|Milo is only the latest (and most extreme) in a long pedigree of right-wing provocateurs, whose only distinction is a greater willingness to forego niceties than his predecessors. (PHOTO: Huffington Post)|
I’m now catching up on back episodes of WNYC’s The United States Of Anxiety, which is presently wrapping up its second season with the network. Overall, it’s a pretty great show, tackling in fairly explicit fashion the various issues driving America’s right-wing culture wars, and in a way that is as nonpartisan as the “liberal” media can be while still remaining honest about the facts at hand.
However, threading this needle means that nearly episode of The United States Of Anxiety has some sort of blind spot, deliberate or otherwise, that prevents the show from following various threads to their logical conclusion. For example:
Season Two, Episode Six is a deep dive into the history, various factions, and tactics of the so-called “alt-right” movement, one of the most disruptive elements in politics today. Overall, their take was exceptional, providing a great deal of background on prominent alt-right provocateurs like Mike Cernovich, the guy responsible for PizzaGate, and Andrew Anglin, the founder of neo-Nazi flagship site the Daily Stormer. They also took an interesting side trip into the real of white supremacist popular fiction, demonstrating how the “show and tell” aspects of conventional storytelling helped white nationalism mainstream its ideas.
Most importantly, they spend a great deal of time discussing the tactics of the alt-right, particularly in how their spokespeople and their armies of trolls should address the media when under fire. It essentially amounts to a “take no prisoners” approach, always on the offensive no matter how ludicrous your arguments may appear. You’re not addressing the person who’s confronting you; you’re addressing your followers on the sidelines to let them know you’re not taking any shit from the liberal media for “daring to speak the truth” against “those who would silence us.”
However, as I mentioned, there is a blind spot in play here. For all of its depth and scope presented in this episode, The United States Of Anxiety fails to connect the alt-right’s tactics and ideologies to their origins in mainstream conservatism, vis a vis Newt Gingrich, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc.
Cernovich, Spencer, et al didn't form their ideas in a vacuum. They're my age; they grew up in the same media environment that I did. They watched the GOP hound Bill Clinton during his time in the White House, and heard their parents cheer from the sidelines. They watched people like David Brooks and Bill Kristol hound liberals for standing against the Iraq War, and heard their parents cheer from the sidelines. They watched people like John Boenher, Mitch McConnell and Grover Norquist try to drown our government and its 1st black president in a bathtub, and began to cheer from the sidelines themselves, if they hadn't already.
All the while, hate wing media began to flower in earnest; Limbaugh became a Republican kingmaker, Gingrich’s GOPAC dragged civil discourse into the gutter and drowned it in a tide of epithets and slanders, and Fox News became the first official propaganda arm of American politics. Between them, Republicans were now able to pull in greater numbers of deplorables than ever, while slowly rigging the electoral maps to allow them to top from the bottom like never before.
In light of this, nothing about the alt-right is especially new or revolutionary, save their media savvy in the Internet age; the movement is a direct evolution of the ones that preceded it, coupled with unprecedented access to information and a taboo against preventing that access.
Also, while it’s true that the Digital Age can allow fringe ideas to come into prominence with incredible ease, being that the architecture of the Internet is based on the same libertarian principles that undergird the entire range of conservative opinion, you can only get so far in digital media without a considerable degree of capital. As Buzzfeed's recent expose of Milo Yappitypapaya (thanks Tengrain!) has confirmed, that capital is and has always been funneled from more prominent mainstream conservative movements and individuals into fringe movements in order to keep them alive, and further degrade discourse in their favor.
The problem is, people like the Mercers, the Kochs, and the like…the money they use to subvert the will of their followers is equally capable of subverting any negative publicity that they receive for doing so, in ways that allow their front groups to very easily and quickly defend them.
Those responsible for connecting these dots in the public imagination – the mainstream, "liberal" media – have been all but completely remiss in doing so for decades, their bought-and-paid-for notions of false equivalence providing excellent traction for dragging the Overton Window wherever the donor class prefers.
Only very recently have major news media outlets begun to directly toe these waters once again, acting shocked! and appalled! that good and decent Americans could actually be so…deplorable. Their posturing of novelty and incredulity is designed to offer only the most cursory glances into the issue, draw as many gawkers as possible, then shove a few ads for dick pills and reverse mortgages in their face before moving on to bitching about the “corrupt duopoly” after the break, congratulating each other for such fantastic reportage all along the way.
Until those same outlets actively strive to connect the movements of today with the movement of yesterday, and dutifully expose the lifelines of money and access that keep hate wing politics alive and well, none of this is likely to change. But to do so would require the mainstream press to directly expose their own complicity in the conditions at hand, which is tantamount to political and professional suicide. Cowards and toadies that they are, I’m not counting on such a thing happening in my lifetime, and neither should you.
That’s why peanut galleries like mine are so important. The “liberal” media has failed us; sites like this one are the “liberal” media now. While many of us may be on the outside looking in, we’re not a bunch of morons and liars and sycophants either; just concerned citizens trying to do the work that our more powerful contemporaries refuse to, connecting the dots in the public imagination with the hope that if we can change one or two minds, we can brighten the future of the nation in our own small way.
If you think that’s worth something – and if you’ve gotten this far, you clearly do – smash that donate button below. Lord knows I could use the help.