I didn’t think we needed the record scratch meme to examine how the GOP found itself in its current predicament, after Pres. Trump’s initial woefully inadequate response to the deadly clash between white nationalists and the antifa in Charlottesville last weekend. But based on some of the reaction from the Right, perhaps we do.
In August 2015, The Federalist’s publisher, Ben Domenech, asked: “Are Republicans For Freedom Or White Identity Politics?” In 2016, Republicans answered him.
The GOP nominated Trump, whose entree to the Right was Birtherism, who built a following with help from Alex Jones (who rails against the Rothschilds and the Jewish mafia), who challenged the citizenship of his rivals, who initially refused to repudiate support from David Duke and the KKK, who accused a judge of bias based on his racial heritage. Trump and his campaign manager turned “chief strategist” Stephen Bannon now preach a color-blind American nationalism. But Bannon previously identified the website he ran, Breitbart, as “the platform for the alt-right,” a claim supported by who and what it promoted.
It’s an administration that initially issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention Jews, instead using the phrase “innocent people.”
I mention all of the above — a partial resume at that — because a bunch of people on the Right would prefer to stuff it all into the memory hole instead of considering it as the backdrop to the GOP’s post-Charlottesville moment.
During the campaign, I wrote a column detailing how the Left and the establishment media had cried wolf for so many years regarding the supposed racism of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain, etc. My mistake was presuming the GOP would notice the fable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf is also a lesson about what happens to the village when it tunes out the messenger for delivering too much fake news.
Of course, some on the Right, generally those for whom the phrase “That’s How You Got Trump” has become the political version of Tourette Syndrome, saw Trump’s demagoguery as a feature, not a bug. They understood the wolf was advancing on the village, but decided to elect it Mayor, because “he FIGHTS!”
According to this faction, voters deciding that they stopped caring about being called racist is How You Got Trump. But they seem very upset at what’s happened to Trump and the GOP over the past few days. For people who supposedly stopped caring about name-calling, they seem to care a great deal now.
Relatedly (though certainly not identically), there are those on the Right, including Domenech, who see Trump’s belated denunciation of white nationalism as losing a battle, a surrender under pressure from the GOP’s elites. And the battle is supposedly not one in defense of white nationalism, but one involving the tearing down of Confederate memorials, as opposed by the white nationalists at Charlotteville. In this view, the larger issue is that the Right is ceding to the Left the power to airbrush American history to its liking, as Stalin once did with Soviet history.
I would humbly suggest that anyone concerned about the taking down of Confederate memorials who thinks their cause is advanced by refusing to condemn white nationalists — who went to Charlottesville to provoke a riot and succeeded with fatal results — should think harder about it. Recently, a bare majority (51%) of Americans said they see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of southern pride than of racism. Giving the impression that it’s OK to have neo-Nazis in your camp seems likely to drive that number down bigly, including among college-educated whites who are the weakest Trump supporters already.
Granted, I’ve been wrong before and I’m a Northerner. But Mary Katharine Ham, a Southerner, was pretty convincing in arguing on The Federalist Radio Hour that when the GOP, which is habitually accused of racism, gets the chance to denounce actual Nazis and thereby distinguish themselves (among people of good will, if not among partisans), they should take it.
But what about the antifa? And what about the media’s double standard for requiring the GOP to denounce fringe collectivists like the neo-Nazis, while Democrats are never required to ritually condemn the antifa or the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot at GOP Congressmen?
The antifa — and other manifestations of Leftist violence — are a significant and growing problem. If only the GOP had control over the DHS, the DoJ and other agencies who might focus attention on the issue. Oh, wait… and this is what the Right did generally with respect to the antifa: waited. Rather than go on offense and frame the issue to their liking with the President’s singular ability to put issues on the public agenda, everyone waited until after Charlottesville, when raising the issue looks like rationalization and attempted distraction.
(I’m already on record as warning that the Right’s failure to organize creates vacuums that get filled by provocateurs, including the alt-right, to everyone’s detriment.)
As for the media’s double-standard, I agree that it’s egregious, as it always has been. But I’m old enough to remember when Republicans understood that life isn’t always fair.
Indeed, the Trump era has had many people re-examining the legacies of people like Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley. One of their common legacies, one that tends to get overlooked, is that they understood that these double-standards existed and Republicans had to be better and smarter to overcome them.
Today’s GOP — or the Trumpian faction, at least — instead prefers to adopt the Left’s culture of complaint, responsibility-shifting, and victimhood. Those who are the first to demand that others put on their “big boy pants” are having difficulty dealing with the fallout from an entirely foreseeable political debacle.
One might debate whether it is fair for people to conflate Trump’s affinity for white identity politics and nationalism into an affinity for white nationalism. One cannot seriously debate that Trump’s opponents would make the effort. Trump’s obstinate and incendiary politics were like a jerrycan full of napalm, awaiting only the touch of a tiki torch from a handful of racists for the mix to explode in everyone’s faces. The fire rises.
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