Just two years ago possibly the most divisive and polarizing President in recent history was elected. It was pandemonium. The left-wing media was apoplectic. Anything related to Trump got thousands of retweets, comments, and likes. There was genuine fear by the left and some on the right, of America descending into full-blown fascism (even though Trump supporters were subjected to more violence than Hillary supporters). The next day thousands of people from all over the world took to the streets in protest. The stock market fell 5% overnight (but it quickly recovered). Civil war, or, optimistically, some sort of repeat of the LA Riots seemed inevitable. If you asked any pundit on election night and in the days following, if things were going to get better or worse, almost everyone would have answered the latter.
On January 20, 2017, Trump was inaugurated, his left hand on the Bible and his right hand raised as he recited the Oath of Office. Trump wasted no time. On January 27, 2017, Trump passed Executive Order 13769, colloquially dubbed the ‘Muslim ban’ by the media and the left. Protests erupted everywhere. This was it—the beginning of Trump’s New America—what we (the ‘right’) had all been waiting for. The alt-right, which saw its popularity grow steadily from late 2014, transformed from being almost a joke to a possible viable political insurgency, was in full force on 4chan and elsewhere on social media (this was before Twitter and other social media companies began their purges).
But, by around mid to late 2017, the unexpected happened. The alt-right, which seemed destined for political glory, seemingly collapsed. By early 2018 it was over, just a year into Trump’s first term. Who would would have guessed that the very group that was supposed benefit the most from Trump’s win (and played a role in helping Trump win)–would have folded so fast. What happened.
Even before 2017, cracks began to show. In late November 2016, what is known as “hail-gate”, Richard Spencer made what appeared to be a stiff-arm salute during a private speech, which was videotaped by the media and went viral. The bad optics caused many on the alt-right to disavow Spencer, contributing to the split between alt-right and the alt-lite. Also, some of Trump’s Cabinet picks were underwhelming, with possible meddling from Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner to blame, causing some on the alt-right to doubt if the tenacity Trump demonstrated during his campaign would transfer to his presidency.
Trump’s Joint Address to Congress on February 28, 2017, was universally well-received by the alt-right, but Trump’s airstrikes on Syria soon after was met with dismay (even though Trump promised more defense spending in his Address).
Steve Bannon, an architect of Trump’s campaign and a intellectual figure of the alt-right and potential liaison between Trump and the alt-right, left his post as White House Chief Strategist after seven months–another setback.
The August 11th, 2017, ill-fated Charlottesville Unite The Right rally could be considered the high watermark of the alt-right.
But as consequence of Charlottesville, major social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook began purging the alt-right, much more so than they had done in the past, which continues to to this day, the most recent target being Alex Jones, but the alt-lite was generally unscathed, further boosting its popularity. Milo Yiannopoulos, Lauren Southern, Roger Stone, and many others, lost accounts. Some of these people are not even alt-right, but were banned for being too confrontational or for being associated with the alt-right. Reddit banning /r/altright in February 2017, in addition to the loss of social media accounts, made it increasingly difficult for the alt-right to convene and share ideas.
By 2018 it became increasingly unlikely that “the wall”, which was the cornerstone of Trump’s campaign, would be realized by his first term, as priority had shifted to trade, and political inertia began to set in.
Related to the right of the alt-lite, was the post-2016 meteoric ascent of IDW and the alt-middle/center. Few could have foreseen that from such a divisive political landscape and election, with the spectre of civil unrest overhead, that online there would be this huge boom in centrism and repudiation of identity politics (offline is different and is as partisan and divisive as ever). No one (except myself, who wrote about it and predicted it in 2015) saw it coming, yet in just a year–beginning in late 2016 with Dr. Peterson’s famous C-16 hearing, which went viral and catapulted the professor and clinical psychologist from the obscurity of academia to a major public figure–the internet, especially YouTube and Reddit, went from being entrenched with ‘identity’, to not wanting anything to do with it. It was a 180-degree change in sentiment. All of a sudden it became the trend de jour to not be affiliated or bound by any political tribe/allegiance, which is perceived as low-status, but rather projecting the intellectual aura being open-minded and provisional, deferring to facts and data, which is perceived as high status.
The upsurge of Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, Scott Adams, and Ben Shapiro’s popularity (although Shapiro is technically right-wing, he has been inducted by the IDW), all of whom repudiate identity politics, mirrors the fall of the alt-right. Who wants to be some loser at a political demonstration who is pepper-sprayed and dragged away by police, immortalized in video and ridiculed all over the internet (this is both left-wing and right-wing activism). Or Richard Spencer’s embarrassing divorce. Or losing your social media accounts that you spent years building, all deleted in a keystroke by some Silicon Valley lackey. Selling books, collecting donations, and giving talks about politics, all with a cool air of detachment and reason about the issue at hand, is a much better gig than engaging head-on with politics. The intellectual freedom of being able to change one’s mind or to entertain an opposing view or contradictory views, is also nice. When Ann Coulter in 2017 criticized Trump’s tax plan as favoring the rich, she got heavy rebuke from her Twitter following, because she had painted herself into a corner as a unfailing Trump ‘loyalist’, leaving no room for possible criticism. The expectation was that she would toe the line, no matter what. Scott Adams, by branding himself as ‘open minded’, introspective, and not tied any party, can in the same breath praise Trump and Black Lives Matter, without any loss of respect or intellectual credibility by the right.
Things come and go. Everyone was talking about Bitcoin in late 2017 and January 2018. People that knew nothing about the technology and up until recently had never even heard of it, were suddenly experts and were speculating. In what can only be described as a collective fit of insanity, people that are otherwise smart were making really stupid predictions about cryptocurrency. Bitcoin $1 million! Bitcoin will replace cash! The U.S. dollar bubble is bursting! Fast-forward a year and these people don’t talk about Bitcoin anymore.