Humanity goes into rewind
Last weekend, Washington, DC, hosted a gathering of some of America’s most rabid racists. About 200 people from around the US gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, not far from the White House, to talk about the place of the white man in this world.
They were meeting under the banner of the National Policy Institute, an outfit dedicated “to the heritage, identity and future of people of European descent in the US and around the world” and to “the revival and flourishing of our people”.
This time, the annual conference of this increasingly influential right wing think-tank was taking place at a fine time for white supremacists. About a week earlier, Donald Trump – the only presidential candidate in modern US history to have campaigned on a platform of bigotry – was elected to the White House.
Richard Spencer, president and director of the National Policy Institute, whipped up the crowd with a chant of “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” Some said the “hail” may have been “heil”.
Spencer bellowed that America was, “until this last generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation and our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”
Like Trump’s promise to deport millions of foreigners and to ban Muslims from entering the US, Spencer’s lot want to embark on “peaceful ethnic cleansing”.
Like other bigots, misogynists and phobes of all kinds, Spencer and the reactionary ideology that he has branded alt-right have been energised by Trump’s victory. The alt-right movement, which has been openly supported by Trump’s campaign manager and right-hand man Stephen Bannon, was described by the New York Daily News as the “KKK [Ku Klux Klan] without the hoods”.
Spencer has argued that, even though the president elect and his people are not open about this, their movement and the Trump train are united by the fact that white identity lies at the heart of their beliefs. In his own words: “Before Trump, our identity ideas, national ideas, they had no place to go.”
According to the New Republic, Spencer boasted to journalists that “I do not think Donald Trump is alt-right ... but I do think that we have a ... you could say ... a psychic connection or a deeper connection with Donald Trump in a way that we simply do not have with most or all Republicans”.
American Nazi Party chair Rocky Suhayda has also raved about Trump, saying: “Perhaps The Donald is for real.” Another endorsement came from the hooded guys. The Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke was over the moon about Trump’s victory, declaring that it boded well for his own elusive attempts at political office. “I love it. The fact that Donald Trump’s doing so well, it proves that I’m winning. I am winning,” he said.
There are many who were hopeful that, having been elected president, Trump would leave his election campaign verbiage behind and awake to the reality of governance – that his dangerous teachings were just fodder to be chewed by gullible masses.
They believed the cold shower of reality would hit him upon his arrival at 116 Pennsylvania Avenue. How wrong they were.
Last weekend’s gathering was just one example of how the Trump presidency will be as bad and as scary as feared – and it could be worse than we think. He inspired the worst elements of American society to embrace their prejudices and flaunt them publicly, hence the comfort with which the Spencers of this world can make Nazi salutes and spew trash about blacks, Hispanics and Jews just a stone’s throw from the White House – they know it will soon be occupied by one of their own.
Inside the White House, they will have an even more important ally than the president. Bannon, the man Trump has appointed as his chief political strategist – a position that will be even more powerful than chief of staff – allowed the alt-right free rein on the pages of his conservative Breitbart News website. He even proclaimed that the website was “the platform for the alt-right”.
That man is running things, helping Trump put together his administration. With a few exceptions, the types of individuals who have been drawn into the Trump transition team and the names of those who have been tapped for Cabinet positions tell a story of the horrible future that awaits the world.
But the scariest thing about the Trump machine is the demons it has unleashed and will continue to unleash. Spencer and his ilk are just the American version of this Neanderthaloid tribe. All over the world, right-wingers are relishing this moment. Backwardness is in fashion. In Europe – where national and municipal elections are due to be held in several countries next year – a shift to the right is expected.
South Africans should not see the Trump phenomenon as a faraway event that only has economic and geopolitical implications. His role as an inspiration to reactionary forces is going to be very profound. In Trump, they have found a hero, someone to believe. They have found someone who will say in public what closet bigots can only say behind closed doors to those they trust to have similar standpoints.
Humanity has just pressed the rewind button.