Although this is a story about American conservatism, it will begin with the Irish journalist Angela Nagle who was described as "an old leftist's idea of what a young leftist should be," even though she is relatively young and not extremely preachy.
Her book "Kill All Normies" is relevant to the right because it gives a perceptive picture of the new alt-right and compares it in an interesting way to the modern left. This should appeal to confused conservatives trying to understand the left-right divide under Donald Trump
She identifies today’s alt-right with Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos, shrewdly discovering their alt’s origin in the 1960 radical left. Spencer and company "are not evidence for the return of conservatism but instead" proves "the absolute hegemony of the culture of non-conformism, self-expression, and transgression for its own sake" pioneered by the 1960s libertine left.
Nagle’s alt-right actually represents a radical break from traditional "church-going, upstanding, button-down, family values conservatism."
The alt-right originates by "fighting back against the culture war being waged by the cultural left," "mostly boys" out of the mainstream, against the left’s successful mass promotion of extreme feminism and minority cultural values against majority sentiments. While the specific targets of left and alt-right differed, both opposed the media cultural conventions of their time.
Nagle describes today’s left as "Tumblr liberalism" after the self-expression blog and defines it as supporting open gender roles, phony pro-consumerism and minority social vulnerability. This leftism represents a "deep intellectual rot in contemporary cultural progressivism," relying on slogans and shouting-down anyone who disagrees.
She proposes returning to a more rational progressivism based upon economic equality or the left will keep losing to the pale intellectualism of the alt-right as it has with Brexit, EU immigration, and Donald Trump.
So far she gets it just about right. Spencer rightism is merely cultural leftism aimed against the left. But the alt-right certainly is not the same as Trumpism. Candidate Trump did exploit some of the same grievances but his governing shows him more mainstream. Even someone more intellectual than Spencer like Stephen Bannon is on the margins. Trump is not an intellectual at all, but a Queens businessman fighting a powerful Manhattan elite now moved into the White House, and working in Washington’s swamp allied with establishment conservatives.
Still, there is a civilizational war and it is a left against right conflict where the left holds the commanding heights of the culture institutions — education, media, Hollywood, the arts and the rest. Nagle attacks both the identity right and left but the fact is the left has been captured by anti-Western identity politics but the right has not, at least not yet.
Contrary to Nagle, Milo and Richard do not constitute the whole alt-right. There are more sophisticated versions such as Paul Gottffied’s and most of its supporters with Trump simply oppose the identity left.
The American right — and much of the center — is still "churchgoing" conservative, with its support for common-folks’ buttoned-down traditionalism, balancing its bourgeois freedom with belief in traditional family, religious and local values above both economic and social equality.
Gallup finds a majority of 55 percent of Americans belongs to a church or synagogue and only 20 of the whole population never attend. A majority of 55 percent say religion can answer all or most all of today’s problems against only 33 percent who disagree and say religion is out of date. Belief in God is almost universal in the U.S. and 53 percent say God is very important in their own daily lives with 22 percent more saying it has "some" importance.
Gallup shows that family is more important to Americans than health, work, friends or money. While Americans have come to accept equal legal rights for non-traditional marriages, still in 2017 a majority does not find them equally valuable morally. Eight-eight percent say it is morally wrong to have an affair outside marriage and two-thirds of those married have not even divorced.
Public opinion is more split on economic equality. From the 1940s to 2000 Gallup shows that most Americans have opposed extra "heavy taxes on the rich" but today finds those favoring such redistribution a majority by 52 to 46 percent.
However, Republicans strongly oppose such redistribution by 70 percent and Independents are evenly split. Moreover, in 2017, 62 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Independents thought their own taxes were too high, most suspicious politicians might find them rich.
Nagle’s is an appealing story but it is more properly a fear for her home on the left being subsumed by the identity left rather than an accurate picture of the right. Ronald Reagan’s mantra running for president, "God, family, freedom, neighborhood, work," still represent the conservative constituency and it still a winning political majority when done right.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of "America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution," and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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