“Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power,” Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech on November 9. Her sentiments were echoed that same day by Barack Obama, who said that “The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world.”
Donald Trump won on a platform of unhinged xenophobia, a complete disregard for institutional norms, and an appeal to a nativist creed unseen in decades. But, reactions to his election from leaders and pundits have seemingly ignored this reality and, instead, normalized his rhetoric.
The media has participated in and taken this normalization, in particular, by mainstreaming the “alt-right” movement that has been energized by Trump’s nativist appeals. A loose, decentralized, group lurking largely in online forums and known for espousing white nationalism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia, the alt-right has lauded Trump for validating its imagined oppression at the hands of a culture of ‘political correctness’ created by liberal elites. For many of these admirers, Trump personifies the anti-establishment vanguard that was once only allowed to exist in closed circles.
Among the media’s most visible attempts to normalize the “alt-right” is a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, which vividly described a conference the group organized in Washington D.C. The article, which described the group’s uniform haircuts and clothing aesthetic, was promoted on the newspaper’s Twitter account with the teaser, “Meet the new think tank in town: The “alt-right” comes to Washington.” The article also quoted Richard Spencer, one of the group’s leaders who is credited with coining “alt-right.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Spencer as a man whose “clean-cut appearance conceals a radical white separatist whose goal is the establishment of a white ethno-state in North America.”
This tacit acceptance of white nationalist discourse, with Trump at its helps, is disturbing to say the least and enables bigotry. Given the unprecedentedly, devastating effects of Trump’s campaign and presidency, those in positions of power and influence have a responsibility to resist mainstreaming these sentiments.
One of the prominent characteristics of Trump’s campaign was a “say it like it is” attitude. Trump transgressed the limits of acceptable public discourse with a type of blustering bombast that grew increasingly vituperative with every new scandal. When confronted about his shortsighted, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, and sexist remarks, he would often double down or rationalize them with qualifying statements.
As the Trump camp continues in its bluntness, its opponents also must not mince words. This does not mean lowering the discourse to obnoxious sloganeering, but, rather, openly declaring that all forms of bigotry will be systematically resisted. The media and our leaders have a responsibility to reject the ideas and attitudes represented by Trump and his “alt-right” supporters. This means not dedicating their pages and speeches to urging that America give this new chapter in its history “a chance.”
The anti-Trump camp must make it unequivocally clear that whenever xenophobic and supremacist ideologies come to the fore, they will not be placated for easy public consumption. When a group convenes to celebrate white separatism by evoking 1930s-era German propaganda while gleefully entertaining phrases like “Heil the people! Heil victory,” they must be called out for what they are: Neo-Nazis. There must be no illusion of normality given to any of this.