I Almost Supported Trump
Why the process that built up support for Trump is so prevalent and so dangerous
Alright, I’ll admit it up front. I’m a white male working his way out of his teenage years. I’ve also spent a disproportionate amount of time over the last few years on the Internet. It is because of those two things that I bore witness to what was essentially the rise of the Trump movement, or at least the way of thinking behind it. I will not claim that this is where it started, but having seen many people make the transition from liberal or centrist to alt-right, and almost going through it myself, I have some insight on what situations bring around such a transition.
The first step to understanding this movement is understanding some of the history behind it. One of the watershed moments, on the Internet that is, was the Gamergate movement. While the roots of Gamergate were laid for years, it officially started in 2014 when the ex-boyfriend of Zoe Quinn, a minor game developer, posted a long blogpost about how she had received a positive review on her game, Depression Quest, while she was in a relationship with the reviewer. This was later proven to be false. The ex-boyfriend had recently been dumped, and was generating false claims in order to get revenge. However, this sparked a wide array of outrage among many in the gaming community. Just like that, ethics in gaming journalism became an issue overnight.
At the time, I was still in high school, and spending way too much time on the Internet, especially Reddit. That is where I first caught wind of the Gamergate movement, centered around a subreddit called /r/KotakuInAction, referencing the gaming news site, Kotaku. At the time I was quite into gaming, and I was a fan of ethics, so I started following the situation more closely. I read the articles, I watched the videos, and I even looked at the memes. After a few months I was deeply interested in the Gamergate movement. However, it was also around this time that I realized that is wasn’t just about gaming journalism. There was a significant portion of the discussion that was railing against SJWs.
SJW stands for Social Justice Warrior, and is a descriptor for a certain type of feminist that is particularly “in your face” about it. They’re the kind of people who talk about privilege, micro-aggressions, and online harassment. The Gamergate community felt that too many of these people were getting involved in the gaming community, and were making it worse for everyone else. Not only did people feel that adding social justice into the gaming community was making games less fun, they also felt that it was beginning to occupy space in the community that had previously been filled up with people who had been more like them. Not only did these gamers feel that things were changing for the worse, they felt that they were actively being forced out of the conversation.
At the time, I was not particularly interested in social justice. I was a middle class white guy who had his own problems to deal with. Social anxiety was making my life miserable, and a lot of the time I felt I had no one to talk to. Therefore, a lot of my time was spent on reddit, absorbing all of this anti-SJW media, and slowly growing more and more resentful of Spookism and social justice in general.
Gamergate grew throughout 2014, going into 2015. A new set of figures rose on each side. On the Gamergate side, figures like Milo Yiannopoulos thrived on being intentionally abrasive to SJW, while using his homosexuality as license to criticize the left. On the social justice side, figures like Anita Sarkeesian made their names by criticizing popular video games, citing a lack of diversity or objectification of women. As time went on, hacking, doxxing, and harassment became more and more of a problem on both sides. It was no longer about ethics in video gaming journalism, it was a full-out culture war.
I started to realize this at the beginning of 2015. I was seeing less and less about journalism when I logged on each morning and more and more about how bad feminists were. That sentiment was spilling into other movements as well. A subreddit called /r/FatPeopleHate, which is exactly what it sounds like, became very popular around that time, and I was completely disgusted with the outright bullying that went on there. Then I realized that the people I had been reading from for all these months were supporting it. A moment of clarity came around this time when I was talking to my mother.
I was describing the whole situation that was going on, and at one point to describe the type of feminist that I disliked, I used the term “feminazi”. My mom seemed taken aback.
“I would be careful about using any term that Rush Limbaugh coined”
It was at this point that I realized what had happened. While I thought I was fighting for ethics in journalism, I was subtly being fed classic far-right talking points without realizing it. At this point I realized that I had had enough with this movement, and I unsubscribed from all of the Gamergate and anti-feminist subreddits and started to look at more arguments from the left side of the aisle.
A few months later, a billionaire descended from an escalator and announced that he was running for president. He was a different type of politician, and it would turn out that that’s what people wanted. He blazed through the Republican primaries, and eventually won the general election by a slight margin. For the most part, nobody could tell what on earth was going on. He seemed to have this unstoppable and untouchable aura around him. There were two major aspects that led to his support. The one that ensured his general election victory was extreme partisanship, but the one that ensured his primary victory is much more interesting to talk about.
Trump’s campaign showed a lot of surprising similarities to the Gamergate movement that swept reddit back in 2014. It contained a simple, noble root: take back Washington from the establishment. With that message, Trump managed to take not only those who were upset with Democrats, but also many who were upset with Republicans. Millions of voters who felt like they had been left behind suddenly felt that they had a voice. This led to a core base of support that carried Trump through the crowded primaries with relative ease.
However, just like Gamergate, this message invited a number of sinister motives. Trump’s disregard for saying the politically correct thing invited a number of racists to his side, who began to make white nationalism a core tenant of his campaign. While Trump never seemed to be in on it, a number of neo-Nazi organizations rallied around his success, bringing back old hated concepts that were supposedly lost throughout the 20th century. Hate crimes have consistently gone up during and after his campaign, and more and more Americans are supporting increasingly radical ideas.
The biggest similarity between the Trump campaign and the Gamergate movement was the transformation that many of their supporters undertook. People came in with a certain image of themselves in their minds. I can not count how many times I saw someone say, “Well, I’m a liberal, but…” when justifying a far-right opinion in either the Trump or Gamergate movement. For someone on the left side of the aisle, any movement towards the right is seen as a move towards the center, and therefore is seen as more sensible. Therefore, whether it be a somewhat liberal gamer or a midwestern factory worker, a number of people were tempted to the far-right while thinking they were simply becoming more reasonable.
Obviously, as one could probably tell, my personal judgement is that this is a bad thing. However, even for those who think I’m full of crap, this transition is an important one to be aware of. It is essentially a minor form of radicalization, assuming we define radicalization as moving towards a sharp political or social position from a relatively normal one. It is a similar process that occurs when people move to the far-left, and even occurs when ISIS recruits someone who seemed to be so normal for all of their lives. A reasonable fear or distrust is preyed upon by those who use that to feed a radical ideology to an unsuspecting victim.
So, take it from someone who almost went through it himself. Radicalization is all over the place, and it is important to watch out for it. Always hold a certain level of self-awareness, and be safe.