Too Late to Redeem, Too Little to Save: the Alt-Right Attacks the Gingrich Right
The sorry details of David French’s experience after he publicly stated his opposition to Donald Trump in National Review comprise just one example of the venom leveled at Republicans and Conservatives who didn’t get in line with the Trump takeover of the Right. The contemptible conduct of Trump’s Alt-Right followers, attacking journalists and their families through Internet media, tells you everything you need to know about them: they’re cowards, hiding being fake names on Twitter and email. They like feeling so powerful that they don’t need to persuade or to make their case before an impartial judge. They don’t argue ideology. They don’t talk policy. They don’t want to change your mind. They don’t want to change their own minds. They want to intimidate. They want to revel in tribal mindlessness and the thrill of being dangerous together. They’re vandals with laptops.
Let’s draw the straight line here. This isn’t their invention. They inherited this technique from the most destructive political leader of the last fifty years, Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich’s blueprint for the Republican Party’s intellectual architecture was his notorious 1996 GOPAC memo, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control”. The objective was to program his Republican colleagues to “speak like Newt” so that they would make language a “key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning.” They were to learn using these words like infantry drilling with warms, listening to GOPAC instructional tapes until they could fire proficiently at any target. Like Newt.
Note that nothing about this exercise was intended really to produce better leaders or better citizens. It was just an exercise in effective salesmanship, inducing the hearer to feel as the seller needed him to feel in order to close the sale. The technique wasn’t just to build up Republicans. It was to “Other” anything that opposed them, to make any Other argument and any Other person less, bad, suspect, viscerally wrong, and to bypass any possibility of reasoned deliberation that might lead to compromise. They were words as weapons, “powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast.” Lincoln led the Republican by making it think in order to make it strong. Gingrich wrecked that legacy and replaced rigorous thinking and reason with visceral malice and mindlessness.
As an historian (a failed academic, and a writer of revisionist Civil War history), Gingrich was steeped in the same Othering that the South did to its own blacks and to the North in the 19th century. Fluent in the most partisan rationalizing over the South’s motives for and execution of a bad war, Gingrich understood how millions of Americans felt the visceral need for tribal self-mythology that required no argument to declare itself proven and conclusive. He might have plucked the GOPAC vocabulary from the Antebellum arguments of Secessionists. They were ardent propagandists themselves, making words into weapons to convince their own people that ending the Union was holy justice because the Other was intolerable.
“Apply these [words]”, Gingrich wrote in his modern version, “to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.” They became memes the Conservatives repeated indiscriminately on partisan media. Abuse of power. Betray. Bosses. Bureaucracy. Cheat. Corruption. Decay. Disgrace. It was a long list. The words weren’t calibrated to respond to particular policies or ideas; they were triggers, like orders for training an animal, designed to be used against the people Republicans didn’t like, to substitute for reasoned argument against anything the Republicans didn’t want, and most of all, to render millions of Americans — Gingrich’s own party — compliant and responsive to verbal signals. Thus the GOP was taught not to tolerate deliberation. They just nullified Democrats, liberals, city dwellers, other races, gays, environmental advocates, anyone, as the Other. They made the Other automatically wrong, and so made anything the Other said something on the list: ideological, incompetent, insecure, insensitive, etc. It rendered critical thinking itself disagreeable, like tribal disloyalty. It was partisanship reduced to ugly mindlessness, with the first casualty always being the faithful Republicans who neglected actual thought in order to feel this way. The point was to turn away from power built on the strength of the ideas and the intelligence of the voters; and to stop trying to be Lincoln’s party of logic, reason, and the relentless pursuit of the plain facts. Instead, the point for Gingrich Conservatism was to build a mob that a few people like Gingrich and his cadre could focus like a stampede where they wanted to do damage. That’s the “control” Gingrich wanted — not of the process or the discussion, but of his own voters, their emotions, their anger. He could use that.
Gingrich Conservatism wasn’t a school of thought. It was a mood that hung over Conservatives like a black cloud all the time. In its cold shadow Conservatives were phobic, pessimistic, angry, and hostile no matter the issue or the times because the Other they hated was still making its case, still holding offices, even succeeding for the American people. Repetition made Gingrich’s words louder but not stronger. Overused, they turned into clichés.
The disservice Gingrich did to Conservative voters is evident now. Gingrich Conservatism didn’t help its constituents. It swindled them until they were so weak and discouraged that a Donald Trump could take over the whole scam. Trump understands gullible marks. Trump gets Othering people. He’s a master at self-mythologizing and at getting people to buy into it with him. He knows the power of induced mindlessness because it makes his brands and business deals. Casinos run on it. It sells products. He doesn’t need to learn the basics; he has his own version. He calls it “truthful hyperbole.” And surely he shares Newt’s joy in vindictiveness and revenge. And Trump’s losing because he practices what Gingrich preached, with the inherent weakness of Gingrich Conservatism, the one Lincoln himself is said to have foreseen: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”As the GOP sees mass desertions, the party is left with Gingrich’s greatest success, Trump’s most unshakable base, and the most dangerous legacy of forty years of “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control”: the people who want to be fooled all the time.
They’re the ones who don’t care anymore. All this fraud is a bitter joke for them, performance art like a Trump rally, fakery inside fakery; and their nihilism is so deep and murky that they hate the possibility of political solutions and national consensus, and they hate anyone optimistic enough to believe in that possibilities. They aren’t out to win anything. They fight now only for pride. Their malice is fun. They think it’s pranky mischief to insult and frighten and degrade the Others. They roll out their version of Gingrich’s power vocabulary, rebranded in their 2.0 version. It’s tribal slurs: Others are “Normies” who haven’t taken the “red pill” and who therefore, blind and gulled, have no “agency”. Normies are “cucks” and “cat ladies” besotted with “context denial”. The cynics among their own numbers are “declinists”. The virulent ones are committed enough to “defoo” and leave their own Normie families. Racial and ethnic slurs are practically compulsory: Alcohol is the “liquid Jew”; beware it. The “merchant” is a real Jew; beware him. “Niggertech” is expensive shiny objects (Trump Rower, Trump Vodka, Melania Trump) that impress Normies who like display. French’s adopted daughter was targeted as a “niglet” and a “dindu” short for “dindu nuffin”, their term for “an obviously guilty black man.”
Don’t look for political argument here. The Alt-Right doesn’t even pretend, as Gingrich did, to have any. This is Gingrich Conservatism distilled from a dyspeptic mood to pure acid bile, with the same traits Gingrich promoted — belligerence, shamelessness, the facade of certainty, jingoism, and the unlimited right to dwell in one’s own myth — as the charter. That’s Donald Trump’s biography in 17 words. No wonder they see in him a savior figure.
Whatever sympathy is due to Daniel French and his family for their ugly experience, French has to admit it: National Review helped make all this possible. So did the other targets of the Alt Right’s wrath. Breitbart made this when Ben Shapiro worked there. So did Erick Erickson at his Red State. So did Bethany Mandel. So did the Others who made their livings taking part happily in Gingrich Conservatism, using those gut-level triggers in book deals and media fame to promote tribal mindlessness. They didn’t see that the collapse of the Right that was built into the blueprints: anyone could do it. It was a mechanism for control that no one could control. They could draw attention and make their names Othering each other. Anyone could lift Newt’s memes, bump up the nasty, and aim them again and again at any Other for recreational hate. The uglier it got the more lucrative it was for them, and the more fun it was to their audiences until the fun was all that mattered and the audience took over. It led only to failure and nihilism; like the failed 19th century secession Gingrich knew well, it was a lost cause when it started. The journalists and pundits made careers pointing ammo like cheat and corruption and decay and disgrace at targets. Now they’re targets. One can picture them laughing around the table at how beautifully the scam worked when they owned the scam. Now they don’t. They want to be responsible Conservatives. Too late.