The recent revelations of Trump's grotesque comments regarding women in 2005, which can potentially be read as an admission of sexual assault, have been met with disdain, outrage and disgust by the broader public, mainstream media, the democratic party and many high-profile figures of the Republican party. In the wake of his comments surfacing, many women who have encountered Trump have come out and told their stories of alleged sexual assault and misconduct against the Republican nominee. Trump apologised for the 2005 video in the way only Trump knows how: a manipulative non-apology filled with deflection, claiming that the controversy was a distraction whilst attempting to highlight the alleged past conduct of former President Bill Clinton. This new controversy has been extremely damaging for Trump as it has weakened him in the polls, seen a consolidated media condemnation of his character and resulted in many Republican figures revoking their support for his nomination.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that these revelations would normally kill any political campaign, even one as unique and inflammatory as Trump's, and it may well be over now. Trump's history of misogyny has been well-documented and one must ask with this in mind: what led to him gaining so much power within the Republican party, given that moderates and centrists are now moving to disavow the party nominee. The most obvious interpretation is to look at the new, antagonistic, internet-based conservative political movement known as the 'Alternative-Right' or 'Alt-Right', which have been extremely influential in supporting and advocating for the Trump campaign. Broadly speaking, the Alt-Right is an American-led movement based upon right wing ideologies that reject mainstream conservatism in the United States and is largely active through social media use. It largely stems from internet sub-culture and has manifested through online communities such as 4chan. Media outlets, blogs and think tanks in the US which harbor Alt-Right ideologies and leanings include the National Policy Institute, American Renaissance, The Right Stuff, Breitbart News, The Drudge Report and Infowars.
The Alt-Right has no formal ideology as it can only be viewed as a non-monolithic, broad-cross section of anti-establishment conservatism in the US, but it largely believes in white nationalism, anti-immigration, anti-feminism, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitism, anti-globalisation and anti-political correctness. The Alt-Right’s goals are to preserve white identity and Western civilisation whilst rejecting egalitarianism, liberalism and universalism. A core ideology of the Alt-Right is to break with establishment Republicanism, which they see as impotent, out-of-touch and emasculated by liberalism and globalism, whilst being simultaneously influenced by them. Whereas mainstream Republicanism has been largely focused on the free market, the constitution, limited government and issues of Christian identity, the Alt-Right views these as a distraction from the apparent perils of multiculturalism, political correctness and the supposed loss of white identity.
It’s Trump’s aggressively populist rejection of establishment Republicanism and his unwillingness to conform to establishment norms that the Alt-Right finds so attractive about him. His authoritative demeanor, conspiratorial disposition, and vehement opposition to immigration and political correctness appeals to the Alt-Right and has led to them adopting him as their de-facto leader.
Trump’s views on women have gained the support of this fringe movement. His disparaging comments on women have been championed and celebrated by this movement as an act of defiant rebellion against the apparent ‘totalitarian’ forces of political correctness and feminism. In the age of perceived hyper political correctness, Trump’s sexism and misogyny is interpreted by the Alt-Right as an act of political bravery and he is martyred as a free speech hero of their cause. In response to recent allegations of assault against him, Trump has aggressively brought his accusers' characters and trustworthiness into question, inciting long-standing, anti-feminist sentiments in the Alt-Right whilst simultaneously driving the narrative of a conspiracy against him by the media and the Clinton campaign. Trump has been able to galvanise the support of this movement by catering to their political anger by delivering a narrative that carefully couples of a number of their ideologies, biases and fantasies.
Whilst Trump’s appeal to the misogyny of the Alt-Right is clearly normalising this standard within his campaign, a long-standing history of systemically endorsing a standard that threatens the welfare of women by the Republican party, the fringe and the establishment cannot be excused. The Alt-Right’s misogyny is perhaps the most extreme and visible. But the GOP has historically supported legislation restricting women’s reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood, equal pay laws, access to health care and opposed anti-violence against women bills. Despite GOP leaders’ condemnation for Trump’s remarks, the party has an undeniable historical legacy of attacking women through its policy mandate. This has created a systemic culture in which Trump’s misogyny is normalised within the Republican party alongside the openly misogynistic rhetoric of fringe movements such as the Alt-Right.
Matthew Holding is the United States Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.