I haven’t written anything about the events last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, because I think they mostly speak for themselves. But there are a couple of follow-up points that are worth making.
Perhaps the key thing is the number of leading Republicans who have felt the need to explicitly disassociate themselves from Donald Trump’s comments. (Whether that comes from genuine personal feeling or from political calculation is relatively unimportant.) Paul Ryan, for example, said “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”
Similarly strong statements came from Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, John Kasich and others. Trump’s supporters, outside the white supremacist movement and the White House itself, were few and far between.
Different people are surprised at different things, depending on their prior expectations. Some people found Trump’s comments surprising; many had obviously assumed that at heart he was a normal Republican, or at least a normal politician. For those of us who had said all along that he was, if not an actual fascist, at least something unpleasantly close to one, they seemed completely predictable.
On the other hand, I have been surprised at the Republican reaction. Given their performance to date, I had taken their spinelessness for granted. Now it seems, however, that despite having courted the white supremacist vote themselves for years or decades, there are still some bridges they are not prepared to cross.
The Republicans did better than the right in Australia, which is still being devoured by the Trumpian cancer within. The weekly email (“the voice of freedom”) from the Institute of Public Affairs gives pride of place to a comment from professional anti-anti-fascist Brendan O’Neill, who blames the violence on “the left” and its “identity politics”. The same “faults on both sides” discourse is rife on my Facebook feed.
I don’t for a moment believe that the left behaved at Charlottesville in a comparable way to the right or came there with the same violent intentions. But even if for the sake of argument we assume that they did, so what?
All violence is regrettable, but there is no moral equivalence between violence against fascists and violence against vulnerable minorities. Those who come with the intention to intimidate and demonise blacks, Jews and Muslims are not on the same moral plane as those who come with the intention to make a stand against white supremacism. (Some libertarians, at least, have been admirably clear about that.)
Similarly, “identity politics” is not all of a piece. Claiming a space for one’s own ethnic or cultural identity is not the same thing as denying that space to others. I think that much of what goes by the name of identity politics is childish and harmful, just as antifascist violence is foolish and counter-productive, but to equate any of this with actual Nazism is morally repulsive.
And now, with another ghastly attack overnight in Barcelona, we have another linguistic front reopened. The usual suspects are telling us that if we tag the Charlottesville terrorism as “white supremacist”, we must tag that in Barcelona as “Islamist”.
I’ve put quite a bit of work in the past into explaining why this is wrong. The equivalent of “Islamist terrorism” would be to simply describe what happened in Charlottesville as “white terrorism”, which would be deeply unhelpful, and for exactly the same reason.
Whites are not the enemy, just as Muslims are not the enemy. Hatred, bigotry and terror are the enemy. It’s time to take a stand.