The Two Types of Alt-Right Delusions of Grandeur
Two events have happened in the last couple days that seemingly have little to do with each other. The more high profile of the two was the #Pizzagate gunman, who entered Washington, D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong armed in an attempt to shut down a non-existent child trafficking ring; the other was the firing of Philadelphia Phillies pistachio vendor Emily Youcis for anti-Semitic tweets.
The two are unconnected but for the fact that they highlight the different types of delusions of grandeur held by members of the alt-right, and the way the movement’s misinformation feed into them.
In an election cycle that had laughably unfounded fears of voter fraud in the nightly news and Alex Jones as a key national figure, #Pizzagate was by far the battiest conspiracy theory. The short version, for those unfamiliar, is that the last batch of leaked Clinton-team emails had a suspicious amount of talk about pizza, and specifically a suspicious amount of talk about John Podesta’s favorite pizza place, Comet Ping Pong. The conclusion come to by some enterprising alt-right redditors was that “pizza” was code for children, other words were code for other things, and that Comet Ping Pong was the hub of a child sex-trafficking ring. Just a year ago, we would have had the luxury of thinking no one could possibly be dumb enough to believe that. Now, we know that a lot of people are.
One of those people was Edgar M. Welch. Welch felt that the stories alleging Comet Ping Pong was harboring child sex slaves were so credible that he drove all the way from North Caroline is Washington, D.C., to take care of the situation himself.
Welch was not acting maliciously, in that he actually believed that what he was doing was right, but in my opinion he was still acting out of self-interest. He saw an unbelievable story and accepted it as fact. That meant that there were children being harmed and no one was doing anything about it; it was his chance to be a hero, to strike a blow against the corrupt government in the name of goodness and justice. He wanted to be John McLane, a one-man liberation force, so badly that he became Travis Bickle. His delusions are part and parcel of a desire for grandeur.
Emily Youcis, on the other hand, lost her job for these she tweets:
According to the Huffington Post, she had this to say about her firing:
Youcis insisted her firing would hurt the Phillies more than it would hurt her because the fans and baseball players treated her “like a god.”
“I owned that stadium,” she boasted.
She seems to put herself on a level much closer to the Phillies players or front office than the fans she used to serve nuts to. She has a high opinion of herself, and seems to think that she’s doing her community and race a service by speaking truth to power. That level of self-importance means that she grants credence to her beliefs simply because they are her beliefs. That kind of circular confirmation bias is the result of delusions of having already attained grandeur.
The difference between the two types of delusion are important to keep in mind in the run-up to the presidency of Donald Trump. Trump, whose opposition viewed him as the face of white nationalism, seems to be more like Youcis. He’s a narcissist who either believes that he’s smarter and better than everyone else or has spent his whole life attempting to speak being smarter and better than everyone else into existence. That sort of delusion is not by itself insidious; he and Youcis are blowhards who can only do damage if given the ability to do so by others. The difference between he and Youcis is that because he was a legitimate public figure (and rich), he blundered into the presidency rather than out of a job.
Far more dangerous are those more in line with Welch. Welch, it seems, didn’t have evil intentions when he walked into Comet Ping Pong with his guns; he wanted to etch his name in the history books for going out and doing what was right, and put down his gun when he found out what he was doing was wrong:
What we as a country need to worry about is Trump appointing more overtly malicious people to his cabinet or continue using them as mouthpieces, people willing to actually forward racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic agendas rather than simply believe them. People like Steve Bannon, who was willing to go out and found a website devoted to white nationalism in Breitbart; people like Ann Coulter, who goes out of her way to craft racist arguments that sound well-spoken enough for people who already lean racist to accept them.
Unlike Welch, Bannon, Coulter, and people like them are intelligent enough to never have their ignorance proven definitively wrong, not to themselves and not to the people who listen to them; they can always find a statistic or some circumstancial evidence to support their white nationalist points of view. The only way to stop them from spreading faux-reasonable sounding hate or advocating xenophobic policies is to vote for people who won’t allow those policies through, so that even the executive actions can be repealed.
None of this is to say that the alt-right is the sole home of these sorts of delusions. Hillary Clinton and her supporters clearly felt entitled to the presidency in a way that kept her from campaigning effectively in the Midwest, including swing states like Ohio and Michigan. Her supporters also point to the popular vote numbers as evidence of a strong mandate for her to lead, which is ridiculous because that’s never how the country has worked (right or not). None of that is an issue now, though, because her support was neither as extremist nor as rabid, and also because she lost, so she doesn’t matter to the country’s future anymore. Trump and his appointees unfortunately do.
The Emily Youcises of the world getting elected and appointed isn’t the end of the world; for lots of minorities, allowing the legislation of the Edgar M. Welches they appoint might be.