This might suggest that fake news is limited to an obsessive minority, but the attitude of "true belief" is found across the political spectrum and not just at the extremes. Centrists who insist that the answer to every policy problem is either "competition" or "education" are also in the grip of this monist delusion. Where the centre differs from the right and the left is in not needing proactive reassurance, though this is simply a reflection of the structural reassurance of hegemony, much as the followers of a state religion tend be theological "don't knows". In other words, centrists don't seek out their fake news because it is pervasive. That said, while the bias of the mainstream media is real, it would be wrong to believe it is simply more insidious, or just more skilful, than that of the extremes. Consumers of fake news often know that what they're seeing or hearing is hyped but they enjoy it none the less because it validates their already formed beliefs, which in turn encourages the producers to push the limits of credibility further. That's why fake news is often ridiculous.
The post-2008 confusion of the political centre owes much to a crisis of confidence over policy, not least in respect of the efficacy of the panaceas of competition and education, but it has yet to undermine a worldview that holds moderation and triangulation as self-evidently good. This leads to the sight of liberals going through the electoral motions but without a programme to speak of, most obviously in Hillary Clinton's failed campaign in the US last year and currently in the boosting of Emmanuel Macron in France. Even Martin Kettle in The Guardian could not quite quell his doubts over this farcical re-run of the Blairite project: "Whether there would be a durable national embrace of what Macron stands for is far from certain. In large part that is because Macron has not said what he stands for". In a similar vein, the Liberal Democrats appear to have made unconditional EU love their sole policy, which is likely to condemn them to the political margins for a generation.
The policy void has placed a premium on attitude and behaviour, but it has also led to a sense of vulnerability in the face of external manipulation. This is evident not just in the imputed fragility of "generation snowflake" but in the assumed stupidity and credulity of the working class in the face of demagogues and the imagined power of online grooming. Everybody is about to be hoodwinked, hence the salience of fake news. This reductive attitude divides the world into those who are secure in their conventional beliefs and those who are empty vessels at risk of being filled with frothing madness. It's a pretty obvious transference of self-doubt by centrists, but it also over-states the power of manipulation. Like the hype around "filter bubbles" and unconscious bias ("check your privilege" etc.), this leads us to forget that believing bat-shit crazy nonsense and dismissing science out of hand are characteristic of a very small minority, not the majority. Just as most people do not believe the Earth is flat, so most people are not actually contemptuous of experts.
Lacking a positive vision, liberals are reduced to the conservative strategy of defending the status quo through project fear: constructing a deplorable enemy to rally support for the centre. But the consequence of the policy vacuum is that it draws the enemy centre-stage. Nigel Farage's prominence, the obsession with Donald Trump's idiot tweets and the attention garnered by a provocateur such as Milo Yiannopoulos are symptom's of the centre's malaise, not a sea-change in society. This is partly driven by structural change as traditional publishers try and adjust to new media, hence fake news is emblematic of poor quality control and so serves to reinforce the role of gatekeepers. But at heart it reflects the dependence of the media on a political centre that is failing to produce "non-fake news" of sufficient calibre. Once centrists deserted the arena of policy, it was inevitable that "squatters" would move in. Leave didn't win the EU referendum because voters believed £350m would be spent on the NHS but because voters wanted more spent on it and one side of the argument was prepared to agree. The point is not dishonesty but the inevitable attraction of the false promise when the establishment promises nothing.
The centrist choice of the right for the role of "deplorable"- the left being marginalised as irrelevant or incompetent (see the collected works of John Harris) - is clearly a projection of unspoken desires: toying with nationalism entails an illicit thrill greater than toying with nationalisation. This is a miscalculation of epic proportions, not because real Fascists will seize power (not even in France), but because it normalises racial and sectarian discrimination as a lesser evil through such formulations as "legitimate concerns". This ultimately coarsens political discourse and corrodes liberal norms. The problem with demanding a "debate about immigration" is that we've been talking about the issue for decades without any satisfactory conclusion. That's because there isn't one. Xenophobes will never be reconciled while "controls" will crumble in the face of economic imperatives. Centrist politicians who suggest there might be some happy medium are being dishonest. This will eventually lead to intellectual exhaustion and the acceptance of dysfunction, like the government's admission this week that it has no housing policy to speak of.
In the current environment - liberal self-doubt, centrist accommodation of right-wing agenda and a media fascinated by conservative outrage - it should come as no surprise that the alt-right have bubbled to the surface of public consciousness. They should not be mis-characterised as a political movement, any more than the victory of Trump should be seen as a popular uprising rather than what it is: a coup by a criminal gang that has ridden a populist wave. The alt-right is not the traditional Fascist right. They are dilettantes rather than social revolutionaries, amateur reactionaries rather than violent community activists. As Walter didn't quite say in The Big Lebowski, "I mean, say what you want about Nazis, Dude, but they always punch back". Just as fake news reflects the vacuity of the centre, the alt-right points to the essential fakery of the "nationalist revival" and its inherent instability, which can be seen in the evident tensions within the Front National between its Fascist core and its metrosexual marketing department.
Watching the Channel 4 News report on the UK alt-right on Wednesday evening I was struck by how middle-class this new generation of white supremacists and crypto-Fascists is. These people have always been around but used to be quarantined in the Young Conservatives or the more outré university clubs. The Internet has provided them with a forum independent of institutional restraints and crucially it has allowed them to organise without the need to join traditional right-wing groups like the BNP. They don't have to suffer the embarrassment of going on marches with skinheads and can indulge their fantasies about eugenics for the lower orders without the risk of encountering them "in real life". Their emphasis on IQ (The Bell Curve featured) and racial and cultural purity (as did Mein Kampf) was as sociologically telling as the insistence that they were actually libertarians (the equality of now) defending Western civilisation (the hierarchy of then). These bedroom Nazis are ridiculous. A twenty-something Paleo-conservative trying to hide their alt-right activities from liberal parents sounds like a pitch for a sitcom. The alt-right may well turn out to be the biggest fake news of the decade.