During Donald Trump’s disgraceful press conference last Tuesday, the president of the United States became the world’s leading neo-Nazi apologist. As The New York Times aptly put it in its report, Trump gave “white supremacists an unequivocal boost” by equating “activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.”
“Trump buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations,” wrote Times reporters Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman.
This is hardly an overstatement. By equating the white supremacist and neo-Nazi demonstrators who terrorized the streets of Charlottesville on Saturday — chanting racist slogans like “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” — with the anti-racist and anti-fascist counter-protesters, the president sent a clear message to racists and white supremacists around the country that he’s got their backs. If the online response is anything to go by, white supremacists heard the president loud and clear.
“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” tweeted David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, with obvious glee. The prominent white supremacist who coined the term “alt-right,” Richard Spencer, was also pleased: “Trump’s statement was fair and down to earth. #Charlottesville could have been peaceful, if police did its job,” Spencer tweeted. According to Vice News correspondent Elle Reeve, one white supremacist she met while reporting in Charlottesville texted her shortly after the president’s press conference: “My god I love this man, he really has our back.”
When a former grand wizard of the KKK praises the president for his “honesty and courage,” all is not well with the nation.
In fairness, Trump was simply telling the world how he truly felt. According to The New York Times, members of his staff said “they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private.” In the words of a senior White House official, Trump, who wasn’t supposed to answer any questions about Charlottesville, “went rogue.”
In going rogue, the president revealed his true kinship with the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who so ardently supported his candidacy last year. What happened in Charlottesville on Saturday was the result of years of Trump emboldening far-right extremists with his xenophobic and nationalist rhetoric. So it should have come as no surprise when the president responded with an evasive remark blaming “both sides,” rather than directly calling out his most staunch supporters.
If it wasn’t already obvious, the past week should clear up any doubts about what the Trump presidency represents. In contemporary America, the political party in power is not only led by an apologist for white supremacists but a president who has extensive ties to the racist “alt-right” movement and a man who is worshipped by young far-right extremists like James Fields Jr. The Charlottesville demonstrations and the subsequent fallout made it abundantly clear what is really at stake in American politics today. To quote early 20th-century revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg’s famous rallying cry: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.”
In his effort to minimize the far right’s responsibility for what happened on Saturday by blaming the “alt-left” — a pejorative term coined by the right and then shamefully promoted online by some centrists and liberals — the president simply highlighted the increasingly evident truth that only a strong and unified left that offers a radical alternative to the status quo can reverse the current regression into barbarism.
In 1919, Luxemberg was murdered by the Freikorps during the Spartacist uprising in Berlin. Less than 15 years later, the hero of many Charlottesville demonstrators, Adolf Hitler, led the Nazis to power and an epoch of unprecedented barbarism ensued. The rapid ascendancy of the Nazi party — a fringe organization just a few years before Hitler became chancellor — was made possible by myriad factors, including economic depression and the national humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles (not to mention the institutional flaws of the Weimar Republic). But it seems unlikely that the Nazis would have gained power had there been a unified left standing strong in opposition. The two major parties on the German left — the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party — were hopelessly divided as the Nazis rose to power, and the animosity even became so intense that the two sides came to accuse each other of being the real fascists (the Communists infamously labeled the Social Democrats “social fascists”).
If this sounds familiar, that’s because a similar phenomenon has occurred in American politics today. As noted above, the term “alt-left,” coined to create a false equivalence between the racist and xenophobic far right and the progressive left, was popularized by centrist liberals well before Trump used the term to villainize anti-
Trump’s political ascent was only possible after 40 years of neoliberalism and unfettered corporate capitalism. The resurgence of white supremacy must be stomped out completely, but only a true left-wing movement that emphasizes class politics and structural reform can truly foil the advance of barbarism. Perhaps it is time for liberals to join anti-fascists on the streets and show solidarity.