by Laurel Dammann
On November 19th, a group of about 200 gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington DC for the annual National Policy Institute conference. The NPI describes itself as an “independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.” (That was the flashing red warning light.) Its president, Richard Spencer, has been open about his dream for a white ethno-state achieved through “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” (That was the emergency alarm.) Mr.Spencer has also been credited with popularizing a term that’s made headlines since Donald Trump began his infamous campaign for presidency: alt-right. Trump and his administration have only disavowed the alt-right in vague terms and after intense outside pressure. Furthermore, their actions show either a dangerous nonchalance towards the movement or a disturbing complicity with their nomination of Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist to the President-elect. (Jump ship.)
If NPI is the alt-right brain, far-right propaganda site Breitbart News is its mouth. Founded by Steve Bannon, Breitbart gave the alt-right its Darth Vader voice and a centralized means to radicalize. With slanted, factually questionable pieces packaged as “news,” Breitbart presents the alt-right as a social movement with moral and cultural validity. Mr. Bannon created a central space where followers could let their “isms” and phobias interact for all to see, demonstrating that ignorance and hate are as intersectional as justice and equality.
American media has been as focused on the moniker “alt-right” as they have been on the movement itself. There is ample debate over the self-appointed title and some see it as dangerously deceptive. Alt-right sounds more like an indie rock genre, or a keyboard shortcut, than the umbrella term for a collection of far-right, anti-establishment sub-communities attempting to give white supremacy a facelift. Alt-right literally stands for “alternative right,” a nonthreatening phrase, however, its members hold a telling nostalgia for Nazism. Alt-right is merely a modern makeover of old and abhorrent ideologies, so the connective tissue remains the same: white power, anti-semitism, anti-feminism, nationalism, and right-wing populism, with the update of Islamaphobia. The majority of America does not fall in line with the extreme views of the alt-right and see them as unfortunate outcasts. That’s changed slightly with the election of Trump, however, and the alt-right has achieved new publicity. So why do we still allow them their mask?
There is incredible power in a name, particularly the names of movements since they become as dissected as that which they represent. Black Lives Matter is a current example, its name having been fetishized almost at the expense of its message. Much of its power comes from the fact that BLM activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi chose the name themselves, bestowing upon the movement a foundation of empowerment and ownership of its identity. Self-identification doesn’t just allow one to set their own terms, but the terms of others as well; this can be a potent tool in influencing public perception. Though the goals of the two movements could not be more opposing, we see the this tactic being harnessed with the alt-right as well. In this case, with the lives of millions of Americans at risk if the group were to grow in influence, that power is terrifying. There have been some who have advocated for renaming the alt-right. Jeremy Sherman wrote in Salon that we might call them “the brat-right” due to the group’s general enjoyment of upending morality and know-it-all attitude usually associated with toddlers. I don’t think this alternate title affords the alt-right the seriousness the group warrants; “brat” already has an association that usually falls on the more mild end of the spectrum of pejorative terms. However, the conversation he’s starting is an important one. Americans must not allow the alt-right the power to veil the red, white, and black of their movement in their own beige terms.
Along with alt-right, the word “kakistocracy” has been pop-corning around the internet for the past few weeks. It stems from “kakistos,” which means “the worst,” the superlative of the Greek word “kakos,” which means “bad.” Translated into language we can chew on, kakistocracy means “a state or country run by the worst, least qualified, and most unprincipled citizens.” (The ears of the Trump administration are in too much denial to be ringing.) When I introduced the term to an acquaintance, he heard “kakastocracy” and had a good laugh over how it sounded like “caca.” Scanning Trump’s swamp of billionaires, religious zealots, and right-wing ideologues, “poop government” just may be the layman’s definition we need. Trump has assembled not only the wealthiest presidential cabinet in American history, but one containing the human ingredients for the potential collapse of world order: former Wall Street executives, climate deniers, misogynists and racists, convicted criminals, and a Vice President who appears not to grasp the Founding Father’s vision of secularism. It is a pending administration of excrement, the result of the obstructed bowels of the American Dream. Nevertheless, while their pretense as an alternative to the status quo is appealing to many Americans, most do not share the particularities of their views. In fact, the incoming power players seem to tip-toe around the ideals of a small subsection of Trump supporters and the thorn in our nation’s heart. (Cue spotlight on the alt-right.)
We could call the Breitbart’s netizens “Nazis,” but the title already has an historical association so infamous that it adds an element of unbelievability. To many the term “Nazi” belongs across the seas to a time decades ago, a dictatorship Americans died fighting against, not who American’s are. “Neo-Nazi,” while more recognized as an American sub-group, carries the reputation of being solely a fringe operation and not a substantial threat to democracy. “White supremacists” is another synonym that people have tried to make stick, however, it represents only one of many ideologies within the alt-right movement. It also does not completely address the disturbing link between the visibility of the alt-right movement and the Trump kaki(kaka)stocracy.
It’s tempting to look away and say it’s not there, however, as every baby learns, just because you cover your eyes it does not mean the thing ceases to exist. In honor of this exchange of air kisses between Trump and the alt-right (one that I sincerely hope does not become a lip-lock), I propose we rename them “Kakas.” It is a name that’s linguistic origins link its members to the worst of humanity, most explicitly to its waste. The Kakas are a uniquely American movement, built-up in America’s colon over centuries of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and the need to parcel its citizens into warring groups in order to keep white, wealthy, seemingly straight men in power. It evolved in familiar neighborhoods, from the violent and unresolved history we all live under. The Kakas are American constipation. This new name is absolutely meant to mock, but it’s also meant to imply that the rest of America must take them seriously enough to flush them out.
Not all those who voted for Trump were racist, not all were sexist, and not all were xenophobic. It is important to recognize the diversity behind Trump’s election to the “free world’s” highest office if America is going to address its complex problems with the intersectionality they deserve. However, it is equally important to recognize that Trump voters, regardless of their reasons, elected a man who makes derogatory comments about women and confessed to sexual assault, has grossly insensitive tirades, a history of discrimination based on race, and calls for government actions that are, among many things, unconstitutional. While not all Trump voters stood behind his dehumanizing comments in belief, they stood behind them in their vote, democracy’s loudest voice. By voting for Trump, American’s have enabled a kakistocracy to form and a platform for the Kakas. People like Steve Bannon and Richard Spencer see Trump’s election as a sign that their vision of America, formerly ostracized from the mainstream, can emerge from the wings for a potential monologue. Though some have pushed the movement aside as something small and not representative of America as a whole, which is currently true, it would be foolish to ignore the warnings of history and disregard the Kakas entirely. Small things can grow with opportunity and the Trump presidency, by all signs thus far, is very much an opportunity. The list of Trump’s disregard for other humans and American morality is long and his comments have been repetitive in their inhumanity, distressing in their scope; most disturbingly they have been answered with applause. America must pay attention to the applause.