A man for the people
The Dutch have a saying: Doe normaal. The phrase, which roughly translates to “just be normal!”, is a kind of gentle, grandmotherly admonition, usually deployed to chide someone for—to use the distinctly modern American construction—acting out of pocket.
In the contemporary American context, being normal is a revolutionary act. To fall in love and start a family, to put down roots and have children, to coach a son’s Little League or drive a daughter to dance practice—these are forms of resistance to the regime. They’re also essential components of the good life, and our young friends on the very online New Right desperately need to re-engage with them.
It’s no secret that the Right’s elite institutions are populated by unimaginative bureaucrats and out-of-touch elitists who disdain the ordinary Americans that they are ostensibly supposed to be fighting for. But what is less discussed is the problem of the young, overeager conservative elites who are committed to fighting for the great American middle—at least in theory—but simultaneously desperate to be an actual part of the class that they claim to speak for: To be of rather than just for the people.
This inevitably descends into absurd online play-acting at a cartoonish imagined version of working-class culture from the silver spoon-fed sons and daughters of privilege. You could call it the politics of LARP—live-action role-playing.
Resisting the LARP
Right-wing internet LARPing is not confined to anti-elite posturing, of course. In fact, that particular genre of pretension is relatively harmless compared to those who take the overly imaginative impulse a step further, reading unrealistic and fanciful ideological doctrines like Catholic integralism, monarchism, and hardline reactionarism into the Trump-led populist realignment. Not all of this is useless, to be sure—we owe the integralists a debt for bursting the Overton window wide open, and helping to replace a stale old consensus with a reinvigorated and intellectually vibrant debate—but it is fundamentally disconnected from political reality nonetheless.
As the blogger T. Greer has aptly argued, the New Right’s electoral coalition is largely made up of working-class voters with a broadly libertarian political disposition, albeit in a sort of folksy, non-ideological kind of anti-elite skepticism. Although they may be sympathetic to a more activist government in areas like immigration and trade, these hard-scrabble blue-collar conservatives are not the natural constituency for something like, say, anti-porn legislation.
All of this has produced a cadre of rightists who spend their days obsessing over endless internet debates and ideological purity tests instead of focusing their substantial energies and talents on building a movement that can deliver for the American people. Almost every young conservative who is invested in the future of the Right spends too much time on Twitter, of course; I am certainly no exception. But the most ardent right-wing LARPers take things a step farther, constructing an entire internet-based fantasy world replete with its own language, cast of characters and mythological narratives, entirely removed from the reality on the ground for most normal Americans.
In so doing, these young fantasists remove themselves from reality, becoming characters in an online psychodrama rather than real-world actors with the capacity to both affect politics and build a healthy life for themselves and their communities. Emma Ayers describes this phenomenon in a perceptive recent piece for The American Conservative: “Somehow, the traditionally conservative men of the world wide web have convinced themselves that...if only they send out enough tweets about localism, family, Aristotelian ethics, and the importance of T.S. Eliot, the culture will be shifted in their favor.”
Quote-tweet dunking on anyone who isn’t fully on board with a world Catholic state might be fun, but it doesn’t do much to advance a politics that is capable of rebuilding the American way of life, nor is it conducive to actually pursuing the kind of grounded lifestyle that is rightly venerated by traditionalists.
There are notable outliers—J.D. Vance really is representative of the people he claims to speak for, and pundits like Tucker Carlson have demonstrated a clear ability to speak for working-class America without pretending to be a part of it—but the icy hostility that these figures have been received with in legacy conservative institutions shows that they are exceptions that prove the rule. Regardless of this small cohort’s influence, the general problem remains: Many of the New Right’s foot soldiers are mere keyboard gladiators.
Normalcy as revolution
What this means is: the 25-year-old running the anonymous trad account with 15,000 Twitter followers will need to go outside—they need, as Helen Roy puts it, to obey a popular internet invective and “touch grass.” In short, we need to be radicals; we need to be normal.
There are a number of promising recent examples of young leaders turning thought into action: Chris Rufo and Ryan Girdusky leading the charge in the fight against critical race theory, Saurabh Sharma and Nick Solheim working to train and credential a new generation of patriotic Zoomers at American Moment, and Matthew Peterson’s recent coalition-building project New Founding, to name a few. But the only way these initiatives can continue to build momentum is if their natural constituents—the based youths of the Twittersphere—log off, pick up a sword, and join the fight.
When Aristotle said that man is a political animal, he was invoking our inherently social nature, rooted in the relationships we have built with one another in the physical place that we have come to call home. It is for this reason that the digital world alone cannot be a vehicle for the New Right’s project, although it undeniably has a role to play; our moment calls for a politics rooted in real relationships with real people in real places, outside the endless churn of the hyper-real technological Leviathan. There is no alternative—no other way through. Resist the digital beast. Be fruitful and multiply. Doe normaal.