James Duesterberg in The Point:
Like every virtual world, there is something seductive about the online realm of the new reactionary politics. Wading in, one finds oneself quickly immersed, and soon unmoored. All of the values that have guided the center-left, postwar consensus—the equal dignity of every individual, the guiding role of knowledge, government’s positive role in shaping civil society, a general sense that we’re moving towards a better world—are inverted. The moral landmarks by which we were accustomed to get our bearings aren’t gone: they’re on fire.
Trying to regain their footing, the mainstays of consensus thought have focused on domesticating the threat. Who are these Tea Partiers and internet recluses, these paleoconservatives and tech futurists, and what could they possibly want? The Atlantic mapped the coordinates of the “rebranded” white nationalism or the “internet’s anti-democracy movement” in the previously uncharted waters of 4chan and meme culture. In Strangers in Their Own Land, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild peers over the “empathy wall” between her and her rural Louisiana Tea Party contacts, while in Hillbilly Elegy, Ohio-born lawyer J. D. Vance casts a melancholic look back—from the other side of the aisle, but, tellingly, from the same side of the wall—on the Appalachian culture he left behind for Yale Law and a career in Silicon Valley.
These efforts follow a line of center-left thought that begins with Thomas Frank’s 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas? Its guiding assumption is that those who balk at its vision are fundamentally mistaken: victims of an unfortunate illusion, perpetuated by big businesses or small prejudices, lack of education or surplus of religion. But now the balance of power has shifted, radically. And as reactionary ideology has grown—seemingly overnight—from a vague and diffuse resistance to a concerted political force, the veneer of objective interest and pastoral concern has started to crack.