There’s a prevalent, if silly, conspiracy theory that all this has been a big joke. Some people are convinced that on Election Day Donald Trump will take the stage and say, “I congratulate Hillary Clinton on her victory, and LIVE FROM NEW YORK IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT!” That would indeed bring a comforting sense of normalcy to a world that currently makes about as much sense as a football bat, but it isn’t the truth.
The alt-right is not joking.
They want you to think they’re joking. When all this is said and done and Donald Trump is standing in the wreckage of the Republican Party like it’s the alternate ending of Army of Darkness, he’ll likely balm his pride by saying he never really meant any of it. He may even believe that.
After FiveThirtyEight did some thought experiments on what it would look like if only women or men voted this election, the hashtag #RepealThe19th started trending on Twitter. The 19th Amendment, in case you didn’t know, gave women the right to vote in the United States, though various road blocks kept them from being an equal force in politics until well into my lifetime (fun fact: the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment was Mississippi in 1984).
But poke any of the folks using that hashtag on Twitter and they’ll tell you that they’re not serious. Lighten up, you liberal SJW, it’s just a joke! No one is actually talking about taking away women’s right to vote LOL! You know, except all those people who are totally not joking, but they’re the minority, right?
Don’t count on it. I remember last year when the alt-right decided to start the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII because The Force Awakens had a black man and a woman as main protagonists, and then they all did verily return to 4chan and Reddit to high-five each other over the “trick” they had played on the media. They honestly thought they had duped the world into believing there were racist and sexist Star Wars fans as if the rest of us hadn’t been dealing with casual bigots in geek circles our whole lives.
That’s the thing about the alt-right; they’re babies. They think we can’t see them if they can’t see us. It’s why Donald Trump can’t stop lying about things we have inarguable proof are false. They can jump on a trending topic (or presidential campaign) and later claim that it was a hilarious put on, forgetting that that we see them the rest of the time saying the same vile stuff when it’s not a viral news story. Their parody of bigotry is fundamentally identical to an example of it, and they like to pretend that there’s a difference.
When the alt-right tries to explain its awfulness away as a joke without meaning or impact, it’s basically gaslighting a nation. It’s that bully in school who cruelly tears people down under the guise of good-natured ribbing. It’s mean girl bullshit.
Not that they are actually going to do anything like repeal a constitutional amendment. If Donald Trump and the alt-right have proven anything over this stygian death march of an election cycle it’s that whatever can’t be accomplished by yelling at people on the internet is way too much like work. That’s their safe space, that they aren’t going to put in the hours enacting their ideas so nothing matters,
Just because they’re lazy, though, doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be absolutely ecstatic if women became disenfranchised tomorrow. Trust me, I spend way too much of my time reading these sort of people’s blogs and Reddit threads, and they are jubilant over any single thing that will increase their privilege over another group. It’s a constant, recurring theme.
The alt-right tries to sell their ideas as jokes the rest of us are just too PC to handle to continue normalizing their ideas as acceptable. It allows them to paint people who are properly and understandably outraged anyone would think repealing half the country’s population’s franchise in 2016 is funny as joyless and uncool. Basically, it’s political negging.
All it ends up doing is making us used to seeing people laugh at terrible things and not take them seriously. As Colossus once said, “it always begins as a joke.” Everyone assumed that Trump was joking when he began his run, that the fascist policy ideas were just performance art aimed at stirring up the Republican primary voters. Now I’ve got minority friends telling me they’re voting early or by mail in case Trump’s “poll watchers” decide get violent on Election Day.
When this election is all over, the alt-right will still be there, and they’re going to wait for the next possible person of power willing to follow them down the rabbit hole of racist memes and conspiracy theories. They’ll spout their anti-Semitism and misogyny and ask, “Why so serious?” All in the hopes that one day they’ll be lucky, and that while everyone is busy writing them off as harmless clowns they’ll get in a position to do some real damage. The alt-right is joking exactly the way The Joker is joking when he does the pencil trick.
In other words, not at all.
Jef's collection of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is available now.