As of this writing (late Sunday night), Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, who has repeatedly called the media the “enemy of the American people” and once attacked Nordstrom on Twitter in the middle of a national security briefing, still has not personally denounced the white supremacists who incited the violence in Charlottesville this weekend that left one woman dead and about 20 other people injured.* There is no other way to put it: Mr. Trump is complicit in this violence, and he is complicit in fueling the ideology responsible for it.
*UPDATE: Trump finally delivered a statement around noon EST on Monday 8/14, saying that “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists.”
While this is an important step, it came far too late. For instance, earlier this morning Trump denounced the CEO of Merck pharmaceuticals for quitting the President’s advisory board. The bigger question: Can and will Trump effectively denounce not just the groups, but the ideology?
Instead of denouncing white supremacists and Nazis, probably the easiest thing he’s ever had to do in his life, and the thing his aides actually told him to do, the President condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” One White House surrogate said Mr. Trump “didn’t dignify the names of these groups of people, but rather addressed the fundamental issue.” You don’t need me to point out the wretched hypocrisy of that statement.
No: Trump is without doubt complicit in this violence. But don’t take my word for it. The Nazis heard the same message I did. The Daily Stormer, a leading white supremacist site, said this about Trump’s remarks:
“He didn’t attack us. Refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
Richard Spencer, noted Nazi shithead, interpreted Trump’s remarks as condemning the counterprotesters.
That’s how broadly Mr. Trump’s comments were intended to be interpreted. They were a vase. Put anything in it. Anything at all.
But it never fails: A certain type of smarmy, pseudointellectual douchebag will undoubtedly tell you that you’re the problem. Mr. Trump, they’ll say, in his egalitarian wisdom sees beyond the binaries that blind you racist libturds. It’s unfair to blame just one group for violence! There are many sides that commit violence in America. People on the left commit violence, too!
They sure do. And here’s why you can go fuck yourself.
What About Whataboutism?
There’s something about this whataboutism (“many sidesism”) that, in its smug, knowing, trolling way, has always pissed me off. Deeply and perpetually, living in the back of my skull, just pissing me off. But today I put my finger on it: I found the logical fallacy. A rotten false equivalency.
There’s a subtle difference about blaming white supremacists. It’s not just a group, it’s an ideology. A cause. It’s not only that we want Trump to condemn these clowns by name (the what of it). We want him to condemn the ideology. We want him to condemn the why.
This is because, uncomfortable as it might be to face, the truth is that a terrorist’s cause isn’t always condemnable.
Fact: Many “sides” engage in political violence. You don’t need the President of the United States to point that out to you. And yes, some of these groups are on the far right, while others, such as eco-terrorists, are on the far left. And I’ll also note, just because I can, that 73% of deadly terrorist attacks in US since 9/11 have been carried out by white supremacists.
So why is it so fucking irritating when people, Mr. Trump included, point this obvious stuff out to us? Of course they’re not technically wrong. Lots of groups do bad things. But Mr. Trump and those people like him are dodging the point: It isn’t that we’re saying only certain groups are violent and pretending that others aren’t. The most salient point isn’t WHO is violent, it’s WHY they’re violent.
Take the anarchist group that calls itself AntiFa. AntiFa is short for anti-fascist. The group isn’t too well defined, but it’s got a large presence around the country. In recent months they’ve gained more and more notoriety for stoking and committing political violence against the alt-right, particularly targeting troll-heavy demonstrations such as the one in Charlottesville. We’ve seen this kind of thing in Berkeley and in Portland. And remember that trashcan fire in the middle of D.C. on Inauguration Day? AntiFa.
This weekend, AntiFa had a large presence in Charlottesville, and they contributed to the violence. So watch this, Mr. Trump: I condemn AntiFa.
But get this:
I don’t condemn anti-fascism. What American would?
Or take eco-terrorists. These leftist groups bomb people and companies in the name of protecting the environment. They’ve killed people. Fuck those eco-terrorist hypocrites, killing and destroying in the name of peace and love.
But please, protect the environment.
And what about pro-life people who attack and even murder doctors who provide abortion services? Scum. But that’s much different from being pro-life, which though it’s not a position I support, is a tenet of a great many mainstream conservatives who would retch at the thought of murdering anyone.
So you can see that it’s possible and maybe even common that a terrorist group can be bad, but their cause, broadly speaking, can be good. Here’s the problem with these “whatabout” folks, the problem with Trump’s “many sides”: for some groups, some “sides,” there’s no distinction between group and cause.
For instance, Muslims condemn both jihadists AND their cause: A perversion of Islam. There’s no distinction. What jihadists call “Islam” isn’t Islam. It’s just a horrible cause. Importantly, and I’ll bring this back up in a bit, this is critical to how Muslim communities around the world fight extremism: The jihadists and their cause are both despicable. You simply can’t get behind that cause, and that’s why Muslims won’t recognize jihadists as true Muslims.
(Interestingly, Mr. Trump has no problem naming this group. Hell, that’s what got him elected.)
Similarly, no such distinction exists between white supremacists and white supremacism. White supremacists commit violence based on an ideology of hatred for different races and religious groups. Now, we can get behind the basic eco-terrorist cause: Protect the environment. But you can’t get behind white supremacy.
Yesterday, though, the White House did in fact issue a statement condemning, in a roundabout way, white supremacist groups. It came from an anonymous White House official, and was sent to the President’s traveling press pool 36 hours after the protests began. It read:
“The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred. Of course that includes white supremacists, K.K.K. neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”
Now, let’s put aside for a moment the fact that this statement didn’t come from Mr. Trump himself. Let’s also put aside the fact that for some reason whoever wrote it didn’t want their name on it. The message nominally condemns white supremacists, Nazis, etc. But it doesn’t condemn white supremacism, an ideology for which Mr. Trump’s ascendancy happens to have been a mutually beneficial event. In fact, David Duke, who used to be the head of the K.K.K. but last year ran for the Senate as a Republican, was in Charlottesville for the rally, which he said was held to “fulfill the promise of Trump.”
And isn’t it just a little weird that if David Duke’s ever in the news you can bet it’s connected to Trump?
What does Mr. Trump think about this ideology? If he truly does despise it, he can say so any time he likes. But even if he despises it, I don’t think he’d say it. Here’s why.
But ALL Lives Matter!
In March of this year, NBC reported that hate crimes in America were up 20% after the election. And last year the Southern Poverty Law Center released a widely-reported study cataloging 1,094 “incidents of hateful harassment” in the first month after the election, 13 of which were later found to be false reports.
What about the many sides? Twenty-six of those incidents were perpetrated against supporters of Mr. Trump.
But to be fair, Mr. Trump didn’t start the trend. This American tar pit has been boiling for centuries. In the past few years, though, the pitch has increased. The FBI’s most recent statistics show that of all the hate crimes it documented in 2015, 48 percent were carried out by white people and 20 percent carried out by black people. The FBI also notes a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans from 2014 to 2015. Hate crimes in general went up seven percent.
This is the wave of boiling tar that Mr. Trump rode into office.
New Gingrich, possibly the whitest man on the planet, said we’re “right at the edge of a terrible period.” We’ve long ago gone over that edge; ask around in black communities, Muslim communities, immigrant communities, LGBT communities. The reality of America today is that unchecked, uncensored hate speech is socially acceptable in public. More than that, actually: It’s mandated, because Donald Trump won the presidency with a minority of the popular vote. “We had to be nice because of Obama,” so it goes. “Now look out.”
But Mr. Trump, by not speaking out forcefully and decisively, has embarrassed himself, his country, and his family. He is a disgrace. But should he eventually do what any American would do and speak out against these white supremacists and Nazis, don’t fall victim to the traps: It’s one thing to condemn a group, it’s another to condemn a cause, especially one that’s growing larger and more confident by the week.
This is what Muslim communities are doing all around the world: They’re condemning the terrorists and the cause. They’re drawing important lines. This is important not just in a moral sense, but practically as well: The appeal of religious ideology is a powerful recruiting tool for jihadist groups. It’s no coincidence, I don’t think, that jihadist groups and white hate groups in the U.S. target the same demographic: Young, angry, alienated men.
So yes, Mr. President, you are correct: “many sides” commit violence in America. But what do you have to say about the sides themselves? Anything? Or are you afraid to lose them, your partners in desperation, afraid they won’t take to the streets for you when the time comes?
Don’t worry. They will. You’ve done good. Really, really good.