During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump was often accused of courting the alt-right, a new brand of right-wing populism rooted in white identity politics. Trump denied the association, going so far as to “disavow the group” in an interview with the New York Times. Yet his rejection hasn’t stopped the alt-right’s love affair with their “God Emperor.”
Alt-right standard-bearers like Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute and Andrew Anglin’s Daily Stormer are enthusiastically pro-Trump. One quick glance at /r/The_Donald is enough to confirm the affinity Trump’s online army has for the alt-right, Pepe memes and all.
However, this one-sided love affair may not last forever. If anything, Trump’s actions in the two months since the election have laid the ground for yet another corporatist Republican administration, not the populist uprising the alt-right was hoping for.
Could the alt-right break up with “Daddy Trump”? I think so, for three reasons.
First, all presidents break their promises, and Trump will be no exception. According to PolitiFact’s Obameter, the 44th president broke more than half of his. Trump’s wild pledges will likely lead to an even lower rate of success.
Indeed, the president-elect already seems to be backing away from some of his most crowd-pleasing lines. The new Republican Congress might build Trump’s wall, but without a check from Mexico. Despite eager chants to “lock her up,” Trump doesn’t seem eager to investigate Hillary Clinton, as he famously promised in an October debate. His calls for a Muslim ban and mass deportation are logistically impossible.
The alt-right will not react well when it finally sinks in that the Trump revolution is anything but.
Second, Trump’s cabinet appointments have so far signaled that his administration will be more of the corporatist sort that Americans are used to in Republican regimes. Some of his picks are already ruffling feathers among the alt-right, as indicated by a Breitbart hit piece on Department of Labor appointee Andy Puzder.
Indeed, rather than draining the swamp, Trump has instead assembled the richest cabinet in American history. If anything indicates that the alt-right’s dream of a populist uprising will be deferred, it is this fact.
Third and finally, Trump always made a point on the campaign trail of using inclusive rhetoric, not the white identity politics that the alt-right is so fond of. Sure, Trump’s homage to multiculturalism was usually cringeworthy, but you can’t fault the guy for going through the motions.
Throughout the campaign, he often made a point of bringing minorities onto the stage. In Las Vegas, he introduced a very enthusiastic Colombian woman who pledged to “vote for Mr. Trump.” In Detroit, he danced and prayed at a black church. In Colorado, he held up a rainbow flag for gay equality with “LGBT for Trump” written on it.
Rather than embracing the white identity rhetoric of the alt-right, Trump has consistently tried to build bridges to all kinds of communities. The success of his efforts are certainly debatable, but the underlying lesson is the same – Trump is not alt-right. The Pepe meme team is sure to be disappointed.