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An Overlooked Maven of the Alt-Right

TAI staff writer Jason Willick is in New York magazine’s new series on the right-wing fringe in American politics that latched itself on to Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. With Park MacDougald of Foreign Affairs, he profiles Steve Sailer, the reclusive California-based blogger who has been run out of mainstream discourse for his racial demagoguery, but who has also quietly built up a large but overlooked influence on the American right, prefiguring many of the ideas that Trumpism would bring to the fore.

After Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss to Barack Obama, the Republican establishment undertook a rigorous postmortem and, looking at demographic trends in the United States, determined that appealing to Hispanics was now a nuclear-level priority. And yet their successful candidate in the next election won by doing precisely the opposite. The Trump strategy looked an awful lot like the Sailer Strategy: the divisive but influential idea that the GOP could run up the electoral score by winning over working-class whites on issues like immigration, first proposed by the conservative writer Steve Sailer in 2000, and summarily rejected by establishment Republicans at the time. Now, 17 years and four presidential cycles later, Sailer, once made a pariah by mainstream conservatives, has quietly become one of the most influential thinkers on the American right. […]

Sailer’s body of work points to a politics very much like the Trumpism of the campaign trail — nationalistic, contemptuous of limitations on acceptable discourse, and laden with occasionally sinister racial undertones without directly challenging the principle of equality under the law. Sailer sees himself as having presented an intellectual justification for commonsense politics, which Donald Trump, by being ignorant of the (as Sailer put it in an email to us) “Davos Man conventional wisdom,” arrived at out of instinct.

As Andrew Sullivan argues in his lead piece for the series, “The Reactionary Temptation,” far-right politics is a major force in our political moment, and its better for all of us to understand its often-frightening appeal than to dismiss it out of hand or ritualistically bury it in epithets. So read the whole thing.

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  • Dale Fayda

    “…far-right politics is a major force in our political moment…”

    Oh, if it were only true.

  • D4x

    Who is frightening? Giving new meaning to the Coke (or Coors?) v Pepsi debate: May Day in Portland, OR: “Black Bloc Protesters Hurl Pepsi Cans at Police, Set Newspaper Boxes on Fire in the Portland Street. Portland Police Bureau declares a riot.” http://www.wweek.com/news/2017/05/01/black-bloc-protesters-hurl-pepsi-cans-at-police-set-newspaper-boxes-on-fire-in-the-portland-street/

    There is nothing left to read in America that is not poisoned by our current Civil War. I remember when Martin Peretz was run out of his magazine, The New Republic, for his “Islamophobia”, and his critique of O44 in late 2010: “Obama’s Foreign Policy is a Folly and a Fraud” By Martin Peretz November 30, 2010 https://newrepublic.com/article/79503/obamas-foreign-policy-folly-and-fraud and the public shaming:
    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/09/peretz-and-the-power-of-shaming/63416/

    That power of shaming worked so well his daughter Evgenia, authored a hit-piece, based on gossip, on FLOTUS Melania for Vanity Fair April 2017, as penance for the sins of her father.

    Hope Jason Willick remembered whatever vaccine keeps the zombies from infecting his brain.

    • Andrew Allison

      Too late, I fear. Willicks endless snide comments on the President show where he stands. “Sailer’s body of work points to a politics very much like the Trumpism of the campaign trail — nationalistic, contemptuous of limitations on acceptable discourse, and laden with occasionally sinister racial undertones without directly challenging the principle of equality under the law.” is particularly ironic given today’s commentary in the WaPo: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/05/02/stephen-colbert-hits-trump-below-the-belt/?utm_term=.60b775240339.

      • D4x

        Yes, too late for Jason, he is under the spell of Remnick, The New Yorker. Same words. Mr. Mead has fine piece today that Jason should read: 05 02 2017 “Nationalist’ Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word Trump will be successful if he puts U.S. interests
        first—while still helping to maintain global order” By Walter Russell Mead, WSJ (apologies for no link, I read this at an obscure blog to get past WSJ paywall)

        • leoj
          • D4x

            TY, but any link to the WSJ ends with a paywall lately. Ironic that TAI posts about Mr. Mead’s essay, you would think they could post it here!

            Also, TY for reading NY mag, very helpful.

          • leoj

            Not posted together because they are different subjects, I would guess. Mead’s essay today reminded me of Willick’s “Free Speech and the Nationalist-Globalist Clash,” insofar as both are trying to recuperate some version of centrist nationalism. I find this a more valuable exercise than the concern trolling going on by certain writers over at NRO and Commentary (especially). Don’t know if you visit either publications, but Boot’s piece from today fairly represents the tenor: It may be an exaggeration to suggest that Trump is turning out to be a “globalist cuck” in practice, but it’s safe to say that he has not adhered to the Breitbart view of the world. So it remains to be seen what his presidency will represent. https://www.commentarymagazine.com/politics-ideas/conservatives-republicans/trump-redefining-the-gop/
            Guys like Boot are truly a curiosity: what seeking throng of voters do they imagine the will be turning to them for their leadership if Trump fails? And if it’s true for the chattering class, how much more so for the GOP’s elected officials…

            On a different note, is it just me or is everyone in a foul mood on here recently?

          • D4x

            Agree on Mead and Willick being complementary. Mostly stopped reading Commentary, mostly because of Boot! Boot will never get over Trump’s critique of Boot’s precious 2nd Iraq War. Plus, the American Jewish Civil War over politics has really disrupted my reading habits past year.
            Foul Moods have been normal since the ‘resistance’ became a permanent platform. Maybe it has gotten worse at TAI now that a few Breitbart-populists came to stay. We are a now representative factional commentariat.
            Apologies for the brevity, reality here keeps intruding.

          • D4x

            TY for the link to the UNESCO vote. Argentina abstained! One would think the abstentions would make the resolution an official fail.

          • leoj

            I think this was meant for someone else, but I will concur with the happiness for all the abstentions. Give it time and the ever shrinking yay sayers will be defeated. As Bibi says, “The number of countries who support this absurd UNESCO resolution is getting smaller. … A year ago it was 32, six months ago it dropped to 26 and it now dropped to 22.”

          • D4x

            Well stated. I read about it at Algemeiner. This battle for Jerusalem is the most painful assault on truth. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/21864a8e13e72bd79e5d7f8f30d15db55e74d5bb74bdac202c23d9d96747d73b.jpg

            Bunting’s Map, 1581. Much closer to the truth.

          • leoj

            Beautiful map! The Swedish leadership is a travesty. I can no longer look at an Ikea without spitting.

          • D4x

            Yes, some map, yet, puzzled why China is missing. I was going to burn my Saab in effigy five years ago, but convinced myself that Finns were involved in the 2000 assembly. Did you know that an American private equity guy, Rennert, tried to buy Saab in 2008, but the Swedish government rejected his offer? Rennert was also funding the conversion of Grand Mufti’s Jerusalem residence into apartments for Jews.

          • leoj

            Oh.. and this might signal a shift relevant to UNESCO resolutions, etc.:

            Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offered a strong signal on Wednesday that he would abandon the strategy he pursued in recent years seeking unilateral statehood recognition at international fora in place of peace talks with Israel.
            https://www.algemeiner.com/2017/05/03/at-white-house-meeting-with-trump-palestinian-leader-signals-abandonment-of-unilateral-statehood-recognition-strategy/

          • D4x

            Abbas to “abandon the strategy he pursued in recent years seeking unilateral statehood recognition at international fora in place of peace talks with Israel.” is a Yuge! achievement!

      • leoj

        Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see Willick as overly snide. He is occasionally critical, but that is far from a bad thing. The piece at NYmag is pretty well done in my opinion and quite interesting (truth be told, I had never heard of Sailer). The ‘snideness’ could be attributed to any number of factors–to wit, nymag bias… I mean, ‘balance’; perhaps the co-author McDougald; or a kind of Straussian esotericism.

        Why this last option? Look at the closing of the piece:
        That isn’t true — Sailer is a perceptive thinker, but his views on race, for which he will inevitably be best-known, still represent the more resentful end of white opinion. Yet if current trends toward partisan and racial polarization continue unabated, Sailerism may indeed come to represent a kind of uneasy center, flanked by identitarian leftism on one side and raw white nationalism on the other. This is a future we should try to avoid.
        This seems like more a warning to the mainline Democratic party embrace of identity politics (a respectable view according to the readership of nymag, I am guessing) than a threat to sensible, self-regarding conservative politics.

        • Andrew Allison

          I beg to differ. More than one commentator here has noted Willick’s penchant. What I drew attention to was “the Trumpism of the campaign trail — nationalistic, contemptuous of limitations on acceptable discourse, and laden with occasionally sinister racial undertones.” This is unwarranted, particular given the unacceptable post-election discourse of the left.

          • leoj

            Is it unwarranted? It seems to me that that list constitutes the Trump brand circa the campaign, and occasionally since. Whether those aspects of the campaign were merely the provocations of a candidate who knew how unpopular the elites of both parties were and how out of touch their rules of etiquette are, or something more genuine and profoundly disturbing is another matter. Willick strikes me as perceptive enough to see the ploy, so it doesn’t disturb me when he notes Trump’s nationalism, his distaste for political correctness, and his unwillingness to be ashamed of the Kid Rocks, Ted Nugents, and Sarah Palins. It is actually a reason I have come to respect Trump–despite, truth be told, my initial aversion.

  • Unelected Leader

    Nobody can really pin down what alt-right means because it has no singular meaning. But it is definitely being used as a boogeyman word by the left because there are no real fascists on the right. Meanwhile, there really are mutiltides of socialists and communists in the US.

    • FriendlyGoat

      I can pin down what the “alt-right” means. It means conservatism defined in the most provocative and offensive terms possible.
      It is called “alternative” because it relies on “alternative” (fake) news, “alternative” (fake) facts, and “alternative” (fake) conclusions. It is designed to appeal to “alternative” (fake) intellects who are living in “alternative” (fake) realities with “alternative” (fake) value systems and moral codes.

      It feeds on the premise that everything ever considered “politically correct” (due to evidence or obligation to kindness for the sake of other people) is actually incorrect. It is directed at those who say and think that lawyers are shysters, doctors are quacks and those with decent white-collar jobs are desk-jockeys. It believes that immigrants, American minorities, and feminists are in a conspiracy against white men. It owns a lot of guns and dreams of shooting a lot of people “when that day finally comes”. It includes millions of people whose minds have been captured by all kinds of resentments without their knowledge. It also happens to include a bunch of chumps who are being used to kick their own butts—-again without their knowledge.

      • Unelected Leader

        Terrific! Hey look everyone, now we know what friendly goat thinks about the alt right… but it sounds like the friendly ghost is confusing it with MSM

        • FriendlyGoat

          Come on. Put some effort in. Say something. Mindless quips are not enough.

          • Unelected Leader

            What else needs to be said when your comment proves mine? Your opinion of the term is that of the boogeyman. A useful distraction, I suppose, for those who will fall for it. Basically, you have a case of the feels 🙁

          • FriendlyGoat

            You’re piggy-backing and flip-flopping my thoughts for a “come-back”.
            I want you to think as much about your definitions as I am thinking about mine in order to write them.
            What else could we be here for?

          • Anthony

            These are some of the arguments afloat (long read but worthwhile): nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/04/andrew-sullivan-why-the-reactionary-right-must-be-taken-seriously.html

      • Boritz

        I can pin down what “Alien” means. It’s those creatures that crawl through the duct work and get taken out by Sigourney Weaver.

    • Andrew Allison

      Of course it has a meaning. It means deplorable.

    • Fred

      For the last year or two I’ve seen occasional comments on the interwebs by people calling themselves “alt-right.” Generally they are anti-semitic, quasi-fascist troglodytes who are impossible to take seriously. I agree with you that they are cynically used as a boogeyman, and not just by the left. I saw a breathless interview with Glen Beck (I believe on CNN) in which he hyperventilated about the alt-right. I keep thinking, “Get a grip people. The fact that a bunch of adolescents (of whatever age) get their jollies throwing stink bombs into internet comment boards doesn’t mean it’s 1933 again.”

    • Is there conversely something to the existence of the “alt-left”, or the neo-progressive movement?

  • rheddles

    Wow. I’ve seen comments from Steve Sailer on other websites, he doesn’t seem to be too reclusive, and he’s got a point of view with which I do not always agree, but which I find civilly presented. Racial demagoguery is not what I have seen in his commentary. This seems like a lot of race baiting, unless you have some examples to link to, and not surprising to see in a series of articles led by Andrew Sullivan, not always a civil guy in my experience. What is surprising is to see this kind of ad hominem at TAI.

  • Fat_Man

    Andrew Sullivan who tumbled into irrelevance because of his obsession with Sarah Palin’s pregnancy with her youngest child. Andrew Sullivan who became a Jew Hater because of his sexual obsessions. That Andrew Sullivan?

    Give me a break.

    • Boritz

      There was a period of time when Jonah Goldberg spent close to one hundred percent of his effort having a verbal hemorrhage over what Andrew Sullivan had said in the last few hours. It took a while for him to get over it and become proactive in choosing his topics.

  • Boritz

    I didn’t read the article, only the title, but wanted to weigh in that I don’t believe in the existence of the “alt-right” any more than you believe in the establishment.

    • Dan Kearns

      I’m unclear on the antecedent for “you” in your comment? You mean the author of the piece?

      • Boritz

        Yes, and TAI in general on this topic.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    It’s called “projection” when the Racist, Sexist, and Sectarian Leftists, see those bigotries in the Nationalist/Populist/Jacksonian right.

    American Nationalists are blind to everything except whether or not someone has assimilated American Culture, by honoring the Declaration of Independence (All men are created equal) and the US Constitution (Bill of Rights, Rule of Law) as holy writ.

    I don’t know if this Steve Sailer is a bigot, but I refuse to take a bigoted leftist’s word for it.

  • Anthony

    “…far-right politics is a major force in our political moment, and its better for all of us to understand its often frightening appeal than to dismiss it out of hand….”

    Qualification: I have not read the referenced article but the political moment is neither new nor unusual in the American Moment. Sourness and paranoia bred by economic stagnation have regularly influenced the course of American history, i.e., the development (or surfacing) of astringent attitudes in the body politic. So, Andrew Sullivan hardly covers virgin ground – but I’ll read the article before concluding.

    However, here’s a historical moment: “Beyond their prejudices against Catholics, Jews, and foreigners the populists of the late nineteenth century established a view of the world as not just hostile but deliberately, indeed, apocalyptically, so. If honest workingmen were no longer getting ahead, specific acts by identifiable groups and nameable individuals must be responsible…The tensions that the populists faced when confronted by modernization of their nation’s economy, even the consequent transformation of the country’s way of life, created a inwardness, a defensiveness, and even paranoia.” (The Paranoid Style of American Politics – Richard Hofstadter)

    Essentially, the reactionary temptation has always been a part of the American strain.

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