THE ALT-RIGHT WON THE ELECTION, and it will continue to highlight the paradoxes of openness and inclusion. [archive] (Note: The author uses the term “alt-right” in a broad sense, as representing a “cluster of conservative principles” held more by Steve Bannon than Richard Spencer.)

The alt-right movement underlying Trump’s victory consists of principles and not just prejudices. To embark on an analysis of these principles, one must ignore much of the media coverage of the Trump movement. Indeed, a common point between academic and media analysis is the tendency to “unmask” an ideological opponent. To unmask is to reveal a delusion beneath a political or intellectual claim. To unmask is to presuppose that there is no principled basis for debate. There is nothing to understand besides the error of the other. The presence of difference of opinion attests only to the existence of false-consciousness, not to the existence of a question that admits more than one answer.

Some terms commonly used to portray Trump and his circle are “neo-Nazi,” “anti-semitic,” and “misogynistic.” These are of course the evil antonyms of equality; they are sufficient to undermine the legitimacy of any viewpoint under review. But there are several methodological problems here. First, some of these terms do not figure in the discourse under investigation. While “neo-Nazi” may well be a preferred term in certain fringe political associations not endorsed by Trump and Bannon, “misogynistic” is not a term that conservatives of any stripe that I am familiar with employ to characterize themselves. The imposition of condescending labels implying ignorance and hatred raises the question of what constitutes the threshold for imputing such predicates. And why not—in the spirit of Max Weber’s sociology of understanding as opposed to the Leftist sociology of unmasking —focus on the terms of self-description used by the subjects themselves? . . .

A major methodological issue that often escapes attention pertains to the fact that some blacks (8% overall, 13% of black men) voted for a candidate reputed to be racist, that many Jews (25%) voted for someone portrayed as anti-semitic, and that a majority of white women (53%, and 45% of all women with college degrees) voted for an alleged misogynist. Of course, one could choose to extend the logic of unmasking by arguing that the white women who voted for Trump are “white nationalists” who are ignorant of the gender dynamics in the Trump camp. By the same logic, black men who voted for Trump are presumably misogynistic and blind to how the alt-right seeks to victimize them.

But a better argument is that how people envision politics, and how they choose to vote, does not map onto the grid of social interests and biases articulated by leftist academics and journalists.