Last Saturday, thousands of white supremacists marched through Charlottesville as part of the largest hate group gathering in decades. For most the country, Donald Trump failed to respond adequately. But that still left many people defending his response. So why has it become so hard to unify against Nazis? Let’s figure it out and take action.
1. Should Nazis be fully, unequivocally condemned?
This is the first wedge and least controversial. Unless you are a Nazi, you probably believe that yes, they should be condemned. If you want to delve further into why groups at the rally like the KKK or Neo-Nazis are bad, you can delve into Southern Poverty Law Center articles here and here.
If you do not believe Nazis are bad or if you do not believe they should be condemned, then we’ve already identified why unity against Nazis is difficult.
2. Did Donald Trump satisfactorily condemn?
This is the major wedge. Essentially, supporters of Trump’s comments this week are hearing something different from the rest of the country expressing outrage.
Let’s try to streamline this by running through events of the past week. First we will take it from the perspective of someone who believes Trump handled the situation as well as can be. Then we will take it from the perspective of someone who believes Trump failed.
i. Saturday (day of attacks) – So supporters of the comments are heard this to be Trump’s initial response. Note that there was also a press conference, but we’ll get to that in a minute:
ii. Monday – There was outrage but they heard his remarks on Monday:
“Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” – Donald Trump
iii. Tuesday – And then the next day, when he doubled down on his remarks at Trump Tower, supporters heard this:
You had a group on one side [white supremacists] and you had a group on the other [counter-protesters] and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch, but there is another side [again – the counter-protesters].
iv. And thus believe this:
Those outraged at Trump are more prone to weighing the context of Trump’s temperament and administrative practices prior to the weekend. He has a history of racism. He says crazy things. His whole political run emanated from latching onto the birther movement – a lie he continued to propagate long after it the birth certificate was released. So this week was a new low on a long descent for Trump.
Let’s go through the exact same moments as right above, but from this perspective.
i. Saturday (day of attacks)– Trump’s initial response was:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country.” – Donald Trump [Bold font from The Decoder]
The “many sides” portion was ad-libbed. So he went out of his way to dilute the admonishment. He then said it’s been going on a long time – but many see his political existence as tied to stoking racism whether it’s “rapists and murderers” from Mexico or his “law and order” theme in the wake of police killing unarmed black men.
ii. Monday – He delivered the sternest most unequivocal statement.
Sounds good, right? Well he was criticized for taking two days to come out and say this. Trump is not a guy who measures his responses. For example, see how quickly he responded to the first of many CEOs resigning from his Manufacturing Council that morning.
iii. Tuesday – Again, this is where he doubled down on his initial “many sides” remarks. Here are some of the key quotes this side heard:
On why he took 48 hours to issue a stronger statement: You still don’t know the facts, and it’s a very, very important process to me, and it’s a very important statement, so I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.
See point ii for why this prompted ridicule.
On Steve Bannon, a key figure in the rist of the Alt-Right: Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that, and I like him, he’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that.
On two sides. This is the same quote used in point iii from the supporters perspective, except it’s drawn out longer: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch, but there is another side. There was a group on this side — you can call them the left, you’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group, so you can say what you want but that’s the way it is.
Here he insinuates that there is a leftist group that was present and violent. We will talk about moral equivalency next.
On statues: So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop?
Here he equates Confederate generals with the founders of the USA. He implies that our history is being erased by the removal of monuments. This caused outrage because monuments are not often considered a vital educational tool. Nor do we have monuments of Hitler or Osama Bin Laden as a way to remind ourselves of the atrocities they committed.
iv. Taken together, this left Trump opponents riled up. There were vigils and protests. Trump supporters from this perspective were more keen to condemn Nazis in tweets and press conferences, but chose to remain silent on defending Trump. Shepard Smith of Fox News said, “Let’s be honest, Republicans often don’t really mind coming on Fox News Channel. We couldn’t get anyone to come and defend him here.”
Again, the key to this perspective is that the context is taken into account.
The result of these two disparate perspectives is that some feel Trump did condemn satisfactorily and some felt he cowered. Some believe he could not have made it more obvious of his racism if he slapped on a Swastika. The other view is well summarized here:
“[…] Trump’s never said anything racial that I know of, in fact there are many quotes of his dating back nearly 30 years to suggest the opposite is true, but the media has worked over-time to pervert every word and paint him a racist. I guess right wing media painted Obama as an American hating Muslim, so it’s payback? I don’t know, but I haven’t seen anything like what we’re seeing in our media. If you read Trump’s exact words on Charlottesville, and then listen to the video recordings closely, I don’t see how a person can conclude he sympathizes with Neo Nazi’s. He’s only saying, others like ANTIFA were there to inflict violence. That’s can’t be defended or tolerated. It’s unlawful and unconstitutional. If we can’t acknowledge this truth, then I guess we’ll stay divided.” – Steve Minor · Owner/ President at Noble Renovation [Text in bold via The Decoder]
This is taken from the comments section on an ESPN article on Kevin Durant’s decision to skip attending the White House because he does support Trump. Viewing the comments, you can find many others repeating this point of view. We’re looking beyond political/news sites to find which lines of reasoning are resonating in less political realms.
3. Were there “many sides?”
Trump has returned to defense that there were many sides. Those that support him have agreed, yes, there were two sides (true) and therefore they deserve equal blame (false).
You probably heard the term “false equivalency” tossed around a lot. A definition:
“False equivalence is a logical fallacy in which two opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent when in fact they are not. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency.”
This has been best illustrated this week through the use of examples.
Do you think both sides really deserve equal blame here? Maybe it will help to take a look at who comprised each side.
Skipping through the video and listening to a few of the interview clips might help illuminate.
From a CBS News reporter present at the rally:
The people who arrived to protest white supremacists at the rally were mostly clergy, students, and residents of Charlottesville, according to CBS News’ Paula Reid. And the vast majority of them were unarmed, despite Mr. Trump’s claims to the contrary.
While there were some Antifa protesters with batons, but they were vastly outnumbered by armed white supremacists. The white supremacists committed the worst acts of violence at the rally, including one who appeared to deliberately plow into counter-protesters with a car, killing one woman.
So on one side you had armed Neo-Nazis, in combat gear, chanting Nazi slogans and waving Nazi flags. On the other, you had clergy, students and residents of Charlottesville. Do you feel both sides deserve equal blame?
See how the white supremacists celebrate Trump’s moral equivalence:
One of the factors underlying this false equivalence is the ability to see nuance and make distinctions. For decades now, the Republican Party has been obliterating nuance by promoting a very crisp black-or-white view of the world.
For evidence, pick any Fox News story and see how often it is framed as a good vs. bad conflict.
For further evidence, visit Fox News and see how they do not distinguish their news articles from their opinion articles. The line between opinion and fact has been blurred.
And Trump has really taken this to the extreme. See how often he is fact-checked. He is a champion of the argument that your opinion is as valid as fact.
Now maybe we can begin to see why a surprising number of people are equating Nazis with anti-Nazis.
4. What can you do?
There is a lot to unpack here. Call your representative and let them know how feel about Trump’s remarks. If you don’t let them know white supremacy should be stopped, they may not take a stand on their own (see Charlottesville Rep Tom Garrett as an example in cowardice).
The Southern Poverty Law Center has also put together a guide specifically to answer this question. That can be found here.
Marches will be planned and we will pass on that information.
But it is very important that you remember you can do something, that white supremacists will not go away if nobody stands up to them, and that you will play a key role in promoting the world you want – either by taking action or not.
Now after thinking about each of these questions, you are better armed to engage with others on the issue. Many people support Trump’s comments, but notice that they are not hearing the hate and equivocation that those demonstrating outrage are hearing.