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After Charlottesville: Race, history, and radicalism
August 20, 2017, 9:47 pm

Around 9pm on August 12, a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered at Nameless field, a large swathe of grass on the University of Virginia campus.

Two-by-two they descended, yelling “blood and soil!” and “you will not replace us!”- the light from their torches and their indignant voices the only thing penetrating the summer night air.

Some minutes later, they faced off with anti-racism demonstrators and so began another decisive chapter in American race relations.

Reactions poured in from all corners of the country; people were emotional and angry.

Liberal political commentator Van Jones was crying on Anderson Cooper’s CNN news show, while former Republican standard-bearers like David Frum, Bill Kristol, and even former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney all took to Twitter to lambaste President Donald Trump.

But Trump, the one figure tasked with soothing this mess and finding the rhetoric to calm and unite a divided nation, predictably failed to deliver – and only made things worse.

Perhaps no individual deserves more blame for the inferno being kindled across America than Trump who has, in the last few days, continually blamed both sides for the escalation of the violence which left one protester dead and many others injured.

“It was a horrible thing to watch. There is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group,” Trump said at a press conference on Tuesday.

And throughout this entire ordeal, Trump missed the mark on two major issues that will continue to hold America back if they are not appropriately and maturely addressed; first, attacking the counter-protesters, or those he labeled the alt-left, and second, continually trying to deflect all conversations away from the very real issue of white supremacy in America.

Dissecting the counter-movements

Many conservative thinkers, even ones recently at odds with the president, have agreed that far left groups such as the anti-fascist Antifa represent the opposite but equally dangerous end of the political spectrum dubbing them the alt-left, a term even some centrist liberals have adopted.

Antifa can be violent and has radical beliefs tinged with authoritarianism, evidenced by their actions and mission statements; the merit of their tactics is very debatable.

However, equating them with those who marched two-by-two in Charlottesville fuels a ridiculous false equivalency.

Groups like Antifa are often the last line of defence on the left against these radical and exclusionary groups they’re being equated with.

And while conservatives often count these far-right groups as part of their voting block, groups like Antifa receive far less popular support and have historically had far less impact on American civil society.

Most importantly, they don’t have the support of institutionalized white supremacy.

Many Democratic and Republican politicians in America have benefited from these white supremacist institutions. Their failures and complacency in the face of racism are what fueled the rise of groups like Antifa, yet they throw their hands in the air as if this conundrum arose from nothing.

The counter-protesters at the Virginia rally were members of a diverse selection of these leftist groups, including the Democratic Socialists of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, and they were standing peacefully when they were subjected to an act of terrorism.

Most on the left are not violent. There is no moral equivalency between the sides.

The silence and cowardice shown in the face of these institutions of white supremacy is more dangerous than Antifa, or any other group on the left.

What’s more is that groups on the left are holding accountable positions of power – those reserved almost exclusively for white American males – knowing full well they could never dream of finding themselves there one day.

Race in America

In 1861, in his “cornerstone speech” differentiating between the constitution of the Confederacy and the Union, soon-to-be Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens asserted the “great truth” that “the negro is not equal to the white man … that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition”.

“This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth,” he said, cementing that the Confederacy, by its very definition and desires, was a white supremacist organization.

To continue to celebrate it by raising its flag today is not a celebration of heritage, but a glorification of a time when black bodies were indiscriminately used as fodder, all the while being mass murdered, exploited, and subjugated under the very institutions glorified in statues peppered across the country.

Black bodies and sheer attrition built cities across America, from South Carolina to Brooklyn, where Confederate statues tower over town squares to this day- reminders of pain, enslavement, and horror.

Can anti-racism counter-protesters do anything other than tear these statues down one by one?

Not everything in the past is worthy of celebration. In fact, many things from human history deserve to be left in museums, books, and classrooms.

To deny that institutionalized racism is not as old as the very first American colony would be to rip the country out of the bloody context of white supremacy on which it was largely founded.

To consider acknowledging present-day institutionalized racism as race-baiting and divisive is to also deny society as a whole the chance to alter how it examines history, and how it moves forward.

Further deflections lead to accumulated denial and historical revisionism, which can only lead to demise.

Denying the chasm that white supremacy creates in society today is just like denying that the oceans are rising and the planet is warming due to human activity.

The United States government has not done enough to remove the images and institutionalized forms of white supremacy.

The country must now choose how it addresses its sins.

With Trump as president, no one should be optimistic that change will come from the top. It will be up to regular citizens, as it has been throughout human history, to try to enact real, tangible change.

And it starts with addressing the problem head-on, and fighting it.

On Steve Bannon and unreasonable expectations

Has Bannon’s influence on Trump been sorely overstated? [Xinhua]

In the wake of Charlottesville, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has been forced out of the White House.

Judging from the smoldering wreckage from the hot-takes on Twitter, it may be the biggest departure yet of the Trump Presidency.

While that may end up being the case, the analysis of Bannon has always seemed to trend in various hyperbolic directions. In many ways, Bannon’s influence has always been overstated – on both sides.

To a lot of people, Bannon was the ultimate puppet-master; the architect behind the Trump ideology, the most powerful driving force behind the populist, “economic nationalist” zeal.

They believed that Bannon was the reason why Trump did so many of the things he did, and getting rid of him seems, for many, a breath of fresh air.  

But to think that Bannon’s departure will have any seismic impact on how the president operates seems a tad naive at best, and blatantly ignorant of the facts of his presidency at worst.

Trump has consistently shown that he is not swayed by any single person, no matter how much control that individual seems to exert over him.

Ivanka and senior advisor Jared Kushner couldn’t wrangle him in. Neither could Vice-President Mike Pence or White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Bannon, despite what many proclaimed, could not either.

What will be interesting to observe is how Bannon operates upon returning to Breitbart, his news and opinion website.

Many have suggested that he may maneuver to torpedo Trump’s efforts, or at the very least try to temper the expectations of a base that Trump sorely needs.

Bannon’s impact on Trump could potentially be devastating, but it may be crucial to approach his future impact with levels of skepticism and perspective.

A step back from the Twitter frenzy should crystallize that Bannon is not as smart or as important as many think he is to the political fabric of America.

Steve Bannon certainly is not as smart or as important as he thinks.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.

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