Wade into the thickets of the pro-Trump, anti-SJW internet jungle, past the #Cuckservative vines and around #TheTriggering tree, and you'll notice a new species, one that's spread everywhere and seems to have blossomed overnight:
The tag, which plays on the "Progressive Left" of Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter, has become wildly popular among the alt-right. Although it only started popping up on Twitter three months or so ago, now it's being tweeted hundreds of times a day. Usually, it's meant to indicate disgust with a backward-looking or hypocritical stance by the left, particularly on campus or in the media. Here's several examples of typical usage:
So where the heck does it come from?
The phrase "Regressive Left" was originally coined by the British commentator Maajid Nawaz in 2012 to refer to liberals whose cultural relativism aligns them with repressive Islamic theocracies. Though the term is four years old, its rise on the internet is very recent. In the press run for their new book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue, the controversial atheist writer Sam Harris and Nawaz used the term in a series of interviews. In an episode of Real Time last October, Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher discussed the term in the context of Islam and safe spaces on campus. And on Dec. 9, Dawkins tweeted:
A Google Trends search shows that interest in the term shot up in the fall of 2015, around the time of Dawkins' tweet, dropped slightly last month, and is at an all-time high right now. (There are memes!) To feed this interest, dozens of explainer videos and alt-right YouTube news segments have cropped up. Two of the most popular, "The Truth About the Regressive Left," and "Introduction to the Regressive Left (#Regressive Left)" boast 150,000 views each. (The latter is by the popular men's rights activist Sargon of Akkad.)
Very, very quickly, the term spread to encompass much more than stories of cultural tolerance gone too far, to the point that it's rarely applied to Islam at all. #Regressiveleft can now append tweets about the perceived repression of free speech for left causes in general (e.g., the infamous former Missouri lecturer Melissa Click); about the "Ivy League lynch mobs" rushing to hang Dr. Luke; about Bernie Sanders' claim that white people don't know what it's like to live in a ghetto; about the harm done by a BuzzFeed writer's tweets about the new all-female Ghostbusters movie; about the "scam" of climate change; and, of course, about ethics in games journalism. It's become a catchall for any element of the dominant new media culture that the anti-SJW internet doesn't like.
And, since we all live in his world now, #Regressiveleft is also about Donald Trump. Frequently the tag comes next to tweets comparing Trump and Hitler. Others use it to suppose that the "liberal failure to take on Islamism" has opened the door for Trump's xenophobic pandering. Chanterculture diehards use it to refer to the class of educated liberals whom a Trump presidency would purge. Here it bears almost no resemblance at all to Maajid Nawaz's original coinage.
But that's what's so fascinating about the spread of #Regressiveleft. Unlike #Cuckservative, it doesn't come from an alt-right message board. Instead, it comes from people, like Maher and Dawkins and Nawaz, who, controversial as they may be on the internet, would almost certainly identify as big-L Liberal. Indeed, it reveals the wiring by which the kind of cable news–appropriate Western values–traditionalism practiced by Bill Maher and Sam Harris can flow through the substations of the alt-right internet —Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, 4chan — to emerge overnight as a power source for cutting-edge internet rhetorical warfare. In other words, it's a sign that the sentiments behind the alt-right may not be as far out of the American mainstream as some of us would like to think.
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at email@example.com.
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