What happened on Saturday, August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, called for an immediate condemnation. The “Unite the Right” march that was countered by a spontaneous demonstration by Charlottesville residents and university students was shattered when a man, an apparent white supremacist, plowed his car into the counter demonstrators, killing 32-year old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
In that instant, America woke up.
Many Americans both black and white, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal spoke and wrote with unvarnished anguish at what had been done, who had done it, and what it said about the condition of this country. I felt the urge to write about it, myself, and I waited for our “president” to set the tone and context for my own contribution.
What followed was a period unlike anything in my life. Not only did the “president” make a feeble and noncommittal initial statement before “re-booting” his comments two days later, but he also returned to a position of “all sides bear the same responsibility” just another day after that.
This waffling is dangerous for us all. The white supremacists who initially welcomed the “president’s” soft rebuke on Saturday and angrily dismissed the “president’s” hard rebuke on Monday went on to celebrate his remarks on Tuesday. If I were a white supremacist I would conclude that I had an ally in the White House, and I would be emboldened to stage more demonstrations and resort to other forms of violence against anyone who opposed me.
If there is any good arising from Charlottesville it is the clarity with which Americans now see the issue of race in America. We have shaken off the lethargic cultural trance that allowed us to ignore the recent episodes of white cops shooting black citizens without just cause, and we now cast our gaze on a new social movement in America, one that we recognize from a recent historical context: Nazis.
The term Nazi has been misused in our culture for some time now, most notably among ultra-conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh. But there is a “true” Nazi social segment in this world, one with symbols and uniforms and a philosophy that are specific to a defined movement. We fought a war against them only two generations ago, and we fought it to keep our own democratic practices and institutions alive. America has never been a place where Nazism and democracy could co-exist. Each is the inevitable enemy of the other.
America is no longer a “white” country. We can argue whether it ever really was “white” in the sense that Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacists intend to make it, but the absolute fact remains that we are not white today and we cannot make it white tomorrow without an ethnic cleansing of obscene dimension.
Nor should we. Those who want to make sure that even the stupidest and most despicable white person is forever and always “better” than the brightest and most admirable of any other color would doom America to becoming and remaining a weak, dull, ignorant place susceptible to all manner of exploitation because we are no longer able to see the corruption in ourselves.
This is my starting point for where I stand on the issue of “white supremacy,” There is no such thing, and there never was. What there is in America is exactly the opposite: a way of treating each other that ignores superficial distinctions and recognizes deeper qualities common to all of humanity. Most Americans accept this, and it shows in our ability to live beside, work with and love those who look different. Those who can’t do this are missing out on a source of social wealth.
Being a white supremacist is a personal choice, and those who want to live this way are allowed to think they’re better than everyone else. America permits this as an expression of individuality, something that is even celebrated and defended it in our laws and courts. But signing up to become a member of the American Nazi Party is different.
America recognizes Nazis as an alien and dangerous political philosophy that must be opposed by force. If we don’t oppose it by force then it will oppose the rest of us by force. As Winston Churchill said about Germany under Hitler, “The only way to live with the Germans is to have them at your feet or at your throat.”
I say, put them at our feet. Call out the Nazi Party for what it is, a national danger to America. Find its members, arrest them, charge them with sedition and try them for it. If they are found guilty, hang them.
If Nazis want to turn America into a killing ground to secure political and economic supremacy then America must be ready and willing to defeat them that way.