The events in Charlottesville may be a step along the way along the way to a dystopia, a fascist America. But we don’t think so.
The European Nazis were destroyed by 1945 through the bravery of soldiers of the US, the USSR and other countries. A living symbol of our vanquishment of Hitler’s regime is former Senator Bob Dole 94 who suffered grievous wounds in the war. The pathetic Americans who call themselves Nazis in the second decade of the 21st Century are numerically trivial. They have not ever elected anyone in this country and are unlikely to do so. We think that these things and people will cost far more Americans their lives in the future than the Nazis ever will: football, medication errors in hospitals, lawn mowers, rhetoric out of Black Lives Matter, etc. The KKK was also a force after the Civil War and later in the 1920s and the 1960s. But no more. Now, like the Nazis, it also represents the tiniest elements of the dregs of society now.
Now the issue has evolved into President Trump’s reaction to the violence in Charlottesville, to the removal of monuments of to the old Confederacy and to free speech.
Early on, on Saturday, the day of the violence, President Trump condemned the hatred and violence generally.
We saw that as insufficient. Many saw it in a worse light but we have stuck with our original label. Here’s why:
• Although Mr. Trump inarticulately talked of “many sides,” at blame, and has been castigated for that, there does appear to have been two sides resorting to violence at Charlottesville. That’s the report of a New York Times writer, an ACLU observer and an anti-Trump Democratic state legislator. The Nazis were on one side. A group called the Antifa – for anti-Fascist – on the other.
• Mr. Trump has said that on Saturday he didn’t want to go further until he had more facts and that is plausible.
• Mr. Trump’s Saturday comment should be judged in a presidential context, meaning what other presidents have said in similar circumstances.
Mr. Trump should have called out the Klan and the Nazis by name. But President Obama should have called out Black Lives Matter after a man killed five police officers in Dallas last year and specifically associated himself with that group which has pushed the demonstrably false claim that police are targeting young black men. Mr. Obama also should have stayed away from other issues in his remarks about those murders like the funding of schools. In both cases, the presidents missed the mark and the question is how serious that was.
We try to be consistent and grade each of these responses as “insufficient” for the occasions.
“Mr. Trump should have called out the Klan and the Nazis by name. But President Obama should have called out Black Lives Matter after a man killed five police officers in Dallas last year and specifically associated himself with that group…”
Of course as often happens when people explain Donald Trump, he then made it worse on Tuesday with a “very fine people on both sides” comment.
Here are Mr. Trump’s remarks in some context as reported by ABC News:
“I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides. You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides.”
We imagine that the president’s defenders will say that he meant something like that good people can disagree on the status of Confederate statues.
If that’s what President Trump meant he should clear up the matter now with some acknowledgment that he completely flubbed the discussion.
Pending that, we see the Tuesday comment as leaving “insufficient,” going past “bad,” down to the “outrageous” category.
Respected conservative intellectuals and political and business leaders such as David French, Charles Krauthammer, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, major CEOs, both Presidents Bush and many others have gone farther in their condemnations. Mr. Trump has a near nonexistent margin of error on this.
As to the future, we think we will start to see more Antifa versus Nazi riots. Antifa has already attacked pro-Trump groups in Berkeley, Seattle and Sacramento where the police have said that the leftists started the violence and now have fought Nazis in Charlottesville where a reporter for The New York Times tweeted: “The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding ‘antifa’ beating white nationalists being led out of the park.”
As to Civil War monuments which recognize the Confederacy, in the wake of the events at Charlottesville, local authorities in Baltimore and elsewhere have responded to Charlottesville and begun removing them. We think that is precipitous because there is no clear limiting principle. It isn’t just statues. There are sports team names, place names, and probably ever personal names tracing to the Confederacy.
It isn’t just the Confederacy. There are statues and place names of people who defended slavery throughout the country. There are also monuments to one-time Klan leaders such as the late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd who is the only senator to have opposed both black Supreme Court nominees in our history and who once led a filibuster against civil rights legislation.
Our counsel: move deliberately, consider relocations, consider interpretive materials. For example, there is much more to Robert Byrd’s long career and his times than what we have mentioned here that could be included in accompanying records.
As to free speech, those of us who support it, support it not just for popular ideas but for objectively loathsome ones such as those flying under the disgusting banner of “White Nationalism.”
Violence or violent threats of course are something else. We believe that the two groups – the Antifa and the Nazis – are tiny in number but the violence is not trivial.
But the America of the 2010s is not like the Germany of the 1930s. We believe that we are in no danger of fascism and that law enforcement and the good sense of the American people will prevail.