I have mentioned many times before in this blog that I find precious little joy in writing during the Age of Trump. I’m not honestly sure, but I feel as if I’ve opened up every blog post in recent memory with some variation of that line. I’ve spent the last two years well outside of my comfort zone—I’ve trashed the Republican Party, condemned the hostile takeover of said party by Trump and his fascist goons, and last month I even found myself discussing the merits of tweeting a WWE gif that shows the President of the United States punching someone with the CNN logo for a face. This is madness; it is the world turned upside down. And now, as I desperately look anywhere for a reprieve, I find myself called upon to tackle the easy, always-enjoyable topic of white supremacy. Yes, folks, that was sarcasm.
I’m quite sure I don’t have to explain to any of you why I’m writing about such a grisly topic this week. The events in Charlottesville earlier this month were a stark distillation of our hyper-polarized nation at its very worst—a heinous display of racial animus, violent unrest, and pure, undisguised hate. This wasn’t just harmless picketing and chanting; it was terrorism. It left a dozen and a half people seriously injured and unthinkably cost an American citizen her life. I am shocked and ashamed that an act of such blatant retrograde bigotry occurred merely an hour away from the city I call home. But, as I’ve said, we’re in the Age of Trump.
And how does Trump respond to a gathering of violent white supremacists in his backyard? By blaming violence “on both sides,” only condemning white supremacists a few days later, and then giving a press conference doubling down on his initial impulse to distract us from homegrown race terrorists by pointing fingers at the “antifa” (anti-fascist) counter-protestors. He even went so far as to say there were “very fine people” on both sides, which presumably implies there are some “very fine” race terrorists out there. This is insane, unpresidential, and mind-boggling in its obtuseness. Here we see a certain President of the United States—a man who has been consistently dogged by accusations of racism, fascism, and xenophobia—given a golden opportunity to speak out against all of the unsavory elements with which he finds himself associated, and what did he do? He took the silver platter that had been handed to him and he took a giant, steaming, metaphorical shit on it. He spat in the eyes of anyone (read: most everyone) who is offended or outright harmed by the behavior of overt white supremacists. He spurned the memory of the American citizen who was murdered by one of them. Make no mistake: if it hadn’t been clear already, this man is not worthy of any American’s respect. He is a fraud, a worm, a charlatan of the lowest order, a speck of filth more debased than the dirt beneath the soles of my shoes. That’s what a good condemnation looks like.
But that’s not even what upsets me the most. What truly baffles me is that I find various denizens of the American Right—bloggers, journalists, Facebook commenters, friends—following Trump’s lead in steering the discussion about Charlottesville away from white supremacists and toward vague Black Lives Matter and antifa bogeymen. Not only is this a false equivalence (a darling term of the American Left that I use with just a little bit of vomit in my mouth), it is completely tone-deaf and not worth anyone’s time. And that should be a no-brainer. When a group of avowed white supremacists stage a protest, turn violent, and plow a car into an innocent American citizen, I find myself caring very little what the “other side” was doing to incite them. If some of my cohabitants on the Right want to have a discussion about the tactics used by BLM and antifa and whether or not they are misguided, that’s all well and good. It’s a discussion I’m very willing to have, but for god’s sake, not now. That particular topic has almost nothing to do with what happened in Charlottesville. And attempting to distract from a very real act of domestic, white supremacist terrorism is not only harmful, but constitutes an act of complicity in that terrorism. The first, second, and third thoughts we should all be having as reasonable human beings in response to these events are: white supremacy and terrorism are bad. This one’s easy, folks.
I increasingly fear, though, that this is what being a part of the American Right has come to be. These days, we find ourselves called upon to defend white supremacist terrorists. They are, after all, a vocal and important part of President Trump’s base. What’s more, it seems they have hijacked the ongoing discussion regarding Southern heritage as well. (Let’s not forget the rally in Charlottesville was organized in response to the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.) As someone who has defended both the Republican Party’s small-government platform and the right of Southerners to preserve elements of their Confederate heritage, I despair at both of these developments. It is quite impossible for me to stand by a party and a cause that are both in bed with the scum of the Earth.
I’ve written before about the relationship between Confederate memorabilia and race terrorists. In “We Are Not Dylan Roof,” I defended Southern heritage as a product of regional pride, not racist hate. I did, however, ask this question: “Is there perhaps some unseen font of particularly vile racism that lurks somewhere in American society—somewhere where Dylann Roof was able to tap into it and feed his own demented hatred?” While I thought then that the answer to that question might very well be yes, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would be confirmed in such stark and blatant terms a mere two years later. In a weird way, maybe I owe President Trump a thank you for bringing this scum to light. They have helped me realize that even though a well-intentioned Southerner like myself can admire a statue of Robert E. Lee without harboring any resentment toward by brothers and sisters of color, this doesn’t mean we might not be better off without public memorials of past sins. And maybe I was a fool in the first place for believing that if I defended the display of monuments to men who fought to own slaves, I wasn’t throwing my lot in with a bunch of full-throated racists and bigots. Obviously I was always aware that a small, unsavory minority of the American Right consisted of this ilk, but I never thought I’d live to see a time where they were brought enough into the mainstream to be vocal and accepted as legitimate. Well, if that’s truly the case—if defending my old party and my heritage puts me in bed with open white supremacists—then I’m out.
Postscript: I know it probably seems downright vapid for me to act surprised that I’m being joined by racists in defending statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, but I promise you I’m going for something more nuanced than that. In my view, even if Confederate statues were constructed by white supremacists one hundred or so years ago, a contemporary defense of Confederate statues would ideally come from a sense of regional pride and historical inclusion, not white supremacy. Perhaps I was naïve in thinking that most of my allies felt the same way. Maybe most of them do feel this way, but that’s irrelevant if they’re going to waste their time obfuscating about what happened in Charlottesville.