Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the prettiest towns in America, and home to one of its most venerable institutions of higher learning, but over the weekend it became the tragic focal point of the country’s ugliest and most stupid elements.
A few hundred proudly self-described Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis and various other far-right white supremacists who prefer to be called “alt-right” gathered in a local park with a soon-to-be-removed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to “Unite the Right,” there was of course the usual larger gathering of counter-protestors that included the usual small number of “anarchist” and “antifa” far-left idiots itching for a fight. The inevitable resulting skirmishes culminated with a Dodge muscle car allegedly driven by an alleged Nazi sympathizer plowing into an annoying self-righteous but entirely peaceable crowd of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring 19 others, and a couple of law enforcement officers dying in a helicopter crash while dealing with melee. That culminated in another round of street brawls between the self-described racists and the so-called anti-fascist forces on the streets of Seattle, Washington, and much rhetorical skirmishing in Washington, D.C., as well as everywhere in the real and virtual worlds, so at this point there’s no telling how it all plays out.
Everything in the news these days has something to do with President Donald Trump, of course, so he wound up playing his usual starring role in the whole mess. He responded the car-plowing-into-the-peeaceable-counter-protestor situation more slowly than he does to news of Islamic or left-wing terrorism, which drew criticism from the usual corners, and when he did his statement condemned the hatred and bigotry and violence on “many sides,” repeating “on many sides” just for emphasis, and that drew criticism from pretty much everywhere. Most of the Republican party had already issued statements that unequivocally condemned the KKK and Nazism and any other hateful movements that consider themselves the “right,” as they’ve vainly and nobly struggled to do since the Civil War, and of course the Democrats had a field day with Trump’s more tepid response.
The KKK and the Nazis and the “alt-right” and the rest of the hateful movements that claim to be “right” were publicly pleased with Trump’s comments, though, and there was enough of a reasonable argument for them that so were many of his more reasonable supporters. There is indeed a similarly sliver-sized segment at the leftmost corners of the political spectrum that routinely engage in violence, often directed at Trump’s most visible supporters, some of whom no doubt played their role in the unpleasantness in Charlottesville over the weekend, and it’s only fair that should also be condemned. Democrats are indeed too often slow and equivocal in their denunciations of the violence associated with the black-hooded “antifas” or the more deadly riots that have followed Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and the double standard reasonably fuels that lingering reasonable suspicion of a certain anti-white animus on the left which did so much to get Trump elected.
There will surely be plenty of future opportunities to condemn that leftist strain of political violence, though, and to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities the past weekend seemed an especially inopportune moment to do so. In this case all of the tragic events were set in motion when a bunch of KKK and neo-Nazi and more politely named “alt-right” types from around the country invaded a lovely town that is home to a respected university to assert their hateful ideologies, and it culminated with one of that crowd’s muscle car plowing into a crowd of annoyingly self-righteious but entirely peaceable counter-protestors, so it was not the time to assert a moral equivalence between people who are marching down a public street armed with shields and helmets and spears waving Nazi and Confederate flags of a picturesque college town and the people who were tempted to punch them in the nose. It’s not only a losing political argument, unless you’re trying to maintain a shrinking base of support, but it’s also on shaky moral grounds.
Sooner or later those ugly and stupid and itching-for-a-fight types on the left will be responsible for some similar tragedy, and when it happens we want to be able to unequivocally condemn it without any plausible charges of hypocrisy. By now there’s a large segment of the right that argues reasonably enough that the left is willing to resort to the bare-knuckle rhetoric of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” and outright violence to achieve their goals, and there’s enough of the right that thinks it must respond in kind to counter the threat, but we’re still hoping it won’t wind up with those end-of-the-Weimar-Republic street brawls between the Commies and the Nazis, which didn’t end well for anybody.
Those annoyingly self-righteous but entirely peaceable folks just left of the center seem willing to work things out amicably, and as old-fashioned and too-old-for-street-brawling re-constructionist Republicans just to the right of the center we’re eager to do the same, and we hold out hope that most of our party’s unequivocal repudiation of the Nazis and the rest of its violent elements will be met with the left’s unequivocal repudiation of its worst actors. Several White House officials have lately emphasized that the president’s “all sides” statements obviously included the KKK and the Nazis and the rest of the “alt-right,” as per usual after his more controversial statements, but as per usual the president himself hasn’t backed down, and it remains to be seen how that will work out.
As we await the culmination of this latest ugly and stupid episode in America’s history, we’ll offer our prayers that peaceable counter-protestor and the brave law enforcement officers who died trying to keep some semblance of peace in a lovely southern town, and our hope that the center somehow holds.
— Bud Norman