Charlottesville took the hood off of our complacency that white supremacy had been contained in America. The K-K-K, Neo-Confederates, the Neo-Nazis and every variation of these hate groups, marched defiantly in the open without hoods or fear of exposure. For many of us, the virulence and violence brought into our living rooms, transported us back to the racial violence of the 1950’s and 1960’s and now Charlottesville has joined the ranks of cities whose name will be associated with race conflict in America.
While the modern era of civil rights and racial strife are embodied by the images and violence in Selma and Birmingham, Charlottesville embodies a different kind trauma to our social and political psyche. It tore the scab off a festering wounds that were masked by Obama’s election as the first African American President. This historic election allowed us to believe that we had turned a corner and many people believed we were entering a new era of becoming a“post-racial society”.
Like unicorns and leprechauns, the notion that we had made a huge leap forward to a “color blind” society has proven to be a fantasy. The idealistic or more accurately, the unrealistic hope that we had buried the bitter racial violence of the past with Obama’s election was illusory. Republicans have belated criticized Trump and condemned white nationalist. This does not absolve them of their role in enabling the emergence of a new more virulent form of white nationalism, when they repackaged “Nixon’s Southern strategy” and embraced “birtherism”. The birthers, led by Apprentice reality celebrity Donald Trump, mounted an unrelenting and unprecedented attack on President Obama’s legitimacy by questioning his birth place. Even in the face of overwhelming and definitive evidence to the contrary, the “birthers” not only argued that President Obama was born in Kenya, but that his ascension to the highest office was plotted from the time of his birth. The premise was patently absurd, yet according to an NBC News poll conducted in August 2016, “seventy-two percent (72%) of registered Republican voters still doubt President Obama’s citizenship”.
Birther skepticism at best, demonstrates an extraordinary level of individual “confirmation bias” that is impervious to change, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. At worst, birtherism was/is nothing more than a “Trojan Horse’ used to conceal the latent, or perhaps more accurately overt racism that conservative white voters expressed toward the first Black president. Race remained and still persist as the unspoken motivation for the opposition from Trump and the right to all things Obama.
The Charlottesville rally represents a critical turning point in our politics as well. For the first time, a sitting President not only failed to unequivocally condemn white supremacists groups, Trump seemingly took up their side by suggesting there was some type of moral equivalence between the counter-protesters, who opposed racism, and the Clan/Neo-Nazis screaming anti-semitic and racially bigoted chants as they marched holding “tiki torches”. Trump’s defiant reaffirmation that “both sides committed violence”, and that there were “fine” people among the racists, who were marching for their heritage, represents a culminating point in ripping off the mask covering Trump’s inner racist.
Trump has fully embraced white nationalism and now, as a nation, we have crossed a rubicon with undefined consequences for civil peace and racial reconciliation. Post Charlottesville, one can see the direct line running from Trump’s embrace of white nationalism and in his policies on: mass deportation of hispanic immigrants, the Muslim ban, the DOJ attack on affirmative action and the repudiation of all Obama era DOJ enforcement of minority voting rights.
The presence of Steve Bannon, the father of the alt-right and “white ethno nationalism”, in the White House only affirms that view. Bannon is joined along side Trump, by the likes of Steven Miller and Sebastian Gorka, a Hungarian Neo-Nazi, who collectively exert an extraordinary level of influence on Trump’s intellectually vacant mind and radical “America First” policies.
Charlottesville was poignantly marked by the murder of a compassionate young white American heroine, Heather Heyer, who fell victim to an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by a white supremacist. Her death while extraordinarily tragic, may be overshadowed by the tragic new path we seem to embarking upon on race relations in this country. The convergence of “Trumpist populism” and the the major break through of white nationalism into main stream politics, poses a clear present danger to lasting peace and civility in our nation.