Reno: Shared heritage, common identity. When you’re traveling abroad and you meet another American, it doesn’t matter if they’re Asian, African American, or whatever—you hang out with them, because you have shared habits of mind and sensibilities.
Green: So you’re pointing to a cohesive sense of national identity.
Reno: I think that’s pretty strong in the United States.
Green: How are you feeling about the administration as it’s shaping up? Are you feeling optimistic, pessimistic?
Reno: I’m guardedly optimistic. My biggest worry is that the administration will become a conventional Republican administration. That would be a disappointment.
Green: Is there evidence to suggest that will happen?
Reno: Well, some of his appointments are pretty straightforward Republican types: You have Mike Pence, [the vice president,] and Reince Priebus, [the chief of staff]. But then there’s Stephen Bannon, [Trump’s senior counselor and West Wing strategist,] Rex Tillerson, [the secretary of state,] and the generals [who have been appointed to various positions]. Those are not standard-issue Republicans.
Green: Do you like Bannon?
Reno: I’ve never met him. He seems like a firebrand. He gave a speech at the Vatican about capitalism that struck me as very sensible—that without a spiritual basis, it’s quite destructive.
Green: Are you familiar with Breitbart and some of the things that ran on that website while Bannon oversaw it?
Reno: I don’t follow Breitbart. Every once in a while, they link to something we post, and we get a huge amount of traffic.
But I’ve looked at it. Who’s that guy—Milo…
Reno: Yeah. He strikes me as a performance artist on the right, much like that woman who smeared chocolate on herself. He’s the equivalent of her, in a way. I’m not sure I quite grasp the furor against people like him. I never felt that way against Andres Serrano, who had the “Piss Christ,” where he put the crucifix in the jar of urine, which created a big furor among the Christian right. I kind of rolled my eyes—it was such a tired trope.
People who transgress on the right do it for the same reason why people transgress on the left: It’s a way of gaining some kind of existential freedom from a system that’s extremely constraining. There’s not much room on the left anymore for bad boys. I think the right is actually attractive to people who want to be transgressive at this point. That’s why you get this alt-right stuff. Some of it is perverse and sincere in some ways, I suppose, but I see a lot of it as performance art.
Green: Do you think it’s constructive and useful?
Reno: I’m not that interested in it. I think it’s fake, just like I think a lot of performance art on the left is fake. Fake is not the right word—it’s sincere at some dimension. We just live in a very complicated world where there are no alternatives. We feel like we’re trapped, and for those of us who don’t like aspects of our societies, it’s very difficult.