There s a common canard that German Jews submitted passively to Nazi atrocities and had they only resisted, there would have been no Holocaust. This belief is demonstrably false. There were many examples of Jewish resistance, but it came too late and was always overwhelmed by the superior force of well-established, state-sanctioned Nazi terrorism, in its turn abetted by the indifference of much of the German Gentile population. I bring this up now to explain both the hope and the fear that the events in Charlottesville inspire in me.
With the election of our – let’s not mince words – racist, would-be authoritarian president, it became clear that the same ugly, tribal drumbeat from which we never totally escape, and which animated the Nazis, is growing louder in our own country. It may be simply a measure of my paranoia, but it seems to me that it is possible to see in the fervor, the absurd military posturing, the shields and helmets, of the white supremacists who crawled out from under their rocks in Charlottesville, the seeds of a resurgent Brownshirt militia, ready to do its Master’s bidding.
Which begs the question: do I believe that Trump would or, given his incompetence, could, make use of violent militias to institute a fascist state? I can only answer that I don’t know.
I know that conservatives want to discourage the comparisons between Trump and fascists of the past, and that some liberals agree that the meme it is too facile. I’m obviously not convinced by the effort of the former to ridicule such comparisons, especially since they’re usually the first to try to nazify just about any left-of-center dicta – which, as you might expect results in some logical knee-slappers. Nor, though, am I totally convinced by the latter who worry about trivializing the European fascist rampages of the 20th century through overwrought comparisons. Authoritarianism and militant fascism are potentially recurrent evils that may pose a real threat at times of social stress.
I also know that Trump is surrounded by people, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastien Gorka, for instance, who talk a game that’s straight out of the fascist playbook. I know that, either under their tutelage or based only on his gut-level predilections, Trump is hitting all the high points of the same playbook: Undermine trust in mainstream media, government institutions and norms – check. Create and elevate political propaganda outlets – check. Promote discredited authoritarian police-state crime strategies – check. Fear-mongering focused on dark-skinned “others” – check. Endorse murderous authoritarian regimes and their methods – check.
And in response to the invitation offered by Trump’s rhetoric during and after the election campaign, the white nationalist hordes are beginning to flex their muscles. Voila, Charlottesville.Only this time, so far, their pseudo-romantic, blood-and-soil posturing is being met with widespread resistance and public condemnation relatively early on.
I know that I’m supposed to condemn violence and I do except in self-defense. I heartily condemn the vicious cowardice that led a disturbed racist to run down and kill a helpless protestor; by the same measure I don’t sympathize with anyone who initiates violence. But nevertheless, even knowing that it might incite a violent response, it did my heart good to see the fervor of protest encountered by the highly weaponized White Nationalist fools decked out with helmets and shields. It did my heart good to see folks who refused to be intimidated by a display meant to intimidate. We can’t let Brownshirt wannabes direct the narrative. They’ll get publicity – and possible recruits – no matter what anti-racists do, protest or stay home, but a strong, vocal opposition needs to be part of that media story as well.
The “alt-right” has a first-amendment right to expressive speech, no matter how ugly – but they do not have a right to speak unchallenged. We challenge ideas with ideas – but we also need to meet supremacist pep-rallies with a strong presence or those rallies will do what they’re supposed to do: encourage quieter fellow-travelers to come on over. The principle of self-defense demands that we not stay quiet and pretend they don’t pose a real threat.
20th century history teaches us that progressives, liberals and all who are revolted by the ideology represented by Donald Trump’s alt-right allies and supporters, need to have voices as strong as the resurgent racists. After 1933, opposition to the Nazis in Germany was limited and easily suppressed; early opposition to Mussolini and his Blackshirts during their gradual takeover of the Italian government was also too weak to be meaningful. Few were willing to own up to what was happening. And we know what happened.
So, yes, I’m delighted to see that the baby Brownshirts are being met with forceful opposition, and despite the despicable murder of Heather Heyer, I hope counter protests will continue to oppose the spread of the racist disease that afflicts us and that has been exacerbated by some of our current leaders, just as I applaud the many rallies decrying supremacist violence that have taken place since the death, Saturday, of Heyer.
This type of action is necessary, but it is not enough. Elected officials must also speak out forcefully. There is no room for ambiguity anymore. We need them to not only condemn white nationalist militancy, but to condemn the president’s evident desire to offer cover for racists. At the very least we need to know unequivocally where – and with whom – they stand
But what have we got from our dear leaders at the point that I am writing these words, nearly three days after the alt-right rampage that resulted in the death of a counter-protestor at the hands of an avowed white nationalist and Trump supporter? Some congressmen, both Republicans and Democrats, have spoken up forcefully against the hatemongers – although few Republicans seem are willing to name the President’s consistent enabling of hate as such. Others, mostly Republicans, remain silent.
In Missouri, so far, our two senators, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, have made bland statements voicing disapproval of “hate” and “bigotry”, with no explicit mention of militant white nationalism or right-wing militias – and certainly not a word directly disparaging the President who has, with a wink and a nod, belatedly, grudgingly and unconvincingly disavowed bigotry. Pious condemnation of “violence” also characterized the response of Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-4) – although, credit where credit’s due, Hartzler, in distinction to her Missouri GOP confreres in the House, actually issued a press release right away on Charlottesville, arguably the most significant domestic event of the weekend.
I may have missed it, but I haven’t heard anything at all from the rest of the GOP Missouri delegation to the House. I Googled each of their names in conjunction with “Charlottesville,” and scanned their Websites for press releases and found nada, zip, zilch as of 4:00 pm today (8/15). Yesterday I got an email newsletter from Rep. Ann Wagner (R-2), my representative in Washington, and there was no mention of Charlottesville to be found. Maybe next time?
The same cannot be said about the two House Democrats from Missouri, Emanuel Cleaver and Lacy Clay, Jr. Cleaver declared that although he’ll continue to pray for Trump, Charlottesville has forced him to give up on any expectations he may have had that Trump would rise to the presidency, and to face the fact that he just doesn’t “like Donald Trump.” Well Hallelujah! And while my cursory search for a statement on Charlottesville from Lacy Clay yielded no results, he’s already on the record – many times. Clay even called for Trump to refrain from hiring Steve Bannon because of his racist proclivities, tweeting “@realDonaldTrump coddling of racist supporters puts #BlackLives and #Latinos as risk, endangers us all.”
Amen. Telling it like it is. They’ve all got to do it. Over and over again. Louder and louder. It’s a matter of defending the defenseless. It’s a time for extreme language, not moderation. The guantlet has been thrown. They’ve got to pick it up or walk away. And if they walk away, you know what will happen.
UPDATE: Washington Post prints comments from elected officials after the President once again blamed “both sides” today. A little more backbone perhaps?
*Slightly revised and cross-posted to Daily Kos, 8/15/2017, 8:49.