Hate in America manifested itself troublingly this past weekend in a quiet Virginia town. The death of a young woman protesting a white supremacist rally is another in a long list of recent incidents harking back to 2014 that depict a country under racial fire.
The emergence of the American neo-Nazi after seven decades is a bloodcurdling symptom of a clash of two cultures which are rising to seize control. The so-called “Unite the Right” mob evoked the medieval torches and pitchfork riot which preceded pogroms, pillage and plunder. They do not have anyone behind them, united or otherwise. All they have united is the nation against them.
Begone, you purveyors of hate. Take back your disgusting wares and slogans to the 18th century whence it came. America is no place for you. The Right provides no residence for a party as wrong as you. The chants of “blood and soil” — chillingly echoed along Charlottesville’s streets Friday night — were buried already in the crags of Nuremburg.
So what does this mean to us as a nation? Does a second civil war beckon on the horizon? Are there fears that the imposing statues of Confederate generals on horseback will slip off their rugged steeds and take command of a new resurrection?
Hardly. For several reasons.
First, the major Charlottesville “rally” which was sold by the media as the “largest group of white nationalists to come together in a decade,” in the words of The Associated Press, is unfortunately a media manufacture. While hundreds of people — ugly human beings including neo-Nazis, those longing for a return to a white America, and a consortium of socialist groups — were there, it scarcely represents the true America which hums with love and acceptance for all.
Secondly, the hate is not confined to one side or a single ideology. On the opposite side of the Charlottesville divide was its own hodgepodge of violent groups, including Black Lives Matter. The killing by car actually came at the tail end of hours of violence between the sides, with dozens of injuries on both margins.
In truth, hate in America has been waxing and waning ever since John Smith planted his feet on the shores of the Jamestown colony 130 miles away from the location of the Saturday incident and established the fledgling conservative principle that “he that will not work shall not eat.” The same fervent battles over immigration and welfare which roil their descendants’ society today played out in color on that 17th-century stage.
The loathing continued through the Pilgrims’ attempts at puritanizing their Plymouth Bay adventure, bulldozed across the Revolutionary War era, and embedded itself deep in American culture as the colonists set about bringing forth a nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
The revulsion for the “other” — and Jews have most often been represented as the other — has generally lain dormant for the past half century as liberalism raised its flag.
We stand today as a country united as never before, notwithstanding the occasional hiccups recalling the nation’s tiny but teeming underground of hate.
For a nation of 325 million people, having fewer than 200 haters show up to the “largest gathering of white nationalists in a decade” would normally not make the news. That it did in such a significant way, speaks to a tenacity by media organs to tie the president who wasn’t supposed to win, to America’s darker elements.
Since Donald Trump first announced his candidacy, he has been alternately underestimated and misunderstood. He was underestimated by virtually everyone who couldn’t believe the tremendous anger there was in the heartland at the way Barack Obama was trying to remake society. And he was misunderstood by the few rotten apples who believed that his America-First policies mean a return to white supremacist principles.
Mr. Trump’s spotlighting the problem of illegal immigration was misjudged, badly misjudged, by the David Dukes of the country. They thought he was issuing a dog whistle for them to come out of their lairs. They rejoiced that after decades of banishment, the America they have long dreamed of was becoming a reality.
They were wrong. And contrary to the media misinformation, they never had a leg to stand on. President Trump’s declaration of America First simply heralded a return to traditional principles, that a president’s job was to look out for its citizens, not for foreign countries. This, for example, was the impetus for Mr. Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate accord, a dubious pact which benefited other countries but cost the United States thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic opportunities.
But the haters did not give up. Even this past week they evoked Mr. Trump’s rhetoric in trying to tag him to their team. But they are wrong.
Just as Barack Obama’s speaking in personal terms about being black in America led to the rise of the Black Lives Matter group and a subtle encouragement of anti-police violence, President Trump’s speaking about the toll illegal immigration has had on the country led to a blip in white supremacy.
There the similarity ends. Perhaps Mr. Obama’s worst speech of his eight years in the White House came last year, when he appeared to legitimize grievances against police in the wake of the targeted killing of five Dallas officers by a Black Lives Matter supporter. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has actively denounced white supremacy from the beginning of his campaign, making it clear that he neither sought nor wanted their backing.
As someone who met Donald Trump, spoke with people who knew him for decades, and studied his policies closely, I believe that he is a genuinely compassionate person who is pursuing the country’s long-term economic and security interests. He is as far removed from racist ideology as a polar bear is from Miami.
We know that Mr. Trump is no orator. He will never be the consoler-in-chief Barack Obama was so great at. What he will be is the law-and-order president, an area in which his predecessor failed miserably.
President Trump is new to the business of having to express verbal condemnation to something so patently repugnant. Politicians such as Barack Obama were excellent in the verbal flourishes of condemning this sort of condemnable acts. The president, on the other hand, has spent a lifetime making deals; he is someone who can meet with Justice Department officials and lead the nation’s response to the tragedy.
It is indeed important for the white supremacists who have mistaken Mr. Trump’s call for America First to hear his condemnation of them directly from his mouth. But more essential is his leadership. The presidential prerogative to express the nation’s grief and outrage was born after the times of Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy, but they were great leaders nonetheless.
I would note that the reemergence of the “alt-right,” personified by this past weekend’s horror, must be condemned by all sides, not just the right. The media’s reignition of the “Trump is an alt-right” meme, which died of sheer boredom earlier this year, is a repulsive, if sadly predictable, commentary of our press corps.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has launched a petition on the state-funded website to target the president. In a fit of populist tantrum, he is insisting that President Trump call the attacker a “domestic terrorist.”
New Yorkers must wonder where he was when an Islamist inspired by ISIS perpetrated a terrorist attack in Manhattan last year. Aside from his hesitance to call the suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, an Islamic terrorist, he defended then-president Obama’s absolute silence on the attack.
Hate in America is a tiny flame, as it has been since the 1950s, but Saturday’s incident shows it to still be alive. Both sides have a responsibility to tamp down the hate, sideline the extremists, and not use hate for political gain.
’Tis our one America, there’s no other.