As I wrote just yesterday in Areo Magazine, Trump’s failure to immediately decry the White Supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville is a self-motivated moral failure that was specifically designed to pander to Trump’s base. It is, at best, a missed opportunity to calm racial and political tensions in the United States.
At a press conference about his infrastructure plan in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, Trump had a heated exchange with reporters where he once again called out “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville.
He also explicitly expressed his distaste for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and racists (as he did in his second statement on Charlottesville) but I had a hard time buying it; if he believes this, why was this so difficult to say with immediacy? Why not decry their support publicly and swiftly? Though he did his best to avoid the issue, Trump also tacitly suggested that the Antifa and BLM crowd were as bad as the white supremacists in attendance in Virginia. This is despicable.
This Antifa/Nazi false equivalence I have heard repeated ad nauseum over the past twenty-four hours. We’re now only a step away from wholesale defending white supremacists, and while I support the right of anyone to speak freely, I simply cannot believe that anyone is standing firm with Trump on this issue. Nazis and white supremacists are marching in our streets – openly – and to suggest that anyone should feel comfortable with this is ridiculous. How should we approach freedom of speech when that speech is violent by its very nature?
Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK, and American fascists are explicitly opposed to the principles of a free society. They inherently believe that they are worth more, by birth or birthright, than people of color and immigrants. As a white man, for holding views contrary to their own, I’ve been labeled as a traitor to my race, which is ironic considering that the Nazis of the Third Reich slaughtered many of my Polish and Eastern European ancestral countrymen. I will never support Nazis or white supremacists, not only for this reason, but also because it is innately misguided to support such a myopic position.
I don’t believe that all members of new-wave conservatism are all racists or fascists. I simply don’t. The anti-establishment political moment, as I’ve said elsewhere, is leaderless, directionless, and lacking a unifying common cause, which will cause serious ideological conflicts as the movement begins to coalesce. However, the immediate difficulty is that the alt-right Unite the Right march in Charlottesville openly welcomed Nazis and White Supremacists.
Jason Kessler, the organizer of the march, invited Richard Spencer (the man who coined the phrase “alt-right”), among other unsavory characters, to speak. Chris Cantwell and Matthew Heimbach, well known white supremacists, were also in attendance. If the “alt-lite” wants to be taken seriously as a political movement, all of its efforts need to be focused on purging its ranks of racist ideologists. Mike Cernovich pleaded for fair media treatment on the basis of his “urging” guests at his pro-Trump event to refrain from using Nazi salutes. This is utterly unacceptable and limp-wristed behavior; no one should turn a blind eye to this vile speech if they’re serious about their ideals. Let me be plain: if you knowingly associate with these types of people and do not banish them from your cause or disavow their support, you are enabling racism and fascism. Anyone who attended the Unite the Right march and who understood the types of people who would be in attendance are, at a minimum, guilty by association.
Some on the “alt-lite” have condemned the march and its organizers, but they must understand that the country does not look favorably on their cause, especially after this incident. The organizer of the march, Jason Kessler, gave a speech (after the murder of Heather Heyer) in front of an angry crowd. He said “the hate that you hear around you, THAT is the anti-white hate,” which was ironic as it appears that his most vocal detractors were other white people who wanted nothing to do with the insanity of his disgusting rhetoric.
What’s most important to remember, is that open conflict is what these racist groups most desire; it makes it easier to radicalize impressionable men to their cause. In fact, these groups show up at emotionally charged events to create conflict and it almost always works to their advantage. An ex-KKK member and “reformed racist” had this to say, specifically, about KKK and white supremacist attendance at rallies regarding changing the names of parks and removing Confederate statues:
The Klan – I’m gonna tell you – the Klan does not care one thing about the name of these parks. They do not care. The only reason they’re here is because they’re using it as a tool and an excuse to come here and cause trouble.
Where I happen to agree with President Trump is that Antifa has been responsible for violence at prior rallies where members of the group engaged in rioting and looting. I don’t think that this behavior is conducive to making a cogent political argument. In addition, Antifa’s definition of “fascism” is often much to broad – labeling all Trump supporters as fascists takes the bite away from the term when you need to call out actual fascists. And not all Trump supporters are racists, which is another narrative that should be halted as soon as possible.
To suggest that Antifa or BLM is any way equivalent to a white supremacist movement or a “hate group” is absolute lunacy. To suggest that the “alt-left” (thank you, by the way, Neera Tanden) is in any way equivalent to Nazism is absurd. Antifa/BLM is made up of members of all races and creeds whereas white supremacy movements have a much more selective membership requirement. Antifa and the BLM movements have their own fringe elements, as does any political group, but the question to ask is this: are there nuts in the movement, or is the movement itself nuts?
Trump concluded his remarks yesterday by asking “what’s next?” If Confederate Statues go, will we next find ourselves removing statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? These men were slave owners, Trump says, so what’s to prevent a cascading effect on national monuments in the future? Where will it end?
This, again, is another false equivalence, one so severe that it almost had my eyes rolling out of my skull.
Most of the confederate monuments extant today were put in place well after the cessation of Civil War hostilities. They are relics of the salty south – a reminder for white Southerners of “better times”. For minorities, especially blacks, they are idols of systemic oppression, racism, and bigotry. Some black activists argue that the monuments are important reminders of the past and, if we do not remember what once was, we are doomed to repeat it, but for most these monuments stand as a symbol of systemic oppression that, to steal a phrase from a famous archaeologist, “belong in a museum”.
Trump’s comparison truly fails in this respect: the founders he references died at least five decades before the Civil War and were not involved in an overt act of war against the United States. Why do we feel the need to defend , wholesale, the statues of men who waged war against the Union? Robert E. Lee himself suggested that, after the defeat of the Confederacy, monuments to the losing side were counterproductive to the well-being of the nation:
Absence from Lexington has prevented my receiving until today your letter of the 26th: enclosing an invitation from the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association to attend a meeting of the officers engaged in that battle at Gettysburg, for the purpose of marking upon the ground by enduring memorials of granite the position & movements of the Armies on the field.
My engagements will not permit me to be present, & I believe if there I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject. I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife & to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.
Those who decry the “erasure of US history” in the modern age, or compare US statue removal proponents to ISIS are unequivocally misguided; whereas the removal of cultural iconography by ISIS is destructive in principle, activists attempting to remove US iconography are not generally calling for its annihilation from historical record, but rather its removal from the modern public eye. Whereas the removal by ISIS of cultural iconography threatens the destruction of relics and otherwise unrecorded history thousands of years old, the removal and relocation or relocation of statues from the 1900s hardly represents a threat to the historical record of the United States.
Historians will not lose otherwise unobtainable information about the subject, and the most fruitful historical records are preserved either digitally or in archives. The statues themselves may be preserved in museums, private collections, in the collections of historical societies, or in a public trust. There is no threat to American history present in reasonable discourse about the removal of Civil War iconography.
Culture can change. This is the reason why history exists, and to grasp at the straws of what might have been against overwhelming modern public opinion is, plainly, an exercise in ego-preservation.
The Other Side of the Coin
In a predictable reactionary response to the events in Charlottesville, protesters have illegally toppled a Confederate statue in North Carolina. Likewise, some protesters have demanded the removal of a statue of Theodore Roosevelt at a New York Museum. These actions are misguided, and counter-productive to any reasonable cause.
Respect for a democratic social consensus about public art and installations requires an adherence to mechanisms of government that will then decide which pieces of iconography will stand. To remove these installations by force affirms the view of opponents of statue removal, many of whom believe that the removal of historical relics portraying white men is tantamount to “ethnic cleansing” and historical revisionism. This is, of course, sheer nonsense, but remember that this is a core belief of many statue removal opponents and, for that reason, is psychologically unassailable. In an era of tit-for-tat identity politics, I readily suggest that anyone calling for or participating in the unlawful removal of Confederate iconography refrain from the practice.
The irony that statue removal opponents do not understand is that since most of the Confederate statues were installed in the 20th century, the statues themselves are instances of attempts at historical revisionism. The statues have come to represent hatred and bigotry over all else. Public outcry generated from a misplaced pride in the side that lost the war or the fear of losing white heritage – which is silly because “white” culture is alive and well – has given actual Nazis the courage to come out of whatever gutters they typically inhabit.
Our richest historical record doesn’t come from statues. Historical figures were products of their time and their environment and deserve to be viewed as such. General Lee, for instance, had the following to say about slavery (emphasis added):
There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things… Is it not strange that the descendants of those Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the Atlantic to preserve their own freedom have always proved the most intolerant of the spiritual liberty of others?
Robert E. Lee 1856
Although this statement wouldn’t be considered “progressive” today, it was rather progressive for the time in which it was written, especially for a Confederate General years before the Civil War broke out. General Lee would have been disgusted by the alt-right and the recent march. Frankly, it’s no wonder that there is such contention in this country today; no one seems concerned about the humanity of our historical figures.
A balance between historical revisionism and the preservation of historical reality need be struck. Local communities, states, and municipalities should retain the right to decide the fate(s) of their own local iconography. Donald Trump does not possess the nuance or the wisdom to lead us through these difficult decisions. The alt-right doesn’t know what they are, and therefore Antifa and BLM can’t be sure who they’re even protesting against, except for the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who have made themselves known.
Part of me feels like acquiescing to some of the demands for a white ethno state – give them their own land and step back – just so we can watch it crumble from the outside, watch as white idols from the past are revered and new luminaries cease to be born, watch as the genetically superior race inbreeds itself into a perpetual stupor. In the end, though they might be happy so long as they don’t have to live with non-whites. Happy as pigs in shit.