In response to the chemical attack in Syria, President Trump has said that it “crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line” and has changed his thinking about President Bashar al-Assad. As I am writing this, bombs are not yet falling on Damascus (UPDATE: it’s official, now they are), but it is being widely reported that he is currently discussing military options with his staff. If President Trump actually does take America into yet another war (how many will this make now?), then the true Right needs to begin reevaluating its stance toward him. We also have a red line, and Trump seems poised to cross it. This must be our Rubicon.
I’m not so naïve as to believe that Trump and his people are worrying about what those few of us on the Alt Right will think if he goes to war with Assad. However, on this point, the Alt Right is certainly of one mind with the vast majority of those sixty-three million Americans who voted for Trump: namely, that we have had enough of neocon wars. It is no coincidence that Michigan, where I lived for many years, is both a state that has been very badly hit in terms of casualties in our recent string of wars, and is also one of the usually reliable Democrat states that flipped in the last election. Campaign promises aside, given how narrowly Trump managed to secure victory, it’s difficult for me to imagine why he and his people are so willing to throw those who did vote for him under the bus so quickly. No one in America voted for Trump so that he could continue to engage our country in senseless wars. (Although it seems he has won the support of Bill Kristol, unsurprisingly.)
We agreed with those sixty-three million Americans because it is one of the principles of the true Right that no people should interfere with the lives of another except where such is necessary for self-defense. We believe that all peoples have a responsibility to look after their own interests – including and most especially our own, but we respect others who wish to do so for their own as well when they don’t conflict with ours, most especially in the case of leaders like Assad, whose policies are in some way aligned with our own (such as in his opposition to radical Islamism).
Moreover, even if we were to accept that the rebels in Syria have noble intentions (I don’t, just to be clear), we must recognize that it is not the place of the United States to spend its own blood and treasure in the pursuit of goals that are the sole responsibility of the people of that nation. The Syrians should be left alone to sort out their politics for themselves. (Indeed, if we had followed such a policy from the outset, it’s likely that this war would never have come about in the first place, given America’s role in fanning its flames – which would also mean that there likely never would have been any “migrant crisis,” either, but that’s a subject for another time.) We’ve been responsible for too many failed attempts at nation-building over the last twenty-five years to undertake yet another.
I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, but anyone rational has to admit that this attack is extremely suspect. The use of chemical weapons would be the act of a regime driven to desperation in the face of total defeat. In fact, Assad has been winning against ISIS and the other rebel groups for some time now. Why he would suddenly choose to resort to “weapons of mass destruction” now is mystifying, all the more so when he must surely realize that their use would be likely to provoke an American military response. This is also to ignore the fact that the last time a chemical attack took place in Syria that brought the US to the brink of war, in Ghouta in 2013, no definite proof of the government’s responsibility was ever produced, and it appears likely that it was staged by the rebels to coincide with the arrival of United Nations Mission inspectors. This latest attack bears all the signs of having been carried out for similar reasons. In 2013, faced with intense pressure from Putin and the refusal of the British Parliament to back a NATO military response, President Obama refrained from retaliation.
In contrast, Trump’s response to this attack has been almost as baffling as Assad’s (alleged) motives for carrying it out. Apparently, he is willing to doubt the CIA’s conclusions about Russia’s involvement in the election, but when it comes to Syria he takes their word as gospel. It’s unclear what has changed. Perhaps Trump is getting tired of being at loggerheads with his own intelligence agencies and hopes that if he goes along with them on this, they will support him on something else he wants to do. Or, if we can believe the rhetoric coming from the White House, perhaps he really does see this as a way of showing that he won’t back down from crossing the “red line” that Obama set and then refused to cross during the 2013 Ghouta crisis, thus demonstrating his bravado – although this would be extremely odd considering that Trump himself opposed military action at the time, tweeting:
AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013
Trump’s threats against Assad were made all the more ominous by the fact that they came on the same day that Steve Bannon, the Alt Right’s man on the inside, was dismissed from the National Security Council (where he might have had a few things to say about bombing Assad) – yet another worrisome sign that Trump is beginning to cave in to his adversaries.
Trump’s presidency has been disappointing so far. We knew it was going to be tough going – that, as a man with no previous political experience, there was going to be a learning curve, and that enemies from every corner of Washington were going to emerge to oppose his agenda. But there really hasn’t been much “winning” going on since January. Both attempts at a very modest immigration ban failed – admittedly as a result of forces beyond Trump’s control, but they don’t bode well for any truly radical reform in that area in the coming years. The Republicans’ extremely lame attempt to repeal Obamacare also failed – mainly because they couldn’t come up with anything worthwhile to replace it with (single payer, hello?). And Trump continues to make himself look ridiculous by harping on about trivial affairs such as his disputes with the media over facts that nobody cares about until he makes an issue out of them.
Bombs falling on Damascus notwithstanding, I’m not giving up on him just yet – we’re not even three months into his term, after all. And I’m still hopeful that this is all just saber-rattling and that he will step back from the abyss. But if he reneges on his foreign policy promises as well, it’s difficult to see what there could still be to salvage from his administration. The President’s powers over domestic policies are limited; they lie primarily in the legislative and judicial branches. Where the President has real power is in foreign and military policy. Only the President can order military action. So if he breaks with his own line on war, then there’s no reason to believe that he will follow through on anything else.
Already, some of those – both some on the Right as well as liberals – who have remained pessimistic about Trump all along are saying, “I told you so.” But to them I say, “No, you didn’t.” At no point did I ever unequivocally support Trump, and I can’t think of any major figure on the Alt or New Right who did, even if we allowed ourselves to bask in the glory of Trump’s improbable victory for a few months in the aftermath, and perhaps got a little cocky about it at times. We never saw Trump as “the Alt Right President.” No one with good judgment in our circles ever embraced all aspects of his program and personality uncritically. During the campaign, Trump articulated some ideas which happened to coincide with our own views – more so than any other mainstream politician in decades – and because of this, we supported him. But the goal of the true Right, which existed long before Trump and will continue to exist long after he is a memory, was never simply to get Trump elected, and even once that was accomplished, we never wanted to become his cheerleaders. We rather saw it as an opportunity to push the political conversation at least slightly in our direction. But we never intended to abandon our efforts to continue honing and spreading our core ideas and ideals, Trump or no Trump.
Even if Trump’s presidency turns out to be a complete disaster from our point of view, I’d argue that it was still worth it. After all, if Hillary were President right now, there wouldn’t even be any question of the sort of rhetoric we’d be hearing in Washington regarding Syria. And regardless of what Trump himself does, his victory was still worthwhile from the standpoint of disrupting the neoliberal establishment’s narrative and giving the true Right a voice – however faint and often distorted – in the mainstream.
Trump’s victory was a symptom of the neoliberal system finally beginning to break down. We, and all those who voted for him, did so because we knew that we can’t expect change to come from within the establishment, and we took the opportunity to see what would happen if we put in an outsider. It may be that we were wrong, that Trump will end up selling out, or that he is doomed to failure by the system he’s forced to work within – it’s too early to say with any certainty. But nevertheless, we had nothing to lose and everything to gain in the attempt. And it was also an exquisite pleasure seeing the white working class flipping the establishment that had long since forgotten them the bird, and seeing the paroxysms of the liberals in response.
Some have been suggesting that Trump’s failure will result in the weakening of the true Right and the strengthening of the Left. Of the sixty-three million people who voted for him, it may be the case that some of those people will run back to the Left, but given how deeply polarized the nation currently is, it seems unlikely that it’s going to be many of them. For those of us on the Alt Right, true Right, or what have you, our job will be to keep doing what we’ve already been doing for most of the last decade, which is to keep challenging the status quo.
Many of us, myself included, were willing to give working with the system a try to see what would happen. A dismal Trump failure will only mean that we will revert to the position we were in prior to 2015, when we were encouraging people to think outside the establishment and business as usual. The crucial difference will be that now, with all the publicity we’ve received, we will be reaching a lot more people than before. The Left tried to discredit Trump by associating him with the Alt Right, but they failed, and sixty-three million people voted for him anyway. I really don’t think that all or even most of those sixty-three million will just throw up their hands and say, “I guess we were wrong, obviously we should just go back to the way things were before.” Change is inevitable at this point. We just have to keep at it.
So, we need to see what happens in the coming days. Hopefully, Trump will come to his senses, if he ever truly left them, and decide to leave Assad alone. If he doesn’t, then we will very much need to begin taking a much harsher critical stance towards him. It will be essential to do this if we are to retain our integrity. I’m not really worried about this, however, as judging from what I’ve been seeing on social media today, it seems that nearly everyone on the Alt/New Right is in agreement on this.
We will remain undaunted regardless. As Jef Costello recently reminded us, all of us have already joined the ranks of the League of Shadows – it only remains to be seen if we will continue working in the sunlight, or if we will melt back into the undergrowth and work from the sidelines. Wherever we stand, many more Americans have already started listening to us. And I daresay that our long-term prospects are much better than Trump’s. We’ve struck a chord in the zeitgeist. Whether our President decides on good or ill, we’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing all along. This has never been about Trump. The true Right is back and we’re here to stay.
Addendum: Literally as I was posting this article, I saw the news that the US has just fired fifty to sixty cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. So, unfortunately, it seems that we’re in Plan B mode now after all.