There is a narrative, particularly among Democrats, that much of American society has been driven insane by the Internet and social media, and particularly, base instincts have been unleashed by the Trump campaign. I think this narrative misses out on how the rise of the alt-right and Trump’s victory represents a backlash against injustices that were previously being perpetrated in the marketplace of ideas.
Prior to the 2016 election, there was a consensus within the more liberal media about what could be said and what could not. This had been worked out over a long time. An ethic had emerged where violating the rules laid down was a sign of low origins and lack of education. So most educated people adhered to these rules, in order to avoid compromising their social standing.
The consensus was designed by leaders in the mainstream media, otherwise known as journalists, who lean left, and academics, who lean strongly left. As a result, the bounds of acceptable discourse favored the left.
Since the early 1990’s, to an ever-increasing extent, the far left has embraced identity politics, a world view where the central core of a person’s being is defined by their group membership by birth, their actual deeds and accomplishments coming second to that. Groups were on a spectrum ranging from “victim” to “privileged”.
“Victim” groups were generally above criticism. This suited the left, because the left wants to see poverty and indeed any indignity to be the consequence of luck, rather than being caused by anything under the control of the individual. So dysfunctional behavior of “victims” could not be discussed. Furthermore, not even dysfunctional behavior of the “privileged” could be discussed, because the speaker would then be accused of “coded racism” or “dog whistle politics”, and really talking about “victims” while only claiming to be talking about the “privileged”.
While “victim” groups were thus above criticism, “privileged” groups were beneath self-defense. Any attempt by a member of a “privileged” group to defend their identity against slander was deemed “white supremacy” or “sexism”, terrible sins. This made it open season for all the “victim” groups to blame all their problems on discrimination by the “privileged”, without any fear of cross-examination.
In the meantime, dysfunction was rampant. The social revolution of the 1960’s/1970’s tore down a lot of social structures that had had positive effects on society. The sexual revolution resulted in widespread incurable STD’s and a rash of out-of-wedlock births. Widespread marijuana use resulted in many people lacking ambition and performing far below their potential, if not leaving the workforce altogether. A lot of lower class people looked to movie actors and rock stars for leadership, those groups often making an art form out of setting the worst possible example.
Thus public debate within the bounds of acceptable discourse, including all debate in the mainstream media and in the academy, strayed further and further from reality, and became more and more abusive to those deemed “privileged”. People were hearing things from the mainstream media and from the academic elites that insulted their intelligence, not to mention that insulted them personally if they were among the “privileged”. Eventually the mainstream media and the universities lost credibility with American whites from the lower classes, who gravitated to the newer right-wing media on cable TV and the Internet.
The biggest miscalculation the left made was that they thought they had the “privileged” outnumbered, so that the “privileged” could be safely outvoted in elections. But it turned out that more white women identified more strongly with “white”, and therefore “privileged”, than as “women”, and therefore “victim”. As one female white Trump voter told me “I don’t think I’ve suffered for being female. I think I’ve gained more than lost from being a woman. And there were other things at stake in 2016.”. So the left had deliberately abused the crap out of the biggest voting block in the country. Not a smart campaign strategy.
The American right is in a mess. The right-wing media they have created are generally very new, and have yet to mature and develop high journalistic standards. The right is following Trump, but he lies so frequently that he’s hard to keep up with. Many right-wing intellectuals went on record as being vehemently opposed to Trump during the primaries and therefore can’t work in his administration.
The left is in worse shape. Prone to interpret anything that violates their cherished and skewed bounds of acceptable discourse as “bigotry”, they seem to feel that the solution to the problem is to somehow re-enforce those bounds, by physical violence in the streets if need be. Most of them have not even accepted that they rightfully lost the election in 2016 or that a very large fraction of the population has legitimate grounds to disagree with them. They jealously guard their space, vigorously censoring debate everywhere within their reach, keeping out the new ideas that they so desperately need if they are to regain touch with reality.