Rightists Take A Bullet For Trump's Insanity
2019-10-01 02:09:23 UTC
For some in the US, the civil war never really ended. The violence seen in
Virginia this weekend must serve as a wake-up call to progressives the
The memoirs of Union general William Tecumseh Sherman make uncomfortable
reading. In among the battle orders and the racist depiction of freed
slaves, he switches occasionally to reminiscences of the post-war era, and
amicable meetings with former Confederate enemies. Over cards and supper,
he accepts their assurance that, if anybody ordered the massacre of all-
black units during the fighting, it wasnt them.
Sherman opposed the emancipation of the slaves, sabotaged his own troops
efforts to free them and used slave labour on his fortifications. Yet he
did one thing that, in light of the fascist march in Charlottesville, we
can learn from today. He waged total war on his enemies. He ordered his
troops to rip up miles of rail track, torch the farms of slave-owners who
resisted and burn Atlanta. Then he set off for the sea, pledging famously,
that since war was the remedy the south had chosen, I say let us give
them all they want.
Nobody, seeing the militias parading with assault rifles and Kevlar this
weekend, wants the US to descend into conflict. But the low-level
political violence and severe cultural dislocations of the US today
contain obvious parallels with the years before the American civil war.
As the historian Allan Nevins observed, by the late 1850s white America
had become two peoples, whose radically different cultural identities
could no longer be contained in one polity.
Then, the two peoples were shaped by rival economic models: industry and
the free market versus sharecropping and slavery. But the concepts the
Confederates took into battle with them have survived: states rights
versus the federal government; white supremacy; the concept of an
ethnically defined nation with a destiny nominated by God.
And they have not survived by accident. The statue of Confederate
commander Robert E Lee, which Charlottesvilles city council voted to
remove, is one of a string of monuments that have become icons of
resistance for the rightwing cultural movement now energised by Donald
Nathan Bedford Forrest, the southern cavalry commander who massacred black
soldiers and went on to found the Ku Klux Klan, is celebrated not only by
an official statue in Memphis, but an unofficial gold one on private land
in Nashville, surrounded by Confederate flags. Forrest was a military
genius whose guerilla tactics are studied in US military academies to this
day. But so was Wehrmacht Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. They were both
fighting for genocide and racial supremacy.
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So with Confederate flags mixed with swastikas on the streets of
Charlottesville, it is not just the US but progressive people across the
world who have to ask a tough question: what are we prepared to do to
defeat the racist right?
They have declared cultural war on us. This entire community is a very
far-left community, Jason Kessler, the organiser of the Unite the Right
march, told the media, adding that Charlottesvilles residents had
absorbed these cultural Marxist principles advocated in college towns
across the country, about blaming white people for everything.
That is not a cry for help or a petition for reform: it is an expression
of exactly the same kind of cultural hostility to modernity that you find
in the writings of the souths political leaders. They regarded any demand
for black equality before the law as Jacobin the 19th century
equivalent of Marxism. They, too, saw the elevation of black people to the
status of human beings as the harbinger of their civilisations end.
And it is not just a few thousand sad teenagers in pressed polo shirts we
are dealing with. All post-election studies showed Trumps electoral
coalition was energised by giving millions of people permission to express
their racism and violent misogyny. By electing Trump, his supporters
declared cultural war on liberal, progressive US and told those insisting
Black Lives Matter that they did not.
Trumps radio silence over the killing of Heather Heyer, allegedly by
white supremacist James Alex Fields, is no accident. There are those with
links to the far-right on his own team, including Steve Bannon and
Sebastian Gorka. His entire movement relies on energising racism, not
suppressing it. It was after all New Yorker Carl Paladino who said
Michelle Obama should return to being a male and let loose in the outback
of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the
During the final year of the American civil war, Sherman, who was himself
a racist, realised pragmatically that nothing would detach the population
of the south from its attachment to the slave-owning economic model, and
the culture surrounding it, other than its physical destruction.
Today it may seem that there is no physical infrastructure of American
racism left to destroy. But it exists. The operational policing rules that
see a black face in a white neighbourhood as an excuse to stop and search;
the criminalisation of young black men via the justice system. The
existence, all across public life, of unacknowledged segregation. And the
relentless echo chamber of racist attitudes whose pinnacle is Fox News,
but whose depths are the local radio talkshows whose hate speech drifts on
to your radio just as soon as you change frequencies at the city limits.
Every one of the people who showed their faces in the fascist torch march
has the constitutional right to free speech. But they also have websites
hosted by US companies, jobs, phone contracts, bank accounts. There is no
constitutional right to use the infrastructure of corporate US to organise
Above all, the institution enabling the recrudescence and violent action
of the far right is the Trump presidency itself.
All over the world, liberal, progressive people are confronted by plebeian
movements that want to roll back the social changes of the past 50 years.
The response has been to look for economic grievances that can be
assuaged, or to seek protection via the law and the constitution and at
a granular level ignore the mindless venting against migrants, black
people and Muslims by relatives, taxi drivers or the bloke on the bar
stool next to us.
We should have stopped this long ago. Charlottesville is the wake-up call
to progressives everywhere. Whether you are in a university city or a
poverty-stricken multi-ethnic town, Kessler and his allies across the
globe are mobilising to punish your community for its cultural Marxism.
If someone is waging a culture war against you, at some point you have to