Many have fallen before for the notion that history is not only a chronological progression, but also marks the evolution of ideas. For those, the events at Charlottesville should come as a shocking wake up call.
The press is still discussing the aftermath of a march by white nationalists and neo-Nazis. This is understandable. A racist militant plowed his car into a march of counterdemonstrators, killing a young woman. Loss of life to an act of domestic terrorism is outrageous and leaves us without words in the face of a crime that would have been unthinkable only one year ago.
While the irony of an American neo-Nazi mimicking the modus operandi of Islamist terrorists was not lost on most analysts, they are missing the point. Violence has many manners to express itself. Our concern is that players on the political fringe are back on the fore.
There is one major reason for that. It’s the current occupant of the White House. His equivocations in the wake of the act of terrorism that took the life of Heather Heyer, 32, were an encouragement for white supremacists. And so they interpreted it, rejoicing that the president of the United States had not repudiated them. He finally did so, yielding to pressure from his own party.
But make no mistake. White extremists have been energized by the media attention and a presidential statement blaming “many sides” for the events at Charlottesville. With his tweet, the U.S. president signaled that racists, neo-Nazis, and supremacists are the moral equivalent of their opponents.
That can only happen when the worst kind of populist panders to his most extreme constituency. As we say in the title, these white men who marched with torches in Charlottesville set the clock back to the dark ages we thought Americans had been liberated from after Abraham Lincoln and the tragedies of the Civil War.
In a way, history is the record of the unprecedented. What is happening right now in the States can lead to developments that otherwise would be inconceivable. Even during the Civil War, there was never an interruption to the continuity of the properly constituted American government. Unlike many other countries in the hemisphere, there has never been an overt coup d’état in the history of the United States. That history does not necessarily clock the progress of humanity does not mean that leaders should not try to bend it in that direction. Yet moral compass is needed for that. And that is sorely missing from the Oval Office right now.