Some long overdue thoughts on Charlottesville

I’ll admit that I’ve been taking advantage of my physical distance from the US to avoid the tragedy in Charlottesville and tend to personal matters. But it’s time for some reactions:

One – The car attack was an act of terrorism, plain and simple. (Just like the left-wing attack on Republicans in Washington was.) In a just world, Heather Heyer would be alive today – as would the two police officers who died in the unrelated helicopter crash while having to monitor the events.

Two – The white supremacists/white separatists/neo-Nazis/neo-Confederates who planned the rallies in Charlottesville are disgusting people. Watch this documentary from VICE News to get a flavor:

(They also happen to be hilarious crybabies when forced to confront the consequences of their actions.)

Three – Pres. Trump should have stuck to his second statement on the events. Just condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists – full stop.

We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans. Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

Four – Regarding Pres. Trump’s third set of statements in which he again said both sides were to blame and that there were “fine people” on both sides, let me try to charitable to the president for a moment, even if you could argue he doesn’t deserve it given how he abuses other people online, because:

  • I’m constitutionally built that way. It’s the journalist in me. I can’t help it.
  • I think it’s a better strategy to signal to Trump supporters that might now be questioning his judgment that you’ve carefully listened to them and don’t just dismiss them as bat sh*t crazy.  I believe this can help defuse tense situations and leads to better outcomes.
  • You can find rants about Trump in many other places.
  • There is something to waiting for the facts to come in when these kinds of events occur. Again, it’s the journalist in me. And I praise people who wait for the full information. (Secretary of Defense Mattis impressed me in this way recently.)

Okay, all of that said, let’s take a look at “fine people” on the alt-right’s side. Pres. Trump stressed that they were there to protest taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee. They were there to defend a hero of the Confederacy. Supposedly that was the reason for the rallies, and they were flying the Stars and Bars. But regardless of what personal qualities these people have – of how fine they are – they are protesting in support of traitors to the United States – people who became traitors because they wanted to keep slavery in place in the United States. When it seemed that they couldn’t – that they were losing politically – they took to armed rebellion and tried to leave the Union. That’s what those “fine” people are supporting. (And the irony is never lost on me that these people somehow consider themselves the true patriots.)

Five – Regarding the “fine” people in the counter-protests, for the most part, there can be no comparison. You can’t equate people who advocate for white supremacy and Nazism with the people who oppose it. What, were our troops in World War II who were trying to defeat Nazi Germany just as bad as them? Some revisionists might claim that, but I don’t believe any reasonable person ever would. Now, there are lots of people in the anti-fascist – antifa –  movement who clearly are itching for a fight every bit as much as the white supremacists. They don’t see any problem at all with proactively punching Nazis. I can’t get on board with that, because…

Six – I’m a strong believer in the First Amendment. The law and the morality of First Amendment issues are complex. By my interpretation, your First Amendment rights end when you incite violence. But the definition of incitement is slippery. And even if you have a right to speak, I’m not altogether sure you have the right to be respectfully heard. Not every venue is an academic debate. If you’re going to hold a rally for neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideas, it seems reasonable for you to expect to get drowned out by counter-protesters.

But I don’t care for violent confrontations like some of the events before the car attack. Nobody comes off looking good. It’s not civil discourse. It doesn’t bolster the First Amendment. Call me unrealistic, idealistic, or naive if you want.

That said, defending the alt-right activists is awfully hard to do. They were carrying torches like the KKK of old and came ready for a fight in a military fashion. They did so to defend white supremacist views. In any contest of ideas, they should lose.

Seven – Back to Pres. Trump’s third set of remarks. Sorry, no, Mr. President, we won’t be going after George Washington statues. He fought to create the US, not destroy it like Lee did. And regarding slavery, Washington saw the contradiction between US ideals and slavery and freed his slaves in his will. Of course, he still failed to do so when it would have been personally inconvenient for him, and he deserves criticism for that. Jefferson does, too.

Eight – Again, to be charitable perhaps to a fault, here’s a story about how the right sees events. It would benefit liberals to try to get inside their heads a bit more.

Nine – If you want to see an end to terrorism and political violence – and you’re simultaneously the kind of person that gives a lot of weight to the inborn characteristics of people, like skin color, ethnicity, gender, etc. – well, then, it strikes me that the only reasonable thing to do is to go after males. We males sure do seem to do almost all of the violence and killing. The testosterone cooks our brains, I guess. Put the women in charge based purely on their gender and body chemistry.

Ten – But wait, if that sounds like bigotry to you, well, then good. I hope it does. I want to use that example to make a philosophical point about where I think leftist politics needs to go. I think we need to pin our hopes on universalism, not particularism. What I mean is that we need to focus on and fight for universal values – like freedom and equality and economic security for all. I think these are goals that all humans share. Let me get myself in trouble here with my allies for a moment: While leftists justly promote inclusiveness and equality, sometimes it tips over into bigotry, as well. If you blame “white males” for all of the world’s ills, many white males are going to take that the wrong way. They are going to see people blaming them when they individually didn’t do anything. We, as liberals and leftists, need a new message, and I think that message has to be universalist. Look, particularism – bigotry, racism, sexism – is just part of the human condition. We have to avoid feeding it. The only way out is to focus on universalism and not double down on particularism.

Eleven – Not to give in to prurient interest, but this is the most horrible clip of the car attack I found. The video is not that good, but the sound is terrifying. You can hear the thuds of bodies as they are hit.

Twelve – Just to make a point clear, f*ck neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and white supremacists of all kinds.

Thirteen – The long struggle against the bigots and plutocrats and warmongers continues. The long struggle for justice and freedom and equality goes on.

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