Published May 21, 2020
Among dozens of addled tweets from the commander-in-chief over the past few days, one in particular deserves pausing over, because it demonstrates not just his weak-mindedness, but also the way his leadership is sabotaging conservatism.
Trump retweeted an “America First” post featuring disgraced columnist Michelle Malkin complaining about conservatives being silenced on social media. Trump has retweeted unsavory characters before, but in this case, he added an endorsement: “The radical left is in total command & control of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google. The administration is working to remedy this illegal situation. Stay tuned, and send names & events. Thank you Michelle!”
In the name of standing up for aggrieved conservatives, Trump soils the brand. First, a detail. The “radical left” is not in control of those outlets, and even if it were, they are private entities, and therefore perfectly free to make their own judgements about content. There is nothing “illegal” about it. If the administration were working to “remedy” the situation, that would be illegal. Another detail: Trump has 19.7 million followers on Instagram, 26.7 million on Facebook, and 80 million on Twitter. Perhaps what keeps him so popular is his audience’s inexhaustible appetite for whining.
The woman Trump thanked is a columnist and social media entrepreneur who was a respected member of the conservative commentariat – emphasis on the past tense. Her books were published by Regnery, she was a featured speaker for the Young America’s Foundation and at CPAC, she was a regular on Fox & Friends – the full fandango. In the past two years though, she has been pretty well shunned by respectable conservative outlets, or what passes for such nowadays. She is no longer welcome at CPAC. The Young America’s Foundation has dropped her, and the Daily Wire and National Review discontinued her syndicated column.
The occasion for the deplatforming was Malkin’s swan dive into the right-wing fever swamps. Who can say whether the rise of Trump emboldened her to consort with racists and Holocaust deniers? Something like those tendencies were in evidence long ago. In 2004, she published a book titled In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and The War on Terror. That was a tell, but the real nutbaggery didn’t set in until about 2017, when she endorsed alt-right candidate Paul Nehlen (“Paul Nehlen slams . . . corporate open-borders elites!”), and contributed to the VDARE website which frequently hosts white nationalists, racists, and anti-Semites.
Her most grotesque relationship though, and the one that got her booted from the Young America’s Foundation, was with a group calling themselves “groypers,” led by a 21-year-old YouTube host named Nick Fuentes. To get a sense of just how loathsome this figure is, have a look at this video in which he wonders, grinning, about whether 6 million “cookies” could really be baked in ovens and how the “math doesn’t add up.”
Holocaust jokes. How droll.
Fuentes, you will not be shocked to learn, is one of the “very fine people” who marched with neo-Nazis at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Remember Pepe the Frog? He’s their mascot. He described the mass murder in an El Paso Walmart as an “act of desperation.” Turning Point USA is too tame for his tastes, and his group has lately been heckling speakers like Ben Shapiro, Dan Crenshaw, and even Donald Trump, Jr.
In other words, if anything is beyond the pale for a civilized country, the “groypers” are it. Yet Michelle Malkin has declared herself the “mother of groypers” and called them “good kids.” When she was rebuked by mainstream conservatives, she declared her allegiances proudly:
They want me to disavow Nick Fuentes and VDARE and Peter Brimelow and Faith Goldy and Gavin McInnes and the Proud Boys and Steve King and Laura Loomer and on and on. They want to do to me what they’ve done to brilliant academics who’ve told the truth — Amy Wax at the University of Pennsylvania and Darren Beattie and Jason Richwine and Steve Sailer.
“They” did want that, or at least some mainstream conservatives were willing to draw a line (the grosser MAGA-types like Mike Cernovich and Jim Hoft were not). But now Trump has vitiated that work by praising Malkin. The thing Trump retweeted was not actually a Malkin post, but a tweet of Malkin speaking to a Fuentes event. “America First Clips” is a feed for one of Fuentes’s outlets. Naturally, Fuentes is gloating.
Trump defenders will no doubt protest that Trump knew nothing of Malkin’s descent into neo-Nazi land; that he was merely endorsing her complaint about discrimination against conservative voices. Or they may object that Trump was taken in by the title “America First Clips,” assuming that a group using his tagline must be okay.
But that’s no excuse at all. In fact, Trump probably did not know much about those he praised, either Malkin or, by extension, Fuentes. But he has a duty to know. Yes, he’s an indolent ignoramus, but guess what, the taxpayers are paying for a huge staff. He has people who can check. He doesn’t use them because he doesn’t care. His moral reasoning is primitive. If you are pro-Trump, no matter what else you are (a murderous dictator, a racist troll), you’re fine in his book. A bunch of loutish protesters harass a TV journalist using the F words (“fake news” and the other one), and Trump proclaims them “great people.” He has no objective moral standards. Everything is about him. On a scale of moral reasoning, he is subzero.
But the world of conservative opinion shapers does still attempt, however weakly, to maintain some guard rails. With every passing day of Donald Trump’s leadership, those standards crumble a bit more.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Fuentes was 22 years old.
Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a contributor to The Bulwark, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore