From Stunned Shock to Starting Point (or: This is Not The Story I Thought I’d Be Writing Today)
Yesterday, in the scramble to put out a weekly draft that included information on Trump’s statements, I drafted this paragraph:
“After several days of equivocating, Trump took questions on the Charlottesville rallies at a press conference about infrastructure policy. He issued very strongly-worded impromptu statements that were much more supportive of white nationalism than condemning, and it’s extremely important that we watch how the country responds to them. Among the most important things to track were his false equivalence of Robert E. Lee with George Washington; his false characterizations of “the alt-left that came charging at the alt-right” and “[a mob with torches chanting ‘Blood and soil’] protesting very quietly” on Friday; and his assertions that the white supremacist group on Saturday was unfairly characterized (despite the murder that occurred at the gathering). These statements made his affiliations sufficiently clear that David Duke, former KKK leader, thanked him for his “honesty and courage” in speaking. We need to take that seriously, because it illustrates just how much his words are further emboldening white radical groups. These behaviors are not normal or acceptable, and it’s important to contact our reps to make sure they know that.”
At the time that I wrote this, it was an accurate (if incomplete) summary of the day’s events. Today, I had planned to draft information about how and why, exactly, his rhetoric was wrong. But somewhat miraculously, I don’t need to; the nation appears to already know it. In the last twenty-four hours, we’ve started to see real consequences for Trump as more and more people moved to distance themselves from his rhetoric and his stance in general. Here are the highlights and recommended reading:
Detailed, firsthand narratives documenting Saturday’s events.
Many, many people put out credible firsthand accounts (both self-published and professionally-published) of what actually happened in Charlottesville. Though I was not personally present on the scene, by happenstance my household and I are close to several people who either live in Charlottesville or headed into the city to protect it ahead of the Unite the Right rally. As a result, many of these accounts — of activists, of street medics, of residents — were written by people I personally know, and whose narrative I definitely trust. A few of these folks are people I’ve known a decade or longer. This outpouring of stories illustrates the extent to which locals were terrified of the fascist presence pouring into their city, and exactly how and why people needed help from others to withstand intimidation and attacks. The accounts also illustrate why so many people refer to the gathering itself, as well as the vehicular manslaughter, as “domestic terrorism.”
More information on the so-called “alt-left.”
One incredibly helpful thing the Washington Post did today was publish information on antifa history in response to Trump’s statements about the “alt-left.” If you don’t have time to read, here’s a quick-and-dirty summary: “Antifa” is short for “antifascism,” and as the name suggests the groups arose to counteract national fascist activity. They first began to counter Musselini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and Franco in Spain, and have popped up at various points of history (in America, first gaining real traction in the 1980s in response to the KKK). They are gaining spotlight now in 2017 for obvious reasons, but they are not a new phenomenon. Antifa, more-or-less by definition, advocates popular resistance to fascism rather than reliance on a (likely corrupted) police force or political system; because it shares roots with anarchism, it does sometimes (but not always) include destruction of property or defensive violence. Many of the firsthand accounts of Charlottesville give concrete examples of ways that the antifa and other activist movements engaged and worked together on Saturday. As the accounts suggest, antifa were not the only people working to counter white nationalism on that date, making it even less clear what “alt-left” meant as Trump used it — but specifically meaning ‘antifa’ is a common interpretation.
More instructions on the so-called “alt-right.”
Incredibly, the Associated Press instructed outlets today to limit use of the term ‘alt-right,’ noting, “it is meant as a euphemism to disguise racist aims.” This is a giant step forward that activists have been trying (in vain) to get formal news outlets to take for months. If you don’t distinguish yourself from white supremacists or white nationalists, the official instructions seem to say, then that is what we will call you.
Political consequences for Trump.
This is the really big question mark that was floating above my head as I wrote yesterday — would anyone in power care about what had happened? Would anybody do anything? In an era when politicians denouncing Trump’s actions and voting for his policies has become common, this was a very valid question, and I am relieved to discover its answer.
- Only two days after Merck dropped out of Trump’s manufacturing counsel, which resulted in a floodgate of resignations the following day, both councils have disbanded. As a friend of mine noted, this is hitting Trump where he lives in a way that other political actions do not; this is other CEOs — other distinguished members of the 1% — making direct distancing statements like “The President’s most recent statement. . . is unacceptable and has changed our decision to participate in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council.”
- Jeff Sessions also announced today that the vehicular homicide from Saturday might be prosecuted as a hate crime, revealing his view of which way the wind is blowing, and even the driver’s defense attorneys were criticizing Trump’s statements as making the case harder to prosecute.
- Countless Republicans have issued statements criticizing not only Charlottesville but Trump himself in his responses, especially after yesterday — highlighting how much the party itself is shaking its head and backing away slowly. House Democrats are asking for a censure of Trump, which is a rare act for Congress, and we’re in the equally rare position of thinking that House Republicans might actually agree to it.
- Baltimore moved up its timetable to remove Confederate statues from the city last night, using emergency powers relating to the city’s security to remove all four statues in the middle of the night. This is both a valid decision in light of Charlottesville’s violence and a referendum on Trump’s statements; prior to the President’s escalation, the city was expecting this process to take months. An expert on Confederate symbols was quoting as saying he expected a “rolling cascade” of similar actions from other cities. “[I]f you do it quickly the opposition can’t build up, and the confrontations that we’ve had, not only in Charlottesville but elsewhere, will not materialize,” the expert reasoned.
- Though perhaps it’s overly optimistic of me to link the two items, I don’t believe Trump’s announcement today that maybe he’ll pay ACA subsidies for August after all was a coincidence of timing; I think it relates back to all of the above.
Evolution of Journalism.
Immediately after yesterday’s press conference, CNN was (correctly) calling “alt-left” a “made-up term.” The Washington Post today described yesterday’s press conference as “the nail in the coffin for ‘both-sides’ journalism,” a problem that has plagued the press since the election cycle (and widely regarded as part of how we got into this mess). These descriptions illustrate a shift in thinking among mainstream news outlets that has been slowly building for some time as the Trump administration continually demonizes ordinary, established publications. These headlines don’t come from a vacuum, but they do suggest we’ve reached a turning point.
The Bottom Line
All of these things begin to paint a picture of a country that is slowly waking up, recognizing the state we are in, and beginning to take affirmative steps that activists have longed to see taken for quite some time. As an advocate and activist, I really cannot overstate just how welcome this is.
We have a long climb ahead of us as a country, and I won’t sugarcoat that. But it seems that we have, at the moment, reached a vista.