THE WEEK IN TRUMP
Charlottesville: Hundreds of protestors, including Klan members, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, marched with tiki torches to protest removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. There were chants of “blood and soil,” “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us.” The next day, “antifa” counter-protesters clashed with the protesters—it’s unclear which side initiated the violence—and police declared the assembly unlawful. That afternoon, a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one person and injuring 19. His allies claimed the incident was triggered by counterprotestors’ descending on his car.
Trump reacts: Trump condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” He was widely criticized for seeming to suggest moral equivalence between white supremacists and the counterprotesters, and multiple CEOs resigned from White House advisory councils, leading to the disbanding of those groups. Trump then said in a combative press conference that “not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch,” and that there were “very fine people on both sides.” He criticized the “alt-left” for violence at the rally.
After-effects: A crowd of protesters pulled down a Confederate monument in Durham, North Carolina. Arrests were made. An NBC/PBS News Hour/Marist poll found that 62 percent of American adults believe statues honoring confederate leaders should “remain as a historical symbol”.
Barcelona: A van driver in Barcelona killed 13 people. The attack, claimed by ISIS, prompted Trump to tweet: “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!” This is a reference to a false story about Pershing soaking bullets in pigs’ blood to put down an Islamic insurgency in the Philippines.
Bye-Bye Bannon: Friday saw the exodus of White House strategist Steve Bannon, who reportedly had incurred the enmity of such White House aides as Jared Kushner, John Kelly, and H.R. McMaster. Ironically, the departure of Bannon, long identified as an ethno-nationalist, came the week Trump was seen as speaking sympathetically of the white nationalists in Charlottesville. Some aides who favored the ouster of Bannon are said to have blamed him for encouraging this kind of reaction from Trump.
Though the Mindful Resistance newsletter is mainly what the name implies—a presentation of news and related resources—we will sometimes take editorial positions. Our first position, stated below, has to do with the violence at Charlottesville. (As for who “we” is: It won’t always be the case that everyone who contributes to this newsletter agrees with the editorial, but at a minimum you can assume that Robert Wright, who runs mindfulresistance.net, approves of the basic message.)
Surprisingly, in an age of pervasive video recording, it’s still unclear how exactly the violence at Charlottesville started. Did white nationalists commit the first assault? Or were they, as President Trump seemed to suggest, victims of the first assault, presumably at the hands of the militant left-wing movement known as antifa (as in anti-fascist)?
In various mainstream outlets, including the Washington Post and Pacific Standard, commentators have written sympathetically about antifa’s rationale for initiating violence against neo-Nazis and others who hold abhorrent views. We don’t share that sympathy. If you ask why the fascism that antifa opposes warrants opposition, part of the answer is that fascists support the violent suppression of protest. Indeed, during the presidential campaign, one of the things about Trump that had particularly clear and creepy fascist overtones was his seeming openness to using bands of thugs to shut down speech. For a group whose very name denotes anti-fascism to support the violent suppression of speech is, to say the least, ironic.
Again, we don’t know exactly what happened in Charlottesville or whether the above sermon applies to it. We’re just affirming the importance of upholding the rule of law, especially in an age when the president himself sometimes seems to threaten it. Peaceful demonstrators, however repugnant their views, should not be physically attacked for engaging in speech that the courts have deemed constitutionally protected. Unflinching adherence to this principle is one thing that makes the ACLU—one of our strongest bulwarks against the dark forces that Donald Trump represents—such an admirable organization. (You can donate to the ACLU here.)
But enough about principle. There is also Noam Chomsky’s observation that, tactically speaking, antifa is “a major gift to the right.” If he’s correct—and he probably is—then pragmatism and principle converge, which makes this an even easier call.
P.S. The ACLU this week announced it will not defend hate groups that protest while armed. It would be nice if states such as Virginia repealed the open-carry laws that in Charlottesville allowed armed militias to menacingly assemble during the protests.
“Charlottesville: Race and Terror”—Vice
This video offers a disturbing glimpse into the minds of some of the white supremacists who demonstrated in Charlottesville and chronicles the unfolding of events.
“I’m a Silicon Valley liberal, and I traveled across the country to interview 100 Trump supporters”—Business Insider
This classic piece of amateur anthropology, from February of this year, is a reminder that the Charlottesville protestors aren’t representative of Trump supporters broadly.
“Steve Bannon’s Fantasy, Donald Trump’s Reality”—Buzzfeed
The day before Steve Bannon left the administration, Ben Smith wrote about Bannon’s failure to realize the party realignment he dreams of, which would make the GOP an economic nationalist party that attracted working class minorities.
—By Aryeh Cohen-Wade and Robert Wright with contributions from Philip Menchaca and Nikita Petrov