Sunday, August 13, 2017

Imagine This

Around here we sometimes employ metaphor to make a point or suggest a texture, or recently, a direction.  Sometimes it's akin to those dystopian tales that are cautionary tales about future possibilities: a warning.

Then something like Saturday happens and we seem suddenly closer to seeing the somewhat metaphorical become actual.

The largest public gathering of white nationalists and neo-Nazis in a generation, or so some say, happened Friday night and Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.  On Friday they incited violence.  On Saturday a likely white nationalist from Ohio drove deliberately into a crowd of peaceful counter-demonstrators marching in support of diversity, killing one immediately and injuring a score of others.

Then Homegrown Hitler spoke against the violence, without condemning or even mentioning the white nationalist haters.  New York's story quotes his response: But rather than clear the extremely low bar of denouncing neo-Nazis for causing mayhem and death, Trump took a different approach.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides — on many sides,” he said.

He distanced himself from the events by making it clear that such unrest is nothing new, offered a few words of tone-deaf pablum about coming together as a country, and blew a possible dog whistle at racists by calling on Americans to “cherish our history.”

When a reporter shouted out a question about whether he wants the supports of white nationalists, the president ignored it.

After an immediate outcry on social media over Trump’s “many sides” wording, a White House spokesperson confirmed that Trump meant what he said, since “there was violence between protestors and counter-protestors today.”

As for a reason for this response, it was all too clear why:

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a Trump supporter who was in Charlottesville on Saturday, quickly replied. “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” he wrote.

Asked by a reporter in New Jersey whether he wanted the support of white nationalists, dozens of whom wore red Make America Great Again hats during the Charlottesville riots, Trump did not respond."

There was almost universal condemnation of his statement, even among Republicans.  One piece by Chris Cilizza of CNN is representative.  He notes that part of the statement appeared to be a pre-emptive defense against those who point to his previous statements and behavior (and lack of them, as in his silence when a bomb was thrown into a Minnesota mosque) as encouraging racist/ alt.right/ neo-Nazi violence.

That's likely the subtext to President Obama's tweet on Saturday quoting Nelson Mandela:"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..."

But this is a good deal more chilling than the usually nauseating statements by the apprentice dictator in the White House.  This is getting into Hitler territory in an astonishingly literal way.  Tacit support for actual neo-Nazis? White nationalists (like the one who is Homegrown Hitler's chief policy advisor) chanting the racist Nazi slogan Blood and Soil?  And it gets worse.

Look at this photo (all photos on this page are from Politico.)   The caption reads: Carrying body armor and combat weapons, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" evacuate comrades who were pepper-sprayed after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering by Virginia State Police.

Now we can see the fruits, not only of the 2016 election, but the insane interpretation of the fourth amendment and the result of openly armed neo-Nazis on public streets during a fractious political demonstration.

An unofficial army of armed civilians helped begin the Nazi rise to absolute power in Germany.  Suddenly "Homegrown Hitler" doesn't sound so metaphorical.

I picked some day to turn the page of my current New York Review of Books to read a review of a documentary on the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi crimes and more recent instances of war crimes.  The review quotes Hannah Arendt's phrase "a criminal lack of imagination."  Better to imagine the implications now than to suffer the consequences when the "unimaginable" happens.

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