The term “alt-right,” which nobody had heard of until the unexpected emergence and rise of Donald Trump in the US presidential election campaign, has become all the rage, literally and figuratively. Indeed, it is now the angry go-to explanation in every analysis of the Republican candidate’s ostensibly miraculous victory on November 8. And it is the key buzz-word of the fever-pitched brouhaha surrounding Trump’s appointment of Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon as his chief strategist.
One of the main arguments against Bannon – at times a self-described promoter of the alt-right message – is that he, like the neo-Nazi Trump-supporting trolls on Twitter, is an anti-Semite. Though this is patent nonsense, as the evidence raised to prove it is flimsy at best, it is one of those labels that enables both liberals and anti-Trump conservatives to kill two birds with one stone: Bannon and the man who elevated him to a highly important and coveted post.
The intellectual pitfall for mainstream conservatives here is plain. Whatever their position on Bannon, they are aware that Trump’s stunning victory not only in the race for the Oval Office, but in that of both houses of Congress – cannot be attributed to a fringe group of right-wingers with no formal homogeneous ideology. Within this loose category are white supremacists who hate Jews, blacks, gays and any member of the right who has a nuanced view of everything from immigration to abortion. But these are a tiny minority in America as a whole, and played less of a role in the election of Trump than they and their detractors would love to imagine.
Others who are lumped into that label are people – like myself – who consider the decline of American power to be a danger both domestically and internationally, and desperately wanted the new style of Democrats – those who radicalized the party of Scoop Jackson into oblivion – out of office. We are right-wingers who believe in individual enterprise and ideological freedom. We believe that the federal government should not be dictating the rules of personal moral engagement or funding our choices. We want academia to be a place for the advanced study of humankind in all its facets and history – a space for the education and maturation of each new generation of young adults who will be faced with the often unpleasant task of making their way in the world with nothing but a set of tools in their satchel to give them a sense of their otherwise good fortune to be doing this in the United States, and not in Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela or Mexico, to name but a few examples.
But mainly we want to preserve all of the things that make America great, while repairing those that prevent it from becoming even better; and not by having politicians tell us what’s good for us. It is we who are charged with spelling out for them what is required when we hire them to represent us. The majority of Americans who feel this way opted to give Trump a chance to make good on his promise to reinvigorate the economy and prevent evil forces from corroding the fiber of a country that causes people from around the globe to want to live in what European Jews fleeing eastern Europe prior to, during and after World War II used to call the “goldeneh medinah” – a nation where the streets are paved in gold.
It thus seemed like the height of irony that a billionaire who actually gilds his buildings was selected to represent those people whose roads are barely paved at all, let alone in gold. Nevertheless they did, because his message to them was that it’s honorable, not shameful, to strive for the gold medal, if not achieve it.
Where immigration is concerned, the so-called alt-right – whoever comprises it – may believe in sealed borders against the influx of “undesirables,” but neither Trump nor most of his backers hold this view. What we do believe, especially those of us American Jews who moved to Israel for Zionist reasons, is that immigrants should have to go through legal channels and a vetting process. Just as citizens of America and Israel must adhere to the law of the land, so must those who want to become members of those societies. Forcing wanna-bes to undergo a process of examination and a trial period does not constitute racism; it is simply a necessary procedure. This is particularly true today, as radical Islamists have been infiltrating every country in the world to try and spread a pernicious ideology through the use of mayhem and murder.
Nor is the proposed policy of putting a stop to illegal immigration from Mexico a question of discrimination. On the contrary, it is an assertion that Mexicans, like all other immigrants, Latinos included, who applied for visas, green cards and citizenship, are welcome under certain conditions. Even Canadians are not allowed simply to cross the border and work in America without going through such channels.
One may not agree with the above, but it is a valid position that has nothing to do with white supremacism. And the millions of voters who elected Trump do not deserve the mud-slinging.
Furthermore, what all anti-Trump conservatives must know in their hearts is that even if Trump had not ended up winning the Republican primary race, the Left would have gone after any of the others in the same fashion. Had Ted Cruz been left standing against Hillary Clinton, he would have received the very same treatment, and had similar, if not identical, epithets hurled at him and his supporters. In addition, the only anti-Semitic diatribes to which I personally have been exposed on social media are from left-wing radicals, calling me a “dirty Jewess” and “Israeli killer of Palestinian children.” But somehow, when such slurs come from the left, they are considered expressions of a political viewpoint, rather than what they really are.
In Israel, too, the settler movement and anyone who believes in Jewish rights to the land – as well as those warning against the true aim of the Palestinian leadership – are vilified and likened to the fringe members of the Right who violate laws on behalf of an extreme position held by very few people. As is the case in America, the alt-left in America has a prominent place in the mainstream media and ivory tower, where thought-policing and debate-stifling is the norm. And we right-wingers on both sides of the ocean have had enough.
It is time to acknowledge that it was the alt-left the American voter was responding to when he or she cast a ballot for Trump, not the alt-right.
Ruthie Blum is the managing editor of The Algemeiner.