President Trump has received widespread criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for failing, in his critics’ opinion, to denounce with sufficient enthusiasm the alt-right’s participation in last week’s Charlottesville tragedy, and for attempting to argue that moral equivalence existed between the alt right demonstrators and the counter-protesters, one of whom was murdered. He should listen and take seriously—very, very, seriously—to his critics, lest he suffer more from the guilt by association with which he is currently charged.
“The alt-right, or alternative right,” as Wikipedia explains, “is a loosely defined group of people with far-right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of white nationalism, principally in the United States.” They provided Trump with significant—perhaps crucial—electoral support in 2016, and some of their intellectual leaders, including the now-departed Steve Bannon, have occupied positions of power in Trump’s administration. The problems here are the content of the far-right ideologies and the history, strategies, and tactics of some of the groups which have advocated them both at Charlottesville and in the past.
Proponents of white nationalism frequently say that they don’t wish to oppress others, but they’re concerned about the loss of employment and educational opportunities which they blame on “reverse racism” allegedly promoted by affirmative action and diversity and inclusion programs, or a too-liberal immigration policy. Therefore, they simply want to advocate for the white race with the same enthusiasm as the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter movement advance the interests of African Americans, or La Raza or LULAC work for the interests of Latinos.
But white nationalism has become one of the explicit causes of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi movement, two of the most violent movements imaginable, and white-nationalist groups have associated with their members or at least their fellow travelers.
Throughout America’s post-Civil War history, various manifestations of the Ku Klux Klan have used arson, murder, and other forms of terrorism to suppress African American political participation as well as to persecute Jews and Catholics. Some Klan organizations now stress their opposition to violence and ban guns, drugs, and alcohol from their meetings. But by aligning themselves with the historical Ku Klux Klan, they must share the opprobrium earned through its terrorism.
But the German Nazis made the Ku Klux Klan seem like a convention of Sunday school teachers. They helped launch World War 2 (with support from Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union), and murdered six million Jews and an additional five million gentiles in their concentration camps. Hitler must take his place with Marxists Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Pol Pot as one of the most evil genocidal maniacs in history. American Nazis, swallowing the lies of Holocaust deniers, may deny his crimes, yet rational observers may justifiably conclude that to be an American Nazi today, or to express sympathy for Nazism, is to endorse Hitler’s crimes.
And what about the leftist counter-protesters who challenged the alt-right in Charlottesville? One of the great political insights of political scientists in the twentieth century is that while leftist ideologies may differ in content from rightist ideologies, the totalitarian regimes established by the left can be as imperialistic and genocidal as Nazi Germany was. Ronald Reagan was absolutely correct to denounce the Soviet Union as an evil empire; the mass murders in the name of socialism and communism exceed those committed in the name of Nazism.
But to date, no evidence of a link between the counter-protesters and leftist totalitarian movements has surfaced. In the absence of such a link, the counter-protesters must be pronounced innocent of association with left-wing totalitarianism even as the alt-right protesters must be considered guilty of voluntary association.
So what should be done?
The initial purpose of the alt-right rally in Charlottesville was to protest a plan to remove Confederate statuary. As I’ve argued in previous columns, we as Americans should shift our focus away from removing statues and other monuments we may find offensive, and instead, we should work to create more monuments commemorating the heroes of the abolition and civil rights movements. A good example of this approach will soon be seen in Shreveport, Louisiana, where a commission created to address complaints about a statue honoring the Confederacy concluded that the statue should stay, but that more historical commentary should be offered to place the statue in its rightful context, and two memorials to the civil rights movement should be added.
Those who are sincerely concerned about affirmative action, diversity and inclusion, and “reverse racism” should enthusiastically support Attorney General Session’s new initiative to investigate the alleged impact of affirmative action programs on college campuses, but they must divorce themselves from white nationalist movements which may have been infiltrated by Klan or Nazi sympathizers, lest they be found guilty by voluntary association with the totalitarian right.
And President Trump is, at the very least, badly in need of crash courses in history and politics to better understand the inadequacy of his handling of Charlottesville today. And if he is unable or unwilling to profit thereby, he should at the very least (as should everyone else) view a chilling HBO documentary which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/VICEVideo/videos/vb.130581413665173/852427754917176/?type=2&theater. Even if he sympathizes with much of the alt-right’s ideology, he should be scared—very, very scared—of those in the alt-right who denounced him because he “gave his daughter to a Jew.” Whatever he may think of the alt-right, its most extreme members might well think he, his daughter Ivanka, her husband Jared Kushner, and their children are fit only for slave labor in a concentration camp.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.