Trump Fans and 'Social Justice Warriors,' Two Sides of the Same Authoritarian Coin

Both the social-justice left and the alt-right view the world primarily through identity politics.


Elvert Barnes/Flickr + DeLust/Flickr

At first blush, the anti-political correctness crusaders that make up Donald Trump's online army have little in common with the so-called "social justice warriors" they claim to abhor. Some will even argue that trigger-warning-happy, intolerance-intolerant campus activists and their digital counterparts are actually driving otherwise level-headed and mild-mannered young folk straight into the arms of the Donald. But as well as these two millennial cohorts work as political foils on the surface, they're really better understood as two sides of the same authoritarian coin.

Consider: both the social-justice left and the so-called "alt-right" view the world primarily through identity politics. Whether it's in the service of white nationalism or multicultural flourishing, they encourage individuals to be ever-cognizant of their own race, sex, sexual orientation, etc., and that of those with whom they're interacting. While you might argue that the social-justice left is less dehumanizing or on ethically higher ground in their assignation of everyone to identity categories—their stated goal, after all, is overcoming disparities in relative privilege, not perpetuating them—the effect has still been an increasing collectivism and tendency to reduce people and cultures to socially agreed-upon roles and attributes.

Then there's the reliance on victimhood and outrage. Conservatives have for years decried this melodramatic tendency on the left but, if there was ever a time they didn't trade on it heavily themselves, that time has long since passed. Both sides, especially their youngest and most digitally active advocates, seize every opportunity possible to portray the other side as bullying, stupid, and evil, and their side as the truly oppressed. Obviously, a lot of legitimate claims of injustice lie in this melee, too. But they're often lost in the white noise of whining, hyperbolic keyboard warriors, the professional grievancemongers in the media, and the privileged university students who believe subpar Bahn Mi sandwiches are an affront on human dignity. The entire politically aware Internet is the boy who cried wolf, and then texted it, and then showed up with a wolf gif in your Twitter mentions. Trauma and mistreatment are currency whether you're a Fox News contributor or a feminist blogger, a confused college freshman, an obese pansexual genderqueer grad student, or Norse-god-in-a-Trump-hat avi guy on Twitter. 

And for all these people, things are only getting worse. Their beliefs are rooted in pessimism and fear about the state of modern society, and its capacity for positive change. No, the millennial elite are all reality-denying socialist feminazis intent on subjugating the whole male population, there's a war on cops in the inner cities or wherever it is black people live, the immigrants are sneaking across borders to rape our women, the Muslims are holding rape parties in the streets of London, Christians get no respect, white women aren't having enough babies, there are too damn many interracial couples, making false rape claims is a new college major, and Twitter is out to get conservatives. Or hate speech is rampant, women online face a constant barrage of rape and death threats, college campuses are facing epidemics of sexual violence, everyone is racist, sex trafficking is everywhere, Republicans want to ban birth control, employers pay women less for the exact same work, GMOs are giving us cancer and autistic babies, undocumented immigrants are earning livings in jobs we think should be beneath them, dumb hicks are getting dumber, and the whole world ever less safe.

Demonstrating with what most people would consider facts that any of these things is not true won't do any good. Both the "build a wall" and the "believe all women" crowd are wholly resistant to evidence that doesn't match their preferred narratives. Othering and demonizing opponents isn't about convincing the unconvinced, but building in-group solidarity. They are right, and anyone who can't see it is a damn dirty cis-het cuck. 

And Trump's young, digitally savvy conservative fans and the safe-space idolizing students of elite U.S. universities don't merely share a propensity for the language of victimhood and outrage. They also both reject classical liberal values—values that, until recently, large swaths of the right and left almost universally claimed to revere. Neither side cares much for individual rights, tolerance, equality under the law, or small government. Neither is above calling on the state to intervene and impose an inviolable value-system on all citizens.

"The most significant dividing line in our current politics isn't between left and right but individualism vs. collectivism," suggested Jack Hunter this week at Breitbart. It's become something of a common axiom in libertarian political circles and among the allegedly liberty-respecting right. But while "cultural libertarians" and their ilk claim to stand in contrast to the left's collectivist impulses, these groups—the Reddit-era heirs of '90s-style paleoconservatism, according to Hunter—are every bit as collectivist as their alleged enemies. 

The young people of today's college protests and Twitter mobs certainly aren't blameless in all this. But it's important to keep in mind that this isn't their rodeo and these aren't their clowns.

Neither ruling party, nor any of its mouthpieces, have more than winked at protecting civil liberties for the past few decades. Neither have been the best role models for respecting the Constitution or promoting smaller government. Both have championed caricatured narratives about what animates the other side, and rely on cultivating moral superiority as a prime political tool and end.

Liberal leaders in academia, activism, and politics rarely show much enthusiasm for free speech, due process, economic liberty, or religious freedom, even when they're not actively working against them. Meanwhile their conservative counterparts only defend rights that accord with their worldviews or polling numbers. Who do we expect to have taught the young left about liberal values if not their elders in advocacy and the academy? Who should the young right look up to for truly limited-government guidance in a conservative party and paradigm that's routinely betrayed any such principles? In 16 George W. Bush and Barack Obama years—the entirety of millennials' tenure so far as adults—who in the political mainstream has shown to young Americans that our society works because, not in spite, of our purportedly ironclad constitutional protections? It's no wonder that today's 17- and 22-year-olds have little appreciation for U.S. constitutional law, nor use for anyone who doesn't completely share their political whims. 

The sooner libertarians stop pretending that any millennial manifestation of the mainstream left or right has a monopoly on awfulness, the better. We needn't cozy up with progressive or alt-right authoritarians in order to show we like free speech or don't like bigotry. The real silent majority of millennials—the ones that show up in polling numbers not Tweetstorms, in personal conversations not viral videos—is still (and increasingly) socially tolerant and sympathetic to constitutional principles. They're just too busy living and let live to be found prominently in either side of the junior illiberal outrage machine.