As I write this, it is 2 a.m. in my current time zone and 10 p.m. on the east coast. What began as a gross white nationalist rally (albeit, a constitutionally protected one) was reacted to by counter protesters (a beautiful display of the American right to freedom of assembly) and ended in bloodshed. I am not even going to entertain the notion that if these two groups had sat down and peacefully engaged with one another some form of mutual understanding would have been reached; anytime people are throwing around swastikas this would a priori indicate that we are past that point. What I am going to argue, however, is that this is a microcosm for the country at the moment.
I will begin by stating the obvious: racism is still very much alive in America, and a crowd full of brazenly unmasked Richard Spencer acolytes demonstrated that tonight. This is vile. That demonstration was hideous. There is no other way for putting these things. And unfortunately, it is becoming more and more normal this insanity be met with counter insanity – see Berkeley and Middlebury’s Antifa outbursts, the Dallas Police Department shooting last summer and of course the Congressional shooting in June.
Is Antifa the exact equivalent of the alt-right? I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care because the argument of proportions doesn’t matter. It seems that ideologically, the fringe right tips the evil scale, but in terms of methods this may be contested (one might ask why a methodologically pure Antifa activist need wear a mask). But what matters most is that the fringe right and the fringe left are codependent on one another and both seem to be getting bigger. Ask yourself what you think happened to Antifa’s recruitment lists after tonight, or what traffic on the alt-right 4chan discussion boards must have looked like after the Middlebury incident. Side A exacerbates side B, which then justifies the existence of and improves recruitment in side B, which exacerbates side A, ad infinitum.
There is a reason this rally was the biggest gathering of American white supremacists since the 60s. There is a reason federal troops have not been needed to dissuade college protesters since around the same time. Everywhere and at both extremes, people are scared that there is a particularly large group aiming to demur their status as Americans and so they take arms with the group that opposes their threateners feeling fully justified in using their tactics. This is how a person finds him or herself throwing a molotov cocktail through a Starbucks window in the name of “resistance” or marching under a four-pointed symbol that symbolizes quite literally everything the United States stands to oppose in the name of “patriotism.” It is fear of the other, it is the pathos of distance and it is getting worse.
We live in an era of constant conflation and hyperbole, made insurmountably worse by the megaphone to inanity called social media, undoubtedly fueled by the “short-fingered vulgarian” currently living at 1600 Penn.The reason I said the back and forth between the fringe right and the fringe left is something of a microcosm for the country is because despite the fact that neither –– in terms of policy agenda, institutional ties, or methods –– have anything all to do with the Democratic and Republican parties, we are all moving in the same direction: apart. And the prevailing solution of the time seems to be to yell louder, call your opponent something outlandish and wildly undeserved, and support something more radical.
Normal people must stop calling normal people evil if we are to ever have some sort of return to civility. If we can remove the hyperbole from casual discourse, the world appears a much less threatening place to the sort of person who would sign up for a violent fringe group. Of course, there are many who would be racists and anti-semites still in a more cordial world, but even then, if we reserve the really nasty accusations and remonstrations for them, those phrases retain their power in the fight to remove vicious ideologies from the American mind once and for all. It’s time to drop the partisan hats, it’s time to end the arms race of exaggeration, if not, we condemn ourselves to a lifetime of intensifying countermovements like this one.
Contact Ryan Zoellner at [email protected]