The Charlottesville Challenge
I'm still trying to process the events that have unfolded, and are unfolding, in Charlottesville. On the one hand it's not so difficult to believe; protesters on different sides of an issue gathering to show support for their side, chanting slogans for their cause. What could be more American?
On the other hand, it's pretty unbelievable; Nazis in America, or even worse - American Nazis.
For me, there are several things that make this phenomena, and the conversations surrounding it so unpalatable. For one, I am the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. This is exactly what my parents fled when they left Russia. The fact that I live in a country where such groups are emboldened to the point of organized action is...well just scary!
Of course, it doesn't help that Nazis are involved. For me, and millions of other people around the world, just seeing that symbol evokes a myriad of unpleasant emotions; fear, hatred, and sadness to name a few. Certainly, it becomes difficult to remain impartial and protect freedom of speech. Not that it makes protecting freedom of speech any less important. So, in spite of all of my emotions, our country does guarantee the right of groups to organize and speak. If we limit their rights, our own will shortly be on the chopping block.
Another reason, however, is a bit more nuanced. It stems from the way that the dialogue is playing out.
I keep reading time and time again about how unfairly the right is being treated. How ANTIFA is "just as bad" as the alt-right. "They're violent communists" the message goes. "They too, are fascists who deserve punishment". Perhaps, as hyperbolic as this message sounds, there is truth in it. That's what makes this discussion all the more difficult to have.
Unfortunately, antisemitism and anti-democratic ideologies have in fact made their way into the far left dialogue. So much so that some left-leaning groups have started defending ideologies that are totally contrary to western liberal values. The term "the regressive left" is now used to describe them by several prominent activists and thinkers. I am not at all siding with such groups, or factions of groups that exhibit this behavior. I believe they, too, have fatal flaws that must be addressed head on. Perhaps someday, I will write a blog dedicated to this topic. Regardless, this does not make the fascist demonstrators somehow less deserving of condemnation.
However vituperative the language, and undemocratic or violent the behavior is on the left, we should not be any less outraged by the alt-right. Modern-day Nazis are displaying the swastika next to the American flag as though they are one and the same! The answer should be nothing less than unequivocal condemnation, and shame. The Virginia governors response was perfect - "we don't want you here, go home". Period.
Saying that there are "thugs on both sides" or, in the President's terms "many many sides are to blame" is not enough. We need to identify the specific behaviors and ideologies that are contrary to the liberal democratic values that we wish to preserve.