The New Yorker looks at two different kinds of Trump supporters, and asks us to understand the line between them.
“Well, I started out with normal MRAs, PUA-type stuff. Telling guys how to score with women by treating them like garbage, that sort of thing. I sort of mainstreamed into Gamergate, and that was really big, you know? So from there it was an easy jump into a career of ardent white nationalism and paranoid misogyny, and that’s how I found myself on Team Trump.”
This isn’t an exact quote from Mike Cernovich, the internet superstar of the alt-right, and the focus of a long profile by Andrew Marantz in the New Yorker, but it does describe his arc. It’s one that you’d never get from, say, a Hillary supporter.
Cernovich seems legitimately charming, and affectionate with his wife. You get the idea why he might be likeable. He’s even “surprisingly” smart, in that he likes to surprise you by casually mentioning Lacan and then calling attention to the disconnect. It’s an affectation, of course, but it’s one that a lot of people have.
He makes his bones on videos and organizing memes, giving tips to more mainstream organizations like Breitbart, where it filters to Drudge and then to Fox and finally CNN (report the controversy!). He’s pretty much a master of the new media ecology, and his hundreds of thousands of followers testify to that. There’s no doubt he’s a pretty bright dude.
Of course, then he starts talking about what really animates him now. He’s one of the leading proponents of the “Hillary is not just a criminal but gravely ill and hiding it in a huge media conspiracy!” (It’s important to note that I don’t see a lot of medical training in his background.)
One example: Cernovich watched the debate from a parking lot, on his phone. Afterward, he gave me a ride to Manhattan. Trump had spent much of the debate sniffling audibly, and I asked Cernovich if he worried about Trump’s health. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they messed with his mike to make it sound like that,” he said.
It’s a minor example, but it shows an entire worldview, one that is based around the idea that there is a conspiracy everywhere, and that global elites are out to destroy the one group that is vulnerable: white Western men. Their minds work like Vonnegut’s cuckoo clock from hell, from Mother Night.
“I have never seen a more sublime demonstration of the totalitarian mind, a mind which might be linked unto a system of gears where teeth have been filed off at random. Such snaggle-toothed thought machine, driven by a standard or even by a substandard libido, whirls with the jerky, noisy, gaudy pointlessness of a cuckoo clock in Hell.
The boss G-man concluded wrongly that there were no teeth on the gears in the mind of Jones. ‘You’re completely crazy,’ he said.
Jones wasn’t completely crazy. The dismaying thing about classic totalitarian mind is that any given gear, thought mutilated, will have at its circumference unbroken sequences of teeth that are immaculately maintained, that are exquisitely machined.
Hence the cuckoo clock in Hell – keeping perfect time for eight minutes and twenty-three seconds, jumping ahead fourteen minutes, keeping perfect time for six seconds, jumping ahead two seconds, keeping perfect time for two hours and one second, then jumping ahead a year.
The missing teeth, of course, are simple, obvious truths, truths available and comprehensible even to ten-year-olds, in most cases.
The wilful filling off a gear teeth, the wilful doing without certain obvious pieces of information –
I mean, that’s pretty much perfect. There is rationality in their thought. Global elites are trying to screw people over. They do want to globalize if not the world, then at least capital, in order to maximize profit. It isn’t a conspiracy as much of an untouchable consensus.
But not to screw over the white man. Indeed, any rational person can take a step back and realize that Bangladeshis and poor Mexicans in the maquiladoras and Syrians are getting far more screwed by this world order.
Taking a step back, however, is pretty hard when you’re teetering off the edge of a cliff, which is where many poor whites in America find themselves now. Dispossessed, drug-ridden, unhealthy, obese, with no prospects, on the dole and angry at everything. If they aren’t the biggest losers of globalization, they are certainly among the losers.
That’s the focus of the second article, George Packer’s look at how the GOP became the party of the working class even while not altering a single one of its plutocratic economic positions. In a world where everything is being ripped away, they at least offered cultural succor. And that’s not nothing.
And reading the article, which is ostensibly about Hillary Clinton and what the Democrat can do, you do begin to feel the file on the gear. You see the elites mutually embracing the process of globalization that has left you broken (it’s more complicated, but makes a satisfying and understandable narrative). Reading it, you understand why people want to vote for someone who promises to make it all better, even if you loathe the fact that they are doing so. You understand why the ideas of someone like Cernovich make sense. You can see why people decide to break their internal cuckoo clock.
But then the question becomes: at what point does understandable economic and cultural anxiety end and just outright racism and hatred begin? Look at what happened on a rally over the weekend, where a man spittled “Jew-S-A” at a group of reporters, a sarcastic rallying chant for those who believe that we’re run entirely by the Jews.
The dude has since said that he was actually chanting “U-S-A” but in a Latino accent, to make the Mexican kids near him at the rally feel more comfortable, which seems…unlikely, given that he also reaffirmed who he believes runs the country (Spoiler: Jews!), and that he is sure that Wikileaks is going to have the real October surprise this week, something so explosive it’ll change everything.
So who is this guy? Kellyanne Conway said that he was “deplorable”, which is nice, and that he “doesn’t speak for the campaign”, though given the fact that Rudy Guiliani does it is at least a valid question.
Is he a troll, like so many of Cernovich’s followers, and maybe Cernovich himself, who are just as likely to witlessly shout “Harambe!” as they are to shout “lock up that bitch!”, and mean both equally, which is to say both passionately and not at all? Just in it for the nihilistic lulz, driven by a deep-seated rage and sociopathic disregard for anyone who isn’t exactly like them?
Is he someone who doesn’t feel he has much of a future, and so spends his time on the internet, reading these types, falling into them, finding solidarity and some answers?
Is there a difference? We talk about globalization and its discontents, which are very real, but now they have an outlet, led by people like Cernovich, who for the most part aren’t the losers (Cernovich seems wealthy from money his first wife made; make of that what you will).
They’ve been fed by Breitbart and Drudge and Rush and Fox for years, sometimes decades. They’re even more stirred up by people like Cernovich who are even less responsible than Drudge. And now, there is someone who is saying the exact same things, and who seems to speak to them, and is as wrapped up in the same toxic culture of white victimhood and the alluring ephemera of fame.
That Trump has decided to speak to this is nearly criminal in the violence it is doing to the country. But he isn’t the one who made the cuckoo clocks; he’s merely winding them up. That these sentiments exist in this country, with legitimate causes transformed into shocking ends, is a fact of our politics now. It’s a fact of our nation. And it’s one that we need to create smart answers for, to enact
And it’s one that we need to create smart answers for, to enact real steps to alleviate economic misery. It’s the only way to start to dry up support for demagogues, both big and small. It’s the only way to put these tiny amplified voices back into their dark corners, where they can talk about cucks and betas without dragging the rest of us into their paranoid and delusional conquests.