George Hawley


On his book Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Cover Interview of November 05, 2017

A close-up

I think my chapter on the Alt-Right and the 2016 presidential election is especially important. There has been a lot of talk about Donald Trump being an Alt-Right president. I think that is wrong, and I do not say that as a defense of Trump. Donald Trump’s variety of right-wing populism and nativism definitely breaks from the conservatism of Bush, McCain, and Romney. Trump can and should be criticized for his actual rhetoric and policy positions. We can also be alarmed by Trump’s reluctance to denounce the Alt-Right. Ultimately, however, the Alt-Right, wants something much more radical than a border wall, a Muslim ban, and an end to DACA. At most, the Alt-Right views these things as a tentative start to their long-term goal. The ideological core of the Alt-Right wants to create a new racially pure ethnostate. I see no evidence that Trump has a similar vision.

I compare Trump’s relationship with the Alt-Right to Bernie Sanders’ relationship with radical communists. Yes, the small and marginalized communist movement in the U.S. was (for the most part) quite enthusiastic about Sanders. He did, after all, represent an older and more radical egalitarian vision that the Democratic Party has rejected. Moreover, if Sanders had won the Democratic Party’s nomination and gone on to win in the general election, he would have pushed American politics far to the left, at least on economic issues. Yet, if conservatives had declared that a President Sanders represented the triumph of communism, and insisted he was about to nationalize the means of production and liquidate the Kulaks, they would have been justifiably ridiculed for engaging in ridiculous hyperbole.

I think we should view President Trump and the Alt-Right from a similar perspective. Declaring Donald Trump’s right-wing populist movement as synonymous with the Alt-Right requires either exaggerating the Alt-Right’s size by an order of magnitude, or downplaying the Alt-Right’s radicalism. I do not think either is helpful, if we wish to understand the current political situation.