The Austin Chronicle

Page Three: Trump and the Co-opting of “Alt”

If "alt-left" means "anti-Nazi," count us in

By Kimberley Jones, August 18, 2017, Columns

Those of us who work in alternative media have already gnashed our teeth plenty over the co-opting of "alternative" in post-Trump America. Kellyanne Conway's rebranding of proven falsehoods as "alternative facts," the reframing of white nationalism as the more palatable-seeming "alt-right": These are Orwell-worthy, mental tongue-twisters that have benefited from borrowing in ill faith the legitimacy of alternative media. Alt-weeklies started in the Sixties as scrappy competitors to traditional newspapers – more prone to four-letter words, first-person reportage, and a progressive point of view – but alt-weeklies in 2017 have frankly moved closer to the establishment, especially as some papers have become the sole source of local news in communities where daily newspapers have collapsed.

President Trump continued the degradation of the term "alt" in his Aug. 15 press conference. After Monday's attempt to rectify his shockingly ineffectual and deeply offensive response in the immediate aftermath of the Charlottesville domestic terror attack, when he failed to call out white supremacy by its name and scolded "both sides" for the deadly event, Trump reverted on Tuesday to his initial stance: "I think there is blame on both sides." Pressed by a reporter, Trump responded, "When you say the alt-right. Define alt-right to me. ... What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?"

While the president appeared, in his rambling remarks, to be specifically referring here to the actions of violent counterprotesters, the term "alt-left" was one crafted by conservatives as a kind of catch-all smear – against "fake news," Elizabeth Warren, Black Lives Matter, and other favorite bugbears. Trump and the right-wing media are not alone in drawing a false equivalence between the "alt-right" and its opposition. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, the mainstream media was complicit in a similar equivalence, bending over backwards to present a false balance in its campaign coverage, back when the alt-right was more careful to code its messaging. We are well past that now. White supremacy has been emboldened by Trump's presidency to proudly unfurl Nazi flags in public squares and sieg heil their orange-haired new führer. Trump's refusal to decisively denounce them can only be interpreted as tacit approval.

So. Our own president has drawn the battle lines between alt-right and alt-left. Yes, it is a low day in America when the opposition to evil is framed by our highest elected official as "alternative" – but there is some comfort in knowing history has proven the alternative point of view so often to be the morally right and righteous one. And we've got strength in numbers.

On the one side are neo-Nazis, white nationalists, stubborn defenders of stone relics glorifying the leaders of century-old battles waged to maintain white rule over black bodies. (Do not fucking come at me about states' rights.)

On the other side – the so-called alt-left. The alt-left is the rest of us.

The alt-left is all of us.

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