Last night, left-of-center Twitter was mostly aghast at Donald Trump’s decision to launch air strikes on a Syrian air base. It is, after all, scary how quickly his administration did a complete 180 on the question of intervention in Syria — perhaps the most dramatic data point yet suggesting that the White House is inhabited by someone who should have never been entrusted with these sorts of life-and-death experiences.
One silver lining, though, came from watching alt-right personality after alt-right personality theatrically renounce Trump for having taken an action that’s very much in line with the entrenched Washington ideology of, well, cuck globalism that the alt-right hates so passionately — reckless foreign-policy engagement largely driven by a desire to do whatever Israel wants.
It felt like all the big names were coming out to slag Trump:
There was a lot of gleeful liberal and #NeverTrump conservative retweeting, a lot of, See? These idiots have been bamboozled (I may have partaken). There was even a video:
But all of this should be seen not as a shocking parting of ways, but as a sensible move for the media personalities of the alt-right. Renouncing Trump, and eventually abandoning him, might actually be the most advantageous play for alt-right celebrities trying to maintain their peculiar online kingdoms, while handling the weird ramifications of having won.
The incentives for the alt-right, of course, differ from the incentives for the mainstream right. In the days to come, it is very unlikely that Fox News will be devoting much airtime to criticism of Trump’s decision. Rather, the most likely narrative will be that Trump has replaced Obama’s weakness with strength, that finally someone has punished Bashar al-Assad for his brutal inhumanity (left unmentioned will be the fact that until early yesterday, the Trump administration had taken a very similar line to the Obama administration).
So while it’s popular to conflate the alt-right and the mainstream right — say, the core GOP base — they really are two different beasts. The mainstream right will continue to support Trump because it is vested in the future of the GOP, and Trump is a GOP president. The alt-right, on the other hand, has different goals and allegiances in mind. Here are three main reasons it’s tactically smart for the alt-right’s big names to renounce Trump, if not ditch him entirely.
1. It gets them attention. One thing all the biggest alt-right accounts have in common is that they view virality as the most important goal. They are constantly growing their brands, growing their followers, and trying to poke their way into every conversation. Figures like Mike Cernovich and MicroChip openly acknowledge that they’re not concerned with whether what they tweet is true — they just want those retweets and likes. Suffice it to say, it is hard for them to resist tweeting opinions that will be widely shared not just by fellow alt-righters, but by mainstream journalists who are scratching their heads and saying, Hmm, there is a mutiny afoot.
2. It allows them to stay in the opposition. Those on the alt-right are, like Trump, not particularly sophisticated policy thinkers. They’re more into resentful grunts about how immigrants are bad, migration is a cancer on Western (read: white) society, and how cucks control everything. From this stance, it is much easier to criticize powerful politicians than to support them.
This angle is particularly relevant when it comes to foreign policy, because it’s simply laughable for anyone to have thought Trump wasn’t going to engage in foreign misadventures.
Trump not only treated the entire Muslim world as potential enemies of the U.S., he also openly called for the murder of terrorists’ families. It’s very hard to hold these stances while also being an isolationist. The alt-right simply ignored this during the campaign, aggressively painting Trump as a noninterventionist alternative to a hawkish Hillary Clinton. So from the point of view of the alt-right, supporting Trump during the campaign but renouncing him now that he’s in office allows them to maintain a stance of general disdain for, again, those “globalist cucks” who run foreign policy — a stance that is vital for their brand.
3. More specifically, denouncing Trump allows the alt-right to continue fueling conspiracy theories about how globalists (read: Jews) control everything.
Anti-Semitism is a cornerstone of the alt-right’s beliefs, particularly on foreign policy. Sometimes, this is explicit, as in the case of Baked Alaska tweeting openly about the “Jewish question.” Other times, it is ever-so-thinly veiled in the form of the alt-right’s obsession with the “globalists” and “neocons” who ostensibly control everything behind the scenes. Now, there are obviously legitimate critiques to be made of neoconservatism and its disastrous legacy, but it simply doesn’t take much time mucking about in the alt-right swamplands to see that there is a lot of coded anti-Semitism going on there.
If you’re the sort of person who wants to believe that a cabal of Jews control the U.S. military arsenal, or for whom it’s brand-convenient to spread those beliefs, Trump’s decision to attack Syria is great news. It can be quite effectively framed as, Well, we wanted to believe Trump was a true reformer, but unfortunately the (((foreign-policy establishment))) got to him, too. It allows you to enjoy the benefits of being a provocateur who supported Trump when it appeared unlikely he would win, and then who criticized Trump once he was in power — all despite the fact that there was never any reason to think Trump had any interest in a Ron Paulian foreign policy.
In fact, versions of this are already popping up:
The outsiderism really is key here. Remember that despite the noxious anti-Semitism and racism of the alt-right, the movement has always tried to maintain a pranky, anti-establishment feel. It’s much more difficult to retain that feel when your man is in charge, running everything and bombing other countries. Much as the GOP itself learned that in certain ways it’s less fun to hold power than to criticize power, the alt-right, in its own way, seems to be internalizing the same lesson.