I have to confess—I’ve been choking back an awful lot of “I told you so’s” this past week or so as people marveled at the fact that the former president of the US (you know, the one who still thinks he didn’t lose a legitimate election in 2020 and has been shown to have fomented an insurrection to maintain power) hosted alt-right extremist Nick Fuentes for dinner at his home, and so so few GOP leaders decried the choice. In this blog post I’m going to talk about some of the rhetorical shifts that have led society to move in less than 7 years from when GOP leaders regularly denounced Nazis and white supremacists without a second thought to the present state of things.
So yeah, this blog post might possibly be a bit of “I told you so,” but it’s an “I told you so” with a purpose. And it ends with a call to continued action, so give me a few minutes if you can, would you?
Thanks so much, friends.
My Background and Standpoint
As usual I’m coming at this as a communication scholar who grew up as a PK in right-leaning white Evangelicalism in the Midwest US.
And I’m specifically coming at this as someone who has studied a confluence of rhetorical studies topics that led me to peg the 45th president of the US as courting white supremacists wayyyy back in 2015, within 6 weeks of his announcement of his presidential candidacy.
(Sigh. I really really hate that that particular noticing more than 7 years ago is so incredibly relevant today. I really really really do hate that. So. Much. But yeah, that was when it happened. Read about it here if you want.)
So Yeah, Not THAT David Duke Endorsement…
Well, David Duke, the KKK dude, sort of tried to half-endorse the former guy twice. A lot of people paid attention the second time, in 2016, when the man who still denies losing the presidency to Joe Biden in 2020 tried to deny knowing anything about David Duke.
NOPE, the FIRST Semi-Endorsement from David Duke. THAT Moment.
Not everyone remembers the first semi-endorsement from Duke, which came through only 6 weeks after the announcement for candidacy. But that was when my com scholar ear perked up at 45’s response, and had him pegged as a white supremacist.
Again, how did I know?
When queried about Duke’s praise for him, this man didn’t do what all mainstream political leaders, including those in the GOP, regularly did at that time. In short, he didn’t denounce Duke’s endorsement.
At least not immediately.
And certainly not unequivocally.
“I Don’t NEED His Endorsement.”
Nope, his response was “I don’t need his endorsement.” He went on to say that if he would repudiate the endorsement, once again, he didn’t actually separate himself from David Duke. No, his response was still a slimy wiggle-room type response: “Sure, I would if that would make you feel better.”
I knew then that he was absolutely working to court and make space for white supremacy in mainstream political dialogue.
Definitely Making Room for More Acceptance of White Supremacy
Let me be clear: I know then, in that political climate, despite the plausible deniability his wiggle words gave him, not offering an outright and unequivocal denunciation of the endorsement of the leader of the KKK was absolutely an acceptance of the half-endorsement.
So Yeah, My Disciplinary Peops Are Experts on White Supremacy and Nazis
See, as I’ve mentioned many times before, my discipline has at least part of its flowering connected to trying to understand how the Holocaust happened, communicationally speaking. We’re incredibly committed to trying to keep it from happening again.
Getting a PhD in Communication in the US, especially with a concentration in rhetorical studies, helps you understand that words absolutely matter.
And yeah, that’s exactly how fascistic rhetoric gains a foothold in democratic societies. It convinces you it was “just careless words.”
In Which I’m Not Surprised We Ended Up Here
I knew that nothing was for sure—but also, that if this country elected this man to be president, it would absolutely move our society to a place where it would absolutely no longer be a foregone conclusion that GOP leaders would denounce white supremacists and Nazis.
I am sadly not surprised that we are here, EVEN THOUGH we won back the White House.
Because the words of political leaders—and their influence—absolutely and completely matter. So does silence in key areas such as these.
When Silence Matters Tremendously
Choices to fail to denounce things also matters.
Lack of denunciation of the KKK and Nazis by the 45th president and everything between those words in 2015 and his wholehearted embrace of them now matters.
The silence of GOP leaders on the Big Lie has mattered.
GOP leaders’ lack of denunciation of Nazis and white supremacists in recent days? Also very much completely matters.
Leaders Words Matter—And So Do Ours
And yeah, leaders’ words absolutely do matter. But so do ours.
It was ironic, but I had already earned a PhD in Communication before I convinced myself that my voice mattered enough to do what I could outside of the classroom to speak up and see what I could do to make a difference with this project.
In fact, I started this project in 2018 specifically because I knew this and needed to do what I could to help others unwrap and speak up to keep fighting this kind of rhetoric.
I did so because communication scholarship combined with stress research convinced me that it was the only reasonable thing to do in the circumstances. And I’m so glad I did. The fact that all of you are here shows it is worthwhile. I have heard from a lot of you that these efforts have been worth it.
But yeah, that doesn’t mean it’s been easy.
It’s Telling when Calling Out Nazis Strains Relationships…
Starting this project, and speaking out on topics that matter, including things that I never thought ought to be controversial like asking people to have empathy for vulnerable folks and to make Nazis uncool again, has strained relationships for me with people I grew up with, for one thing.
Which is ironic. Because that’s shown me that the world I grew up in was only against Nazis and white supremacists on a surface level. I always knew that on SOME level, but the last few years has absolutely made that stunningly clear to me.
Yeah, We Have Deeper Work to Do For Sure
See, yes, things have gotten more radicalized over the last few years, absolutely. BUT ALSO those responses have made it absolutely clear to me what experts I trust have been telling me—that the problems we’ve been facing for the last few years have been rooted MUCH deeper in our society.
And yeah, while I’m incredibly thankful that the GOP seems to be fracturing, that President Biden is in charge and just denounced Nazis openly (as all reasonable leaders should!), and that the red wave predicted in the midterms fell wayyy flat, I’m still deeply deeply concerned to see how far mainstream rightwing political rhetoric has moved toward openly supporting fascism in the last 7 years.
Because yeah, just the fact that so many election denialists were on the ballot in this fall’s midterms, much less being feared to win, is something that would NEVER have happened in 2015.
How Did We Get Here?
How did we get there, you ask? Well, it started much longer ago than the types of statements made in response to David Duke’s first semi-endorsement—but certainly, the open mainstreaming of these ideas took a huge step forward there.
I remember what it was like back then. Everyone who was right-leaning didn’t think he could possibly win. And even after he did, it was nearly impossible to convince my right-leaning family and friends that he was actively courting white supremacists with his wishy washy wiggle words, even paired with active scapegoating of immigrants and such.
The Fascistic Slip and Slide Really Does Create Slippery-as-Snot Slopes
The way fascistic rhetoric goes is this: it’s 7 years later, and even with ALL the fights we’ve made to get back the White House and avoid losing the Senate to the alt-right, even with the GOP fracturing, this is where we are.
Which is to say, the GOP are failing to come out openly as against Nazis and white supremacists.
Don’t get me wrong, friends—I am soooooo incredibly thankful things are as good as they are.
But yeah, this is a major ongoing problem.
Ah, Using White Evangelicalism as Cover for Fascistic Extremism
And you know what makes it worse? Well, if you read the fact sheet from the Anti-Defamation League about Nick Fuentes, you’ll see that he’s hard at work continuing to use wiggle words to CONTINUE to mainstream really incredibly alt-right white supremacist ideologies.
And guess what wiggle words he’s using?
If you grew up white Evangelical, as I did, you should be squirming in your boots when you hear it.
See, he calls himself a “traditional Christian.”
Oh, Wait, Christian Nationalists Are Also More Proud of That These Days
And yeah, as many scholars of Christian nationalism have pointed out, Kristin Kobes Du Mez among them (see the newsletter where she addressed this here), outspoken voices in the white Evangelical movement have also taken a recent turn to more outspokenly and openly, proudly champion Christian nationalism.
If you’ve been following here and reading relevant literature, this “coincidence” ought not surprise you at all.
Still All Hands On Deck—Or as Many as We Can Muster
So friends, we really really need to use this reminder—of how far we’ve come down this road—as a spur for us to keep speaking up against Nazis and white supremacists and unhealthy rhetoric and policies of all kinds.
Continuing Harm to Vulnerable Populations
We really really can’t quit now. Because the disinformation, as well as the unhealthy policies in red states, as well as the blockades of reasonable policies by GOP representatives in Congress, is still causing ongoing harm to vulnerable populations now (I’ve talked about this here, here, and here, among other places).
And that doesn’t even cause the harms that words of prominent celebrities who have been radicalized to support white supremacists and Nazism are causing.
Time to Keep Speaking Up, Friends!
I know this much is true—most of us are tired from the last 7 years of fights. I know I am.
But I also know that no matter how many gains we’ve made, we’re still going to need as many hands on deck as we possibly can to continue to move the needle of public discourse (and policies!) back to any sort of reasonable place.
I also know that I once discounted the value of my own voice. But it’s valuable. Please don’t discount the value of yours either, friends. Your voice too, has worth. Use it well!
Time to Make Real Fixes
And let’s be clear—even the place where it was in 2015 left wayyyy too many vulnerable populations entirely too vulnerable. As Jesus and John Wayne, How Fascism Works, Post-Truth, and other really importantly scholarly yet accessible books have been pointing out, actually making things healthy means simply getting it “back there” doesn’t actually mean making things really healthy.
No, it’s time to keep working to use the lessons of these recent apocalypses to move to systems where it’s not only deeply expected to denounce white supremacists and Nazism and unhealthy Christian nationalism, but also keep fighting for vulnerable populations can get their needs met in a real and deeper way.
Making Nazis Uncool Again
First, though, however much I hate to say it, well, apparently we have to continue to work to raise our voices to make Nazis uncool again. (Insert a million eyeroll emojis paired with deep sighs of grief that I was right.)
Well, I could keep going, but I think I’ll leave you there for the night, friends.
Just keep speaking up and working for healthy change in both small and big contexts. It’s so incredibly clear to me that we continue to need all of our voices toward better things—even to voice the things so many of us took for granted only a few years ago.
We Have the Skills—Now Let’s Keep Using Them!
I know this much, though—the last few years has also honed those of us who know we need to respond to this nonsense. We may need to rest from time to time, but we have so many more skills to fight for continuing change than we used to.
I trust that we can keep using them.
It’s so so important that we do.
Do not grow weary of doing good, friends, however tempting it is. I have faith that however much we occasionally need to pause to grieve and deep about how far things have come, we need to continue to resist the toxic crap toward a better world.
A Final Charge
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep speaking up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.
Want to donate to keep this work going? I finally, after 4 years of this project, have tip jars set up at Venmo and PayPal so you can help keep the lights on and such (THANK YOU for whatever you can do!). Here’s the info:
Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?
Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you. It actually helps you with conflict both online and off. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. As soon as we feasibly can we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.