America has cancer.
On Saturday, a crowd of alt-right white supremacists, neo-confederates, and Nazi sympathizers marched in Charlottesville, Va.; they were confronted by a large group of protesters including members of the Marxist Antifa — a group that has time and again plunged volatile situations into violence, from Sacramento to Berkeley. There’s still no certain knowledge of who began the violence, but before long, the sides had broken into the sort of brutal scrum that used to characterize Weimer-era Germany. The two sides then carried the red banner and the swastika; so did the combatants on Saturday.
Then a Nazi-sympathizing alt-right 20-year-old Ohioan plowed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring 19. The president of the United States promptly failed egregiously to condemn alt-right racism; instead, he opted for a milquetoast statement condemning “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”
The Left leapt into action, declaring Trump’s statement utterly insufficient — which, of course, it was. But they then went further, declaring that Antifa was entirely innocent, despite Antifa’s launching into violence against pro-Trump marchers in Seattle over the weekend, as they have in Sacramento and Berkeley; berating New York Times journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg for having the temerity to report that “the hard left seemed as hate-filled as the alt-right”; and suggesting that all conservatives were, at root, sympathizers with the Nazi-friendly alt-right.
And so here we stand: On the one side, a racist, identity-politics Left dedicated to the proposition that white people are innate beneficiaries of privilege and therefore must be excised from political power; on the other side, a reactionary, racist, identity-politics alt-right dedicated to the proposition that white people are innate victims of the social-justice class and therefore must regain political power through race-group solidarity.
None of this is new, of course. The Left has engaged in identity politics since the 1960s and engaged in heavy violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The white-supremacist movement has been with us since the founding of the republic. But both movements had been steadily shrinking until the last few years.
Now they’re growing. And they’re largely growing in opposition to one another. In fact, the growth of each side reinforces the growth of the other: The mainstream Left, convinced that the enemies of social-justice warriors are all alt-right Nazis, winks and nods at left-wing violence; the right, convinced that its SJW enemies are focused on racial polarization, embraces the alt-right as a form of resistance. Antifa becomes merely a radical adjunct to traditional Democratic-party politics; the alt-right becomes merely a useful tool for scurrilous Republican politicians and media figures.
Three factors led to this self-reinforcing growth loop.
First, increasing political polarization.
President Obama allowed the politics of racial fragmentation to fester on his watch; he repeatedly trafficked in broad generalities about American racism. Obama focused incessantly on the specter of white bigotry: “the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives,” embedded in our collective DNA. In response, an identity politics began creepily infusing the Right, with some white people embracing the mold cast upon them by the Left, creating a soft racial solidarity in backlash. This, of course, only strengthened the Left’s views of white privilege, which in turn strengthened the Right’s views of white victimhood.
The second factor was media malfeasance.
Left-wing media — and “objective” media — saw an advantage in highlighting the antics of racists such as Richard Spencer and David Duke. Focusing on the racist alt-right allowed the media to draw the convenient conclusion that the alt-right was a growing force in Republican politics that had to be fought through support for Democrats. Meanwhile, the media cast a blind eye toward Antifa’s violent Weimer-style rioting in Sacramento and Berkeley.
In response, right-wing media began tut-tutting the alt-right as victims of Antifa and focused exclusively on Antifa as a nefarious force; they also responded to the Left’s disgusting attempts to lump in the Right with the alt-right by accepting a broader, false definition of the alt-right that could include traditional conservatism. They even bought into the shameful rebranding of the alt-right as defenders of Western civilization by shills such as Milo Yiannopoulos. That rebranding provided a convenient way of fighting the Left: “If the Left is calling us alt-right, that’s just because they hate that we stand for Western civilization!”
Antifa becomes merely a radical adjunct to traditional Democratic-party politics; the alt-right becomes merely a useful tool for scurrilous Republican politicians and media figures.
Finally, there’s political convenience.
Obama’s repeated references to American racism weren’t his only sin. He repeatedly shunned opportunities to tamp down leftist racial radicalism. He made excuses for riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. He used the shooting of Dallas police officers by a radical black activist as an opportunity to lecture Americans about the evils of racist policing. He knew that his political support came in large measure from SJWs, and he cultivated them.
Meanwhile, on the right, Trump did the same. During the campaign, he ignored opportunity after opportunity to break with the alt-right. He refused to condemn the KKK on national television; he refused to condemn his supporters’ sending anti-Semitic messages to journalists; he hired as his campaign strategist Steve Bannon, a man who openly celebrated turning Breitbart into a “platform for the alt-right.” Trump saw the alt-right as convenient allies, his meme-making “deplorable” friends on the Internet. They reveled in both his unwillingness to condemn them and his willingness to share their work.
And so here we are. The mainstream Left has been increasingly suckered into walking hand-in-hand with the SJWs while ignoring the most egregious activities of Antifa; the mainstream Right has been increasingly seduced into footsie with alt-right associates while feigning ignorance at the alt-right itself.
That’s why Charlottesville matters: not only because we saw destruction and terror, but because if all Americans of good conscience won’t do some soul-searching and move to excise the evil in their midst, that evil will metastasize. There is a cancer in the body politic. We must cut it out, or be destroyed.