Charlottesville: A Perspective from the So-Called “Alt-Left”
Part One: This Is What It Sounds Like When Doves Cry
It happened in Charlottesville. After all the fearful speculation, the day has finally come: an American killed another American because of political differences. Though Congress may never declare the smoldering tensions between Left and Right that unfolded in our streets throughout the first half of 2017 a war, it’s hard to draw other comparisons. Heather Heyer. Never forget her name. She died fighting the bad guys. The footage of that car slamming into the crowd was terrifying. What I’ve seen on social media was terrifying. The chants, the beatings, seeing people take tiki torches upside their head, that was all terrifying. All of the firsthand accounts are terrifying. That all of this occurred with the cops turning their backs and an armed militia standing guard was terrifying. But so is the case with terrorism.
A lot of people have watched the comprehensive Vice documentary, but I refuse. I refused on moral grounds. I refused on ideological grounds. I refused on principle. Gavin McInnes was one of the founders of Vice Media, and it seems his old colleagues were simply giving a platform for McInnes’ new project, the Proud Boys. Perhaps the worst boys’ club this side of the He-Man Woman Haters, the Proud Boys marched with Nazis, Neo-Confederates, Klansmen, and members of these newer, shampooed, be-poloed crews like Identity Evropa, the Traditional Youth Network, or Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute. (With a name like that, they almost sound legitimate.) For Vice Media and their $70 million benefactor Rupert Murdoch (yep), it’s just more titillating footage for their vault of humanity at its absolute worst. It’s a 21st Century sequel to D.W. Griffith’s racist glorification of the history of the Ku Klux Klan, Woodrow Wilson’s favorite film, The Birth of a Nation. Katheryn Bigelow might as well start work on her next piece of torture pornography. She specializes in white on black action. If you did watch the Vice documentary, all is well, just follow the money next time.
Some of us saw this level of frightful bloodshed coming. Plenty of other writers with far more credibility and talent than me have said it, and I am joining in that chorus. While white liberals, especially here in decadent, “weird” Portlandia, were scoffing at Trump alongside late night hosts in a version of America that only exists in Twitter feeds, saying he had no chance, some of us were able to interject, among the chorus smug, slightly nervous retorts about the very idea of this asshole getting to the White House on a promise to make America w̶h̶i̶t̶e̶ great again, that it could actually happen…well, it did, and the worst of it has become reality by day 210. North Korea is mad at us and has missiles of an unknown variety pointed at Guam, one of our colonies. There are 160,000 souls facing potential annihilation for no reason other than living in a colonized “territory,” “belonging” to the United States.
Since originally drafting this piece, a North Korean missile whizzed through the airspace over Hokkaido. The brutal racism of the Trump Regime has shown in the callous response to the plight of another of our colonies, Puerto Rico. Our military is killing, literally every day, at least “a few” innocent people overseas in Syria, Yemen, or Iraq. Sometimes, and increasingly more often, it’s hundreds. Domestically, we are facing further unrest and violence, perpetrated by the alt-right.
Liberals tend to under react until they overreact. Those people who were wailing and gnashing their teeth on election night, do they remember thinking Trump had no chance? Do they remember laughing it off? Saying not to say it could happen? Are they now watching Pelosi and Schumer (whose name reverts to “Schemer” in this word processor I’m using, and I might just let the next one slide) make deals with this devil and are actually telling themselves it might just work out in the end? They rejected the idea that there would be an end to their dazed, overindulgent illusion of a status quo. After all, with everything Trump had said, it could come to pass that white liberals would be forced to worry about something more dire, more urgent, more serious than plastic bags, compost bins, or soda taxes. (There’s still lead in the water pipes at Portland Public Schools, and fixing this along with the lead paint problem is set to cost over $30 million. No one is facing criminal charges.)
This carnage is a direct result of Trump’s rise to the Presidency, but how he got there implicates far more than the good ol’ boys in MAGA hats, Russian hackers, or right-wing talking heads who deserve their share of the blame. Liberal America wanted Trump to be a problem they could ignore away, yet their collective reactionary tendencies only served to propel him back into the conversation at every turn. Every serious discussion I heard about Trump through the primary cycle would wind down with a dismissal of him ending up with the Republican nomination, that “checks and balances” within the political party — mind you, not a government entity, but a private organization — would prevent such an outcome.
While blue-state urbanites were rhapsodizing a political climate that does not exist, Trump was elsewhere, resonating with suburban and rural Americans for a multitude of reasons. Stop blaming Russia. Stop blaming anyone other than Hillary or her advisors for her loss. Face the fact that the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton was not the result of a vast conspiracy, but rather a reflection of the wide gulf of opinion shared by Americans over who should govern and how to behave while doing it. The resonance Trump had across “the rest of the country,” outside of cities, in small towns, in that patch of land so haughtily referred to as the fly-over states, makes sense. When I saw that big red cancer on the Election Night map, I was not shocked. Those people, whom white liberal America has been flying over and passing by, have long been flown over and passed by, and not just from judgy coastal liberals. They’ve gotten even worse treatment from their bosses, their boss’ bosses, their local, state, and federal politicians. They got screwed by a Democratic President whose NAFTA treaty — a “pact made in Hell” as Mumia Abu-Jamal called it — unraveled small towns and Main Street America far more than the people they’d been taught to fear: undocumented immigrants, Black Lives Matter, Muslims, Code Pink, Crips, Bloods, MS-13, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units of Rojava, and the Wobblies combined.
Having grown up in a small town, I can tell you what the residents of Trumplandia were trained to fear the most: Mexicans and Muslims. Significant numbers of people from Mexico emigrated — and who the fuck cares how they got here? Welcome! — to my hometown of Seymour, Indiana, starting around 2000. I remember hearing the racism on the school bus, I remember hearing adults make jokes about Mexicans, I remember “Mexican” being used as an adjective. I saw hateful overt bigotry rear its ugly head along with its equally sinister sibling, the tacit racism that besets every facet of the American power structure known as white supremacy. The narrative was simple: they are coming for our jobs, to impregnate women so they can become citizens, to stir up crime, and to mooch off of welfare. Donald Trump echoed those sentiments when he declared his candidacy for the Presidency.
Even a cursory fact check will stop this simplistic, racist myth dead in its tracks. With Muslims, the simplicity was even more stark: they just want to kill us. Why? “They hate our freedom,” according to that capitalist antipope, George W. Bush. It is crucial to understand the mindset that lies just beneath in such largely homogenous communities. Outside of America’s few dozen cities, small towns like this, where the false narrative of an “invading” other instills panic and creates an oppressive atmosphere for the incoming minority group, are far more common than city-dwellers would care to think. How quick we are to spot refugees in need when they’re crossing borders that aren’t ours: the Rohingya, the Kurds, the Copts, but when the feet of the oppressed tread our way, there is always a reason to fear, demonize, and deport.
I sympathize with anyone experiencing actual, true oppression, and I ultimately pity many of these men and women who find themselves on the alt-right boogieman bandwagon of hate, but what happened in Charlottesville — a march rooted around protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue — was not a group citing victimhood from oppression. It was a gathering of people seeking to victimize and oppress others. This collective tantrum turned riot is white male fragility at its ugliest. But it was also just the latest entry in the American Mein Kampf. Hitler was a delusional madman, but he wasn’t stupid. The same can be said of Donald Trump. Where Hitler saw a Semitic octopus wringing its tentacles around Europe, devotees of Trump and this so-called nationalist movement see a multicultural (read: non-Eurodominant in its power structure or telling of history) America as a bad thing. They call diversity “white genocide.” If you are white, this shouldn’t scare you. It should disgust you.
The mobilizations have given me some shred of hope. People got arrested in Boston at the counterprotest, but the turnout of 15,000 anti-racists marching against only a hundred alt-right supporters in Boston is impressive. Perhaps this America, once rooted in white power, privilege, and supremacy is slowly morphing into a land where vital messages once relegated to the margins and historically threatened just for daring to exist in public are finally getting heard. Privilege can morph into awareness, and a deeper capacity for empathy and understanding will emerge.
This is not what groups like Identity Europa want. However, my first impulse with white Americans who yammer about preserving their European heritage is that perhaps it is they who need to back to whatever little EU nation state from whence their ancestors came. The America they want will not exist. They should pack their bags and pick up a phrasebook, as their are plenty options for these hateful crackers to choose from. With the recent passage of anti-Muslim legislation in France, perhaps it is time to remind white America that there are burqa or veil bans in Belgium, France, Bulgaria, Latvia (stopping all three of the women in the entire country who engaged in this religious practice), and most recently Austria, where apparently clowns have more freedoms than Muslims. If you’re more of a warm-weather person and don’t mind a more melanated locale, there is also a burqa ban in Cameroon. Switzerland banned minarets in 2009. Hungary has built a razor-wire barrier to go along its borders with Serbia and Croatia.
As an American citizen with a capacity for empathy that knows no national barriers, it pains me to think Europe’s much-touted history of philosophy, innovation, and the arts is climaxing with a mad descent into trigger-happy xenophobia. The tribalism imbued in the history of so many European nations is not for me to address in any other tone than one of condemnation. In the past, America used to look to Europe as a model for progressive leadership and legislation. No more. America’s past is as European as its future.
America must make the words of Emma Lazarus a binding social contract, not just a quotable talking point that looks good on corroded bronze. This must be a land where anyone, from anywhere, can pursue a better life free from fear and free from strife. Culture can remain intact in both the home and within the community, but not with the implication that one’s heritage is better than anyone else’s, or that someone else’s culture is inferior.
May this vision of a multicultural America become a reality.
Part 2: The House Is Rocking (With Domestic Problems) to follow.