A year ago Sunday, crowds of far-right and white supremacist protesters descended on Charlottesville, Virginia. They marched toward a statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee carrying tiki torches, swastikas and semi-automatic rifles and chanting slogans like “White lives matter” and “Jews will not replace us!” By the end of the day, Heather Heyer was dead, mowed down by a white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. When the nation turned to President Donald Trump, he provoked outrage by declaring that there are “very fine people on both sides.”
A year later, we’ve asked some of the most thoughtful people we know—from historians to a former CIA director to researchers of extremism—to put this shocking moment in context: What did Charlottesville change? Was it a moment of reckoning for our society? Did it fracture the movement known as the “alt-right,” or did it strengthen it? As new crowds of white supremacists descend on Washington and other U.S. cities this weekend, and as invigorated counterprotesters come to meet them, here’s what they had to say.
After Charlottesville, ‘the alt-right movement is at once lower-profile and more violent.’
Ryan Lenz is an investigative reporter covering the alt-right. He was formerly a senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The deadly “Unite the Right” rally one year ago in Charlottesville was supposed to be a coming-out party for the alt-right, a moment when disparate ideologies could openly unite and feel true grass-roots political power. Instead, the rally left one person dead and fissured a movement whose followers were, until then, certain the political age of Trump would resurrect ideas long thought to be fossilized—and not at underground metal shows or in street brawls like American History X-era nationalism, but in public squares and think tanks. “We definitely put ourselves off in this ghetto where we are now this thing, and we burned any bridges that we had to the wider right,” Mike Peinovich, a white supremacist blogger who uses the pseudonym Mike Enoch, said on his podcast in March.
The rally was a moment when the language of the alt-right changed, from demonstration to street violence, returning to the underground—but more brutal—realm that such strains of thought had in the 1990s and 2000s with skinheads and old-fashioned Nazis. The alt-right movement is at once lower-profile and more violent. Just last weekend in Portland, Oregon, groups led by the Proud Boys, a white nationalist fight club, came looking to brawl in the name of “free speech.” It was the second time they came to Portland, a city that knows well the presence of racist and far-right street violence, having earned the nickname “Skinhead City” in the 1980s and 1990s. Two months ago, in June, a similar rally led to violent clashes with anti-fascist protesters, and city officials declared a riot.
Welcome to the new alt-right, which might not be so new at all.
‘Where America still sees Nazis and flaming torches, I see the first stirrings of the thing that comes after.’
Dahlia Lithwick is the senior legal correspondent for Slate.
I lived in Charlottesville for 16 years before Charlottesville became “Charlottesville.” It’s never ever going to seem normal again that a word that signifies “Nazis and torches” to most Americans was just “home” to those of us who had our babies in the hospitals, hiked the trails, ate Bodo’s bagels on Sundays and name-dropped John Grisham. A year later, I think that for most of the country, Charlottesville signaled the end of something—innocence, exceptionalism, tolerance. After Charlottesville, “Charlottesville” came to mean that someone in the White House thought there were two sides, and nobody else in the White House stopped him.
But if you lived through Charlottesville, 2017, you realized that it wasn’t the end of anything. It was the start of something. It was the start of peeling off the scales about what a seemingly perfect, sleepy Southern college town had obscured; it was the start of a faith-led resistance that lights up the dark a year later. It was the start of reckonings and accountings by state and local government. It was the start of a clear-eyed view of what America has been built on and where it might go. Nobody thinks that Charlottesville enabled Charlottesville perfectly. But where America still sees Nazis and flaming torches, I see the first stirrings of the thing that comes after.
Charlottesville was the beginning of a new fight.
Cornel West is a professor at Harvard Divinity School and the author of Race Matters, among other books.
Charlottesville means we have to refortify ourselves to fight for truth and justice!
‘Charlottesville is not an anomaly. … It is a symptom of a greater moral malady.’
The Rev. William J. Barber II is the architect of the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement, president of the North Carolina NAACP and pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro.
A year after Charlottesville, America’s conscience has been stirred, but we have yet to reach a true moral awakening. The same politicians who quickly denounced the violence and murder in Charlottesville as an act of hate and racism remain complicit in passing racist public policy. Denouncing acts of racism is good public relations, but dismantling the works of racism is the true challenge facing our leaders.
When 23 states pass voter suppression laws, purge voter rolls and draw racialized, gerrymandered districts, furthering the disenfranchisement of black, brown and white voters, that’s racism. When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, and for five years since House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have refused to restore it, that’s racism. And when we see the Trump administration rip Latino children from their parents and deport them, that’s racism.
Charlottesville is not an anomaly. It is not a flashpoint. It is a symptom of a greater moral malady afflicting our nation. We are a nation that allows 140 million of our neighbors to live in poverty, a nation that disproportionately incarcerates black and brown people, continues to segregate public schools and housing. This is not the America we were meant to be.
If as a nation we are willing to denounce Charlottesville, then we must be equally willing to denounce and restructure the systems that create the animus and ignorance that ignite events like it. Ultimately, racism is a denial of the 14th Amendment, which provides equal protection under law regardless of wealth, creed or color. Movements in our history—from emancipation to suffrage, civil rights to workers’ rights—have not been about challenging individual groups or actors. Those movements were about forcing systemic changes to our moral and civic structures. Many people will never say they are racist, but every day they participate in policies that align with the policy agenda of white nationalists. This is the racism we must address for a true revolution of values.
Trump’s response to Charlottesville ‘put the concept of nation as “blood and soil” back into play for the first time since Appomattox.’
Michael Hayden is a retired four-star general and the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency.
For me, Charlottesville highlighted the basic question of American self-identity. Will we continue to see ourselves as a creedal people, identified by the values we believe in and enshrined in our foundation documents and in the Federalist Papers? Or, are we changing our self image to be a people defined by blood, soil and even shared history? There are good nations that seem to be the latter; Germany comes to mind. But, that has not been our traditional view of self. The Irish rock star Bono has said that for the rest of the world, America was really an idea, and I think that most Americans for most of our history would agree with that: Believe in and swear allegiance to the idea, and you can be as much an American as anyone else.
But, for me, the president’s response to Charlottesville put the concept of nation as “blood and soil” back into play for the first time since Appomattox. After all, he said there were “very fine people on both sides,” and the president’s affinity for the “blood and soil” approach has since been reinforced by his actions toward immigrants, refugees and our international responsibilities.
After Charlottesville, ‘the public finally connected Silicon Valley’s hubris to its culture of toxic masculinity.’
Siva Vaidhyanathan is a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and the author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy.
As we reckoned with violent white men swarming my town, Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, we could no longer ignore the fact that they all found each other and whipped each other into a frenzy because digital tools made it so easy. After that, 2018 was destined to be the year that we finally confronted the monsters we had unleashed.
The ideology of Silicon Valley reflects a shallow, unarticulated libertarianism that rests on the assumption that government functions, and all the democratic accountability that supports them, are archaic and inefficient. Within Silicon Valley, of course, there has always been a stronger, full-throated libertarianism voiced by investors like Peter Thiel and Marc Andreesen—both members of the Facebook board of directors. CEOs like Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg are not libertarians, but they are fellow travelers who operate within those boundaries of imagination, so their companies reflect their commitment to make the world better. There is a fine line between wanting to do no evil and believing you can do no wrong.
These ideas are extensions of the arrogance of masculinity—the deep belief many men have that they and they alone can handle challenges. The “take-charge” attitude, fueled by Red Bull and testosterone, flourishes in an environment largely devoid of women with authority.
So what happened since the white supremacists marched on Charlottesville? The public finally connected Silicon Valley’s hubris to its culture of toxic masculinity. Concerted attention to the “alt-right” and its connection to the “manosphere” revealed how complicit Reddit, Twitter, Google and Facebook have been to the spread of violent hatred. Uber’s corporate culture of almost institutionalized sexual harassment became public. Meanwhile, women around the world used the tools that men provided them to spread their own stories of harm and humiliation via testimony and hashtags like #MeToo and #TimesUp.
We can’t separate the deflation of the myth of omnipotence that Silicon Valley has suffered in 2018 from the society-wide confrontation with toxic masculinity. Silicon Valley has finally started reforming and confronting its own sordid history. But there is so much more to do.
Charlottesville ‘left countless communities of color truly seeing the president for who he is.’
Christina Greer is a professor of political science at Fordham University.
The events of 2017 Charlottesville shocked many Americans, in that far too many believed that this country was indeed in a post-racial moment. After the election of Trump, many Americans soothed themselves by saying that the racists in this country were old and would die off soon enough—and our country would be restored. The events in Charlottesville, literally in the backyard of slave-owning Thomas Jefferson, illustrated the very real deep-seeded new generation of racist and white supremacist individuals. As they marched and chanted about blacks, Jews and immigrants, their words and subsequent actions made it very clear that they felt they were being displaced and replaced in “their” country. What made matters worse was the president’s empathy for these individuals after news stories of counterprotesters being beaten while police stood idly by; an innocent white woman, Heather Heyer, being run down by a white supremacist who had driven down to the protest from Ohio; and the Nazi and Confederate symbols worn so proudly by (primarily) men who would leave the protests and continue their lives as teachers, engineers, law enforcement officers and other occupations of import.
For many Americans of color, the events of Charlottesville were not shocking or surprising. This nation has a long and bloody history of white mobs, across time and place, who suffer no consequences or punishment for their actions. What was jarring was a president and his administration who were so obviously sympathizers of these white supremacists in our nation in the twenty-first century. It was the president’s speech following the protests and beatings that left countless communities of color truly seeing the president for who he is. At that moment, many people linked Trump’s obsession with the following: the denigration of the innocent Central Park Five members, his eight-year race baiting of President Barack Obama, his insistence on his “good German genes,” his years of racial profiling in his businesses, his obsession with NFL players and the anthem, his appointment of some of the most racist and xenophobic members to his administration that this country has seen in decades, his insistence that Mexicans are rapists and Muslims are terrorists, his rallies that harken back to Klan mobs of the early and mid-20th century, and the list could go on and on … and on.
Charlottesville exposed the plain fact that no one in this administration is going to see people of color as equal, deserving or worthy of being in America. The white supremacist project currently underway by Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions and even Trump is a direct correlation to the Charlottesville marches. In order to “Make America Great Again” they must indeed make America solidly majority white. That will be accomplished by deportations of nondocumented and now even documented immigrants. Shortly after Charlottesville, Obama made a statement that this is not who we are as a nation. Sadly, this is who America has always been. Luckily, we have had leaders and hardworking individuals who confronted their biases and ignorance to change longstanding opinions. We are currently in a fight for the soul of this nation, and, sadly, the current president of the United States believes we should go back to the good old days. The protesters in Charlottesville chanted, “The Jews will not replace us! The blacks will not replace us! Immigrants will not replace us!” We must now mobilize to replace Trump and the members of his party who believe in his exclusionary ideals. I just hope it is not too late. The president and his party seem to enjoy this version of America, as does Russia.
‘We have seen a huge number of people saying, “I’m off the sidelines now”’
Tim Kaine represents Virginia in the U.S. Senate and was governor of the commonwealth from 2006–10.
In Virginia, we’ve known the pain of hatred, bigotry and racism, but we’ve seen a community and a Commonwealth that has been able to come together and say this is not who we are and we will not be dragged backward.
In response to the events last year, we have seen a huge number of people saying, ‘I’m off the sidelines now. I’m going to get involved to show that no matter what the president says, no matter what anybody says, we’re not a nation of division.’
We saw it in new, energized activists who really showed up in November 2017 when we elected a ticket that included the second African-American statewide elected official in Virginia, 11 new women delegates, and legislators who are African American, Asian-American, Latino-American, immigrants and LGBTQ.
We’ve still got work to do, but last fall, we showed who the Virginia of today is, and it sent a powerful message that we reject hate.
It sent the alt-right to ‘a steady stream of smaller, somewhat quieter events.’
JM Berger is a research fellow at VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, a postgraduate researcher at the Swansea University School of Law and the author of Extremism (The MIT Press, August 2018).
Unite the Right’s primary aim was to plant a flag for the alt-right in real-world spaces, outside of its online center of gravity. This was part of a sea change starting in 2016, after many years during which white nationalists and other far-right adherents could barely muster enough people for a basketball game in a public space. Charlottesville was a proof-of-concept for the idea that the alt-right umbrella could unite right-wing factions that have very significant ideological differences.
If not for the murder of Heather Heyer, the alt-right’s organizing efforts would almost certainly have accelerated after the turnout in Charlottesville. Instead, they faced a fresh round of infighting and a public backlash. At that point, a strong condemnation from Washington might have been able to set the movement back significantly, but instead, Trump gifted the alt-right with “some very fine people on both sides.” There was little need for the movement to withdraw after that, although it did slow its roll.
Since then, we’ve seen a steady stream of smaller, somewhat quieter events, as well as a couple of very large and violent events, most notably in Portland. We’re also seeing skyrocketing hate crimes and hate rhetoric around the fringes. The rally in D.C. on August 12 will be an opportunity to take the temperature of the movement. It’s clear that the American far right, to some extent under the alt-right umbrella, is trying to claim a place at the table in our political system. What happens at the polls in November will probably be more consequential for the far right than what happens in D.C. on Sunday, but the country is in a tense and volatile state, so here’s hoping law enforcement will keep things under control.
‘Charlottesville revealed … racism continues to power much of American life.’
Eddie Glaude is a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton.
Charlottesville did not change much. It only made explicit what many Americans—at least those who do not have their heads buried in the sand—already knew. Donald Trump rode the third rail of American racism straight to the White House, fueling anxieties, hatreds and fears along the way. His slogan, “Make America Great Again,” was (and is) a nostalgic longing, in the face of demographic change, for an unambiguous white America.
We knew something like Charlottesville was about to happen. Two years of protests across the country (especially in Berkeley, Huntington Beach, Sacramento) foreshadowed the violence. It was only a matter of time before things would explode. Heather Heyer lost her life because we ignored the warning signs.
In the end, it is relatively easy to condemn the white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. The one-year anniversary of the violence becomes another ritual occasion to denounce villains and displace our national sins onto their shoulders. We declare ourselves innocent. They are the guilty ones. It’s all part of America’s racial melodrama.
But what Charlottesville revealed, and it is something that cannot be denied, is that racism continues to power much of American life. We remain profoundly segregated in our schools and neighborhoods, and in our intimate spaces. We don’t really know each other (even as stereotypes lead us to believe we do), and that fact has deep, historical roots. Too many dead people and too much harm and injury rest unresolved at the heart of the matter. Mistrust clouds our political conversations. The loud racists in Charlottesville, then, are only symptoms of a much deeper national malaise. I am not sure we see that problem, though. We’re too busy condemning the obvious villains when the problem may very be the person looking at you in the mirror.
Since Charlottesville, ‘the gulf between whites and minorities’ has ‘gotten worse.’
Larry Sabato is the director of the UVA Center for Politics and the author, most recently, of The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy.
As I write this, I am working in my home on the University of Virginia Lawn, where hundreds of menacing neo-Nazis paraded a year ago with tiki torches and hateful chants right out of Hitler’s Third Reich. You’ve heard some of them: “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!” You haven’t been exposed to one that will never be erased from my memory: “Into the ovens!” You can see why I had to hide Jewish and African-American students in the basement of my Pavilion.
So understandably, the barricades are going up now at UVA to prevent another disaster this weekend. I have been told that the police presence will be even more impressive than expected, and this time law enforcement will actually engage protesters to stop violence before these sick white supremacists intimidate innocent people—and take more lives.
How disheartening that it has come to this on one of America’s most beautiful campuses. And similar preparations will happen annually, or more frequently, for many years to come.
Since August 2017, “Charlottesville” has become a symbol of rising racism and antisemitism in America. Has anything changed over the past year? Yes. It’s gotten worse, with the gulf between whites and minorities widening. The lack of national leadership on this issue has been striking, and so disgraceful that any good history of the Trump administration will emphasize it. But then how could Trump provide leadership when he has been racially insensitive or outright racist for much of his career, from the Central Park Five to his birtherism crusade against his predecessor?
Trump had a chance to redefine himself, at least a bit, after Charlottesville. He failed miserably, unwilling to alienate his alt-right cheering section in the neo-Nazis and KKK. Having emboldened and energized these extremists with his rhetoric, he threw a few more winks and nods in their direction post-Charlottesville. Trump has continued to stir the pot with his nasty tweets about famous but “dumb” African-Americans.
People, even some Trump backers, understand what has happened. In a new Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics poll, Americans believe by 57 percent to 15 percent that race relations have become worse since Trump’s election. By contrast, respondents were evenly divided about Barack Obama’s time in the White House, with 38 percent believing race relations had improved and 37 percent saying they had gotten worse.
About this part of his persona, as with most others, Trump is very unlikely to change, so it’s difficult not to be pessimistic. With deepening polarization, and Trump’s utter indifference (or worse), the races may drift even further apart than Democrats and Republicans already have.
‘America’s white supremacist movement is still less in a state of defeat as a state of regrouping.‘
George Selim is senior vice president at the Anti-Defamation League. Previously, he was head of the countering violent extremism Task Force at the Department of Homeland Security.
The backlash that followed the bigotry and violence of Unite the Right resulted in real-life consequences for many of the organizers and attendees, and badly damaged the movement at large. But the alt-right is still gathering steam, just in more splintered and less visible ways.
In the wake of Unite the Right, scores of attendees were “doxxed” (their identities exposed), fired, ejected from universities and shunned by families and friends. The larger coalition suffered, too, as feuding broke out between “hard right” National Socialists—who carry Nazi flags and display swastika tattoos—and the less overt white supremacists who think that an “American Nationalist” spin with flags and patriotism will make their white supremacy more palatable. The factions still share an identical goal—a white ethno-state—but disagree on “optics” or the issue of how, exactly, to achieve that goal.
That is, America’s white supremacist movement is still less in a state of defeat as a state of regrouping—the danger of which cannot be overstated.
Prominent recently formed alt-right groups remain very active, particularly Identity Evropa and Patriot Front, founded in 2016 and 2017, respectively, as have other types of older white supremacist groups, such as the League of the South. Moreover, they are evolving and developing new tactics, such as using flash demonstrations to avoid counterprotesters. For example, Richard Spencer led a flash demo in Charlottesville in October 2017, in which about 40 people participated. Smaller, local alt-right groups have also formed in the wake of Charlottesville. This activity illustrates the extent to which rank-and-file alt-righters tend to be relatively unaffected by infighting or upheaval among some of the movement’s figureheads.
The alt-right, energized by the political climate, has experienced explosive growth since 2015, delivering thousands of new recruits to the white supremacist movement, many of whom are young and relatively well-educated. These enthusiastic new members are unlikely to abandon their hateful beliefs simply because some of their leaders are fighting with each other or getting booted from Twitter. Less likely to have “skinhead” tattooed on their foreheads, but equally likely to share those views while wearing a polo shirt, the new generation of white supremacists is emerging.
‘The movement has collapsed … but it’s important to resist complacency’
Nicole Hemmer is assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, author of Messengers of the Right and editor of the Washington Post history blog, Made by History. She has just released a podcast series on the events in Charlottesville last year and the history behind them.
In the year since the alt-right descended on Charlottesville, the movement has collapsed. Organizations like the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party have disbanded, Richard Spencer has abandoned his campus tour and Jason Kessler, the organizer of last year’s Unite the Right rally, has found himself an outcast from the movement he’d hoped to define.
It’s easy to mistake that collapse as a natural consequence of the terrorism unleashed on Charlottesville last year. And the chaos and violence did take their toll. But much more credit is due to the lawyers and anti-racist activists who have spent the past year ensuring that armed white nationalists couldn’t terrorize Charlottesville—or any other American city—again.
Using a legal strategy first devised by Philip Zelikow and the Southern Poverty Law Center in the 1980s, former prosecutor Mary McCord and her team at Georgetown Law School sued the groups that came to Charlottesville on behalf of the city on the basis of a centuries-old state law against armed “unauthorized militias,” citing the guns, clubs, sticks and other weapons the demonstrators carried. Most of the groups that came to Charlottesville last year are now barred from ever returning to town in groups of two or more bearing any sort of weapon. McCord’s team is also training other cities in how to disarm groups before they even come to town, restraints that have dampened white nationalist enthusiasm for large public gatherings.
That, combined with the overwhelming show of opposition by anti-racist activists everywhere that racist groups appear, have ruined any chance for white nationalist groups to achieve the sort of PR victory Kessler and Spencer had hoped to score in Charlottesville. Having believed they were building toward legitimacy after Trump’s election, they instead found themselves once again relegated to the fringe.
So the alt-right, at least as it existed on August 10, 2017, has fizzled. But that observation comes with a caveat: Large public events like the one in Charlottesville are only part of the white supremacist movement, and rarely the part where the deadliest violence takes place, as Kathleen Belew, an expert on the white power movement of the 1970s and 1980s, explained to me. In those years, the deadliest acts seldom happened during white-power speeches or rallies, but rather as terrorist violence: random murders of people of color, firebombing of synagogues and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Which is why, even though the white-nationalist rally in Washington this weekend is likely to be more pathetic than frightening, it’s important to resist complacency about the forces the alt-right represents.
‘Charlottesville was where white supremacists were welcomed back into the mainstream’
Issac J. Bailey is the author of the memoir My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South (Other Press, May).
Charlottesville was a boon to the alt-right movement because it was defended by the man in the White House. At a press conference the day after the demonstration, Trump responded to reporters’ questions by saying there were bad people “on both sides.” After that now-infamous comment, white nationalists’ rise on the political stage in America was solidified.
Even before Charlottesville, white nationalists had been growing more emboldened every time Trump won a state primary during the 2016 presidential election cycle, every time he called Mexicans rapists and proposed a ban on Muslim immigrants, every time he and his advisers cooked up yet another way to try to slow the browning of America by curtailing immigration.
But Charlottesville stands out because it revealed that there were a lot of white Americans who agreed with these extremist views. Most white Americans opposed the bigoted “Jews won’t replace us” chants and the killing of a protester by a white supremacist and his car. But multiple studies have shown that Trump maintains a historically high level of party support, in part because of the kind of racial resentment and racial anxiety those white supremacists were fueled by last year in Charlottesville and will be again this year at a one-year anniversary demonstration in Washington, D.C.
Make no mistake about it; Charlottesville was where they were effectively welcomed back into the mainstream as “very fine people” by the most powerful man on the planet. There is no undoing that.
That’s why they plan to march again, because they know they still have more to gain in a country that refused to show Trump and his open bigotry the door the moment the real estate mogul came down that escalator. They’ve convinced themselves that the real victims of discrimination are white men and women, and they are thriving in a political era where there are plenty of white people who believe the same. It is no coincidence that even non-white-supremacist white people are expressing these kinds of ideas at the same time Nazis are holding public marches. Trump has opened up space for both, and he continues to do so.
No matter the turnout for this second rally, we will be suffering from the effects of the first for the foreseeable future.
‘The core assumption at the heart of the “You will not replace us” chant is disturbingly widespread’
Heather McGhee is a distinguished senior fellow and former president of Demos and Demos Action.
The white supremacist violence in Charlottesville—the menacing, torchlit march to the Robert E. Lee statue and the armed and ultimately murderous rally the next day—was alarming for what it revealed not just about the torch-bearers, but about us. The neo-Nazis chanted “You will not replace us,” claiming a continuity between their white tribal allegiances and the monuments to Confederate icons threatened with removal. But while their violence may have marked them as fringe, the core assumption at the heart of their chant is disturbingly widespread.
A landmark study published in 2014 by psychologists Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson found that white people’s anxiety about a changing America is politically determinative: “making the changing national racial demographics salient led White Americans (regardless of political affiliation) to endorse conservative policy positions more strongly.”
The pundit class assumed that when Trump revealed his sympathies for white supremacists and Nazis—groups which, he said, included some “very fine people”—it would mark a line past which accountability would soon follow. It hasn’t. And that’s in part because stoking racial division and a sense of white grievance has become the core political strategy of Trump’s Republican Party.
You see this acutely in the thousands of anti-immigrant campaign ads GOP candidates have paid for this election cycle—ads like one run by Troy Balderson, the Ohio Republican who won a special election last week, which promised to “stop illegals from taking our jobs.” It draws on the same logic of “you will not replace us”—a belief which researchers have found is widespread among white people (but not among black people): that we live in a zero-sum game of racial competition. When people of color progress, it necessarily comes at white people’s expense.
The people to whom this Trumpian message appeals don’t see themselves as hateful; they see themselves as law-abiding Americans looking out for their own. That’s nothing new: America has always had a material investment in the myth of our innocence, in championing our founding words and not our founding deeds.
There is no better example of this mythmaking than the flourishing of monuments to America’s traitors, who brought millions to war to defend a system that enriched a few at the expense and enslavement of many. In Charlottesville and 1,728 other places across the country, Confederate monuments teach not history but a subtle moral lesson that America will not just tolerate white supremacists, but find ways to justify their cause as one of noble self-preservation.
A year after Charlottesville, it’s time to replace the statues and tell the truth about America. The truth is, the South flourished economically after the civil rights movement unleashed the contributions of her black citizens. The truth is, new immigrants disproportionately create jobs and enrich communities. The truth is, America’s multiracial future is coming, and there don’t have to be two sides—we can make an America for all of us.
‘These purveyors of hate and bigotry were emboldened to take their message public by a president who has refused to categorically condemn their message.’
Mark Warner represents Virginia in the U.S. Senate and was governor of the commonwealth from 2002–06.
The deadly rally that occurred a year ago in Charlottesville was a reminder that some of the darkest parts of our nation’s history—regarding racism, bigotry and hate—are very much alive today.
On August 11 and 12, 2017, we saw a group of white nationalists come to a peaceful Virginia town seeking to use hate and division to incite violence against strong, fair-minded, loving and innocent civilians. Their words and their actions betrayed President Abraham Lincoln’s appeal to “the better angels of our nature,” forcing us to confront some of the demons that still plague our society today. These purveyors of hate and bigotry were emboldened to take their message public by a president who has refused to categorically condemn their message and actions in clear terms.
A year later, we have learned it is not enough to stand back and allow hateful and dividing rhetoric to permeate in our political discourse. Our leaders and elected officials must do better and set an example for others, rejecting the type of dog-whistle attacks that say it is OK to disparage members of certain groups such as immigrants, LGBT Americans or even members of the press. It is time for us to redefine American unity and show that what sets us apart as citizens of this country are our values of respect, openness and tolerance toward one another. Without this perspective and a leader at the top who embodies those same values, we cannot begin to heal the racial wounds of our past and make progress in delivering the promise of a more perfect union.
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