, a catalyst for racist radicalization. Although academic seminars that explain the reality of white privilege may reduce feelings of prejudice among most young whites exposed to them, they have the opposite effect on other young whites.”
Hawley is not an alarmist. The “size and influence” of the alt-right shouldn’t be exaggerated, he says. Nevertheless, we need to keep a wary eye on the future:
“According to a large 2016 study conducted by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, whites in high school favored Trump over Clinton by a staggering margin—larger even than Trump’s margin among adult white voters. Among this sample, 48 percent preferred Trump, 11 percent preferred Clinton, and the rest would not vote or choose another candidate.
“One study is not definitive, and the political identities of Generation Z are still forming, but the rising generation of whites shows signs of being more right-wing than the millennials.”
That’s a pretty big pool of potential new recruits. Time for proper conservatives to give them something positive to believe in.