When the… I can barely say it without vomiting. When the (hurk) President of the United States, Do(gag)nald J. Trump, spoke about the Charlottesville Hate March, he claimed that there was “blame on both sides”.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the “Charlottesville Hate March” is what I like to call the Unite The Right rally, a protest march commissioned by a number of extreme-right-wing groups to express displeasure at the removal of a statue of American Civil War Confederate general Robert E. Lee. (Lee has been rehabilitated by historians as something of a noble demon, a man who fought to defend his homeland but did not believe in the cause of slavery.) While protesting the censoring of history is understandable, one of the extreme-right-wing groups happened to be neo-Nazi, and came out on the evening of Friday, August 11th chanting slogans like “Blood and soil” (a key component of Nazi ideology, linking the sedentary Germans with their homeland in a way that the nomadic Semites were not) and “Jews will not replace us.” Liberal counter-protestors arrived and there was tussling, both that day and the next morning when another protest / counter-protest was scheduled. On Saturday, things escalated when a white nationalist deliberately drove a motor vehicle into a crowd with intent to kill or injure. By this time, VA Governor Terry McAuliffe had declared a state of emergency, so things did not escalate much further… but the vehicle had already slain one counter-protester, 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer, and injured 19 more. (The driver was captured within the hour and may stand trial as a terrorist.)
For Presi(choke)dent Trump to to claim that there was “blame on both sides,” therefore, comes across as a little disingenuous. Nazi ideology centers around “racial purity” and involves the wholesale genocide of any individuals which the state does not find desirable. This ideology, by definition, is not and cannot be a morally defensible position. Therefore, in any situation that involves them, Nazis are always wrong, and perhaps more importantly they are always the most wrong; even if the other side did something bad, it almost certainly wasn’t as bad as, y’know, advocating for wholesale genocide. Most people understand this. Trump, apparently, is not one of them.
As a result, Trump’s pontifications on the subject came across as tone-deaf at absolute best, and many, many people disagreed with him. Almost everyone in the Republican Party, including Vice President Mike Pence, directly condemned the white supremacists involved, and a number of them even blasted Trump’s lackluster comments… especially once people visiting a neo-Nazi website, the Daily Stormer, found its members privately exulting over Trump’s unwillingness to flat-out say “Nazis are bad,” which was (in their eyes) a validation of neo-Nazi ideology as something that can be held by people who are sane and/or not mass-murdering fuckheads.
It goes without saying that liberals, myself included, were practically frothing at the mouth over the matter. It also goes without saying that, when some of the white nationalists were identified from photos and began to suffer consequences in real life, such as the (apparent) firing of Cole White from the Berkeley, CA restaurant where he masqueraded as a conventional, sensible, non-mass-murdering fuckhead, we liberals were pleased. And we laughed when 20-year-old Peter Cvjetanovic, likewise outed as a member of the march, became the first to cover his ass and proclaim that he was “not the angry racist they see in that photo.” (In the interview, he refused to disavow his white-supremacist views. Apparently his intent is to be known as a calm and level-headed racist.)
This in particular made my liberal friends laugh. “Oh, sure,” they said, “you were there, yelling hate speech alongside people with automatic weapons, Confederate flags and swastikas, because of your concerns about the economy.”
A part of me wanted to leave a smart-ass remark about how, no, the slow economic decline of the American south might be exactly what drove some of these people into the arms of white nationalism… but instead, I rushed over here and started writing this. Because I figured out what Trump was saying.
ONE SIDE: RACISM
Trump was condemning white supremacists.
It’s true that white people are having a hard time of it these days. They are losing their privilege, and things that they could once take for granted, they have to work for. This means their lives are now as hard as everyone else’s has ever been — white women, women of color, men of color, gay men, lesbians, or (god forbid) transsexual people of color, who get discriminated against by basically anyone you can think of and some besides. (If you want a picture of the most oppressed person in America, just google “Laverne Cox”.) Since white people are used to a system that’s rigged in their favor, they complain of bias when they have to compete on a fair playing field, and that’s what they’re doing now.
Now, before we move forward, let me make something clear: the white way of life — as defined as “being extremely privileged and having blue-collar jobs” — is indeed under attack. In point of fact, it’s basically been destroyed; there are not a lot of white people doing blue-collar jobs anymore (the Mexicans took all of them), and privilege is eroding day by day. White people are not completely insane; they are reacting to something that is actually happening. I am going to criticize how some of them have reacted, but please do not make the mistake of thinking that I am going to advocate for them to not react. If your house is burning down, you take action to save it.
When you lose hope, you look for something that will give it back to you. You look for someone to tell you that things will get better. For many, this was Trump’s “Make America Great Again (Or At Least Return It To A Time When You Guys Had Jobs)” slogan that did the trick. But others wanted more. They not only wanted their jobs and status back; they wanted someone to blame. They wanted something to take pride over.
Enter white nationalism.
A brief digression is necessary here. Wikipedia’s articles on things like Black Pride and Gay Pride describes them as morally neutral, while the term White Pride is considered negative and dangerous. People have wondered why this is. The answer is actually simple. Black Pride, Gay Pride and even things like Oktoberfest or the Scottish Games are all celebrations of culture: Scottish culture, German culture, gay culture (yes, gay culture exists). Black Pride is a little trickier, since black slaves were deliberately stripped of culture; most African-Americans in today’s society haven’t the faintest clue where they came from. So they’re trying to reclaim their culture, and possibly enjoy the one they’ve created for themselves (yes, African-American culture exists; it gave us jazz, rock & roll, R&B, hip-hop and rap, just to name contributions in one field). So if all these things celebrate their culture, then how come “white pride” doesn’t celebrate “white culture”? Simple: white culture doesn’t exist. The closest thing to a celebration of “generically white culture” is a Renaissance Faire. And those are fun! There’s nothing wrong with them. I’m just pointing out that they are not, and you cannot claim them to be, emblematic of a single culture; they mix together all manner of influences, from British (pub food and generically Elizabethan dialogue) to German (the swords and armor) to French (the very word “chivalry” is descended from the French chevalier, their word for “knight”) and then some. If you want to celebrate all of this, you’re going to have some problems; remember the Franco-British feud that went on through most of the second millennium? Do you plan to stand by the Brits, and oppose yourself, or the French, and oppose yourself? My point is, you can’t celebrate something that doesn’t actually exist.
White nationalism is based on a lie: that white culture exists. — Scratch that, it is based on two lies, the second being that “white culture” is superior to every other. (It certainly has its perks, don’t get me wrong, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who 1) agrees that it’s superior to everything, and 2) has actually done even one minuscule bit of research on the subject.) It’s also based on an exaggeration, which is that white people are under attack. It’s true that they’ll be outbred eventually by the “rising tide of color,” because that’s just how genetics works… but for some reason, white nationalists believe “inevitability” constitutes deliberate aggression. By the same token, whites are being attacked by death.
There are a lot of white-nationalist ideologies, but none are quite so vile as Naziism. I mean, there are very few ideologies that have killed quite as many people. And yet if there’s one thing that it espouses beyond doubt, it’s the superiority of white people. And so off it goes.
Now, the loss of the white way of life — again, as described as “blue-collar jobs and privilege” in this case — is rooted in economic problems. Why people should turn to Naziism, an ideology that is 1) racist, 2) genocidal, 3) evil, and 4) completely uninterested in economics is something that I don’t really have an answer for. I guess some people just want to be evil.
The problem, of course, is that Trump subscribes to white supremacy. He received the endorsement of the leader of the KKK and never repudiated it. He received that (internal) endorsement from the Daily Stormer for neglecting to condemn them. He has engaged in blatant and offensive stereotyping of Mexicans (“Some, I assume, are good people”) and wants to build a wall to keep them out. He has a long history of perpetrating racism, such as attempting to deport people fleeing a hurricane and pardoning a racist on grounds that it’s okay to violate people’s Constitutional rights if Trump says it is. (Oh, and by the way, those two things happened in one day.) He has consistently failed to speak out against racism, unless basically forced to by his aides and advisors; even then, he does it grudgingly, maintaining that people were wrong “on both sides” and that there are “good people” on both sides. I repeat: Trump has described Nazis as “good people.” One expects to see him tweet next that Hitler was misunderstood and not really that bad a guy. (“The best ideas for fostering national unity. The best!”)
It goes without saying — or at least it should — that racism is morally repulsive. But for those who don’t grasp that, let me also point out that it’s un-American. We cannot claim to be a nation “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” if we systematically deny liberty and justice to certain people based solely on the color of their skin. We cannot claim to that all Americans have “certain unalienable rights” if we build laws that deny people rights because of their ethnicity.
And yet this is what Trump promotes. He has consistently failed to unequivocally condemn white superiority; even if he does, he walks back his comments within 24 hours. The writing is on the wall; Trump is a white supremacists himself. It’s the only thing that fits his behavior. Trump, like most white supremacists, has had a hand in creating unfavorable conditions in America, and there is definitely “blame on both sides” that can be assigned to him.
THE OTHER SIDE: ECONOMICS
Ever since Trump declared his candidacy, there have been concerns about his fitness for office. He is impulsive and doesn’t believe that anyone can possibly be smarter than him. He has a long and well-documented history of sexism. He has a long and well-documented history of racism. And, most importantly to our discussion, he has a long and well-documented history of believing in unregimented capitalism.
Capitalism, for those of you that have been living under a boulder, is the idea that an economy should be based on the profit motive. Under capitalism, people should be able to get rich, and the entire economy should be built around making it possible for someone to do so. Obviously, “getting rich” is no mean feat: you have to devise a product, figure out how to manufacture it, figure out how to sell it, and then figure out how to make money from it. But there are few, if no, barriers to doing so. Capitalism has been in place, in varying degrees, for close to 500 years now, and it has worked pretty well because of one simple fact: humans are greedy.
Capitalism’s strength is also its weakness. Humans are greedy, and if you design a system that allows greed to flourish, you inevitably end up with wealth inequality — with a small portion of the population nonetheless holding a very large amount of its money, physical goods, intangible goods (such as patents), and so forth. The problem there is that inequality as a whole is bad for society; too much of it and you eventually end up with some sort of revolt (cf the French Revolution). Additionally, wealth inequality can go so far that the wealthy 1% accumulates not only all the wealth they need, but some portion of the wealth the 99% needs to do things like “not starve” (cf “They don’t have bread? Then why don’t they eat cake?”). Outsourcing, for instance, is a both a cause and a result of wealth inequality: why pay Americans to do it when someone in Asia will do it for a third of the cost? That’s no way to run a business! After all, astronomical profits and a Dow Jones Industrial that sets a new record every day simply isn’t enough. And suddenly the Rust Belt is desolate of jobs and white Americans can’t feed their families.
So when a society enters late-stage capitalism as our has, with wealth inequality rampant, you can look at the politicians and leaders around you and see where they stand. Some, like Bernie Sanders, will attempt to reverse wealth inequality and level the playing field. Bernie believes in a political & economic idea called “democratic socialism,” which combines some of the egalitarian policies of America (IE “all are created equal”) with a more-aggressive government which tries to make sure that nobody gets screwed over. Bernie wants to do things like guarantee that no one starves to death or lacks medical attention — you know, recklessly, absurdly liberal ideas. Others, like Hillary Clinton, are proponents of “neoliberalism,” which advocates for removing everything that stops wealth inequality — either because they (Hillary Clinton) are amongst the 1% or because they (Hillary Clinton) benefit from that 1% staying rich.
And before you ask, let’s be clear: Donald Trump is an advocate of neoliberalism. He is ultra-rich and he wants to stay that way.
To deny this is to deny his appeal. People who voted for him claimed to be enamored of his business acumen. “He’s made a lot of money! Surely he’s smart enough to be president!” His reputation rests on the fact that he is wealthy. Remove that from him and one of the (few) things that makes him a fit president vanishes.
And while many of us liberals feared what Hillary might do if elected president, we knew it was nothing compared to what Trump would do. And so far, he has proved us right. Defunding the Environmental Protection Agency, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, repealing laws about clean water, repealing the Affordable Care Act, possibly without replacing it… None of these things make for a healthier, happier America. But they do make it easier for large corporations and very rich people to keep their money, by allowing them to cut costs, alter practices and do whatever’s easiest in the short term (regardless of any long-term consequences). And for all Hillary Clinton’s excesses, she would never have contemplated burning up America’s medical health solely for the sake of her pocketbook. (Her soldiers in needless wars, sure, but that’s another matter.) If Hillary was going to be bad in terms of supporting neoliberalism, well, Trump would’ve been worse. Trump is worse.
And, to be clear: these economic concerns? Neoliberalism? They are part of why white nationalism has arisen. They have created a nation in which white people find racism and genocide to be comforting ideas. Neoliberalism is the reason for the rise of the alt-right.
The current course of the nation involves sacrificing its people for the sake of the almighty dollar. And yet this is what Trump promotes. All he wants is to make more money. And he doesn’t care who or what he destroys to do it. Trump, like most capitalists, has had a hand in creating unfavorable conditions in America, and there is definitely “blame on both sides” that can be assigned to him.
So, in the end, I (what the fuck) have to agree with Donald J. Trump. Both sides are to blame. Neoliberalism has created an environment in which hatred and prejudice can flourish; it is attractive to bad, or at least wildly selfish, people, like Donald Trump. Growing out of that swamp of hatred and prejudice is white nationalism; it is attractive to bad, or at least wildly selfish, people, like Donald Trump. There is wrong on both sides, and Donald Trump epitomizes all of that wrongness. Donald Trump is wrong on both sides.
And I’m glad that the Great Orange Gasbag is finally coming out and laying the blame where it belongs — at the feet of people like Donald Trump. He not only started this fire, he’s pouring gasoline on it. And while I question the wisdom of incriminating himself in public, I admire his willingness to do so. Like the activists who tore down a Confederate statue in Durham, NC, and afterwards turned themselves in to accept the penalty of their simultaneously ethical and criminal actions, Trump is coming clean and facing his own actions. Essentially, he’s starting his own impeachment process. I never thought I’d see the day, and I applaud him for it.
And I’m glad he’s not promoting some absurdly racist agenda by claiming that the people of color whom the neo-Nazis were protesting — people who were literally sitting around minding their own business and doing nothing offensive before neo-Nazis forced them to act in self-defense — were somehow doing wrong.
Because that… would just be preposterous.