By Dan Brunsdon
“Alt-right” – a loosely defined group of people with far-right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism in favour of white nationalism
“What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, the alt-right, do they have any semblance of guilt?” – Donald Trump
There has been a lot of use of the term ‘alternative’ in this administration. Nothing appears to be quite as it seems for President Trump. Crowd sizes are apparently larger than pictorial evidence can do justice, healthcare is far more difficult than anyone knew, and both sides carry blame for the events which unfolded in Charlottesville on Saturday 12th August. His initial response, despite the attempt to later backtrack after facing immense pressure to condemn the actions of the far-right protestors, is nothing to be shocked about. Turning to the President after a violent and appalling act of domestic terrorism for a sense of unity is the natural response, though sadly at present a futile one.
For those unaware, last Saturday a rally named “Unite the Right” was held in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert. E. Lee. Many people travelled from across the country to attend including: white nationals, self-stylised Nazis, and propagators of the ‘alt-right’. This soon led to violent clashes, culminating in 19 injured and the death of a 32-year-old woman after a car was rammed into the crowd of counter-protestors. This deliberate and evil act is becoming all too familiar all across the West in recent years, and should be met with universal condemnation. The point of doing this, despite the obvious moral obligation, is to show how these kinds of divisive tactics are ultimately ineffective, and bring us closer together. Why then, when given the opportunity to do just this on Saturday, did President Trump instead claim “many sides” were involved, and not directly call out the racists and bigots who cheered on this horrendous act? By not explicitly calling out the perpetrators of these crimes, they become emboldened to continue this behaviour in the future. There are those who viewed this as a political move. By only later issuing out-right condemnation Trump was hoping to both have his cake and eat it: not alienating part of his, more vocal, voter base by immediately condemning their actions, but doing so later to appease his advisors and the media. The hope that this isn’t true, and that President Trump would put the needs of the country above his own political motivations, seems more and more fanciful after the recent healthcare debacle.
On Tuesday 15th August, President Trump again issued another statement regarding the protest, and returned to his previous sentiment of blame sharing and fake news. By creating this false equivalence between the ‘alt-right’, in this case which literally consisted (but admittedly not entirely) of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and those who oppose such beliefs is quite frankly, abhorrent. Despite President Trump’s claims of the apparent “alt-left” being “also very violent”, there can literally be no equivocating the two sides when one committed a terrorist act and murdered a member of the other.
“You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent… Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.” – Donald Trump, August 2017
By doing so, and coupling this with the claim that the “fake news” media aren’t reporting the whole story, those who uphold such horrendous acts feel legitimised and supported. In response to Trump’s blame shifting onto the counter protestors, former Klu Klux Klan (KKK) leader David Duke tweeted: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa”. Justin Moore, the Grand Dragon of North Carolina’s KKK stated “I’m sorta glad that them people got hit, and I’m glad that girl died”. Usually, terrorist groups expressing no remorse for violent and brutal attacks on civilians is nothing noteworthy. But Trump’s rhetoric is feeding into this mindset, even so far as receiving thanks in response to his statement.
Rather than focusing on showing true leadership, he instead chose to defend a statue of a Confederate general: “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”. Too often, statues and monuments depicting individuals who had committed horrid atrocities are defended as being part of history, and somehow therefore exempt from modern day values. But statues such as these, and many more across America, were erected by supporters of the Jim Crow laws from the late 19th century all the way up to 1965. These laws enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States, and the statue in question in Charlottesville was erected in 1924. These were created as reflections of the mindset of the people at the time, and there is no reason why they should remain to continue to cause racial tension. When asked about his opinion on the statue, President Trump dodged and instead said it should be “up to a local town, community” to decide. However, in February of this year, the Charlottesville city council voted to remove the statue, after a high-school student organised a petition which received hundreds of signatures from locals. This fact, or perhaps viewed as an ‘alternative’ fact, is just one of many this current administration ignores. The President’s disregard for truth or racial relations is nothing new, and now the effects of this mentality are being felt.
Prior to his electoral campaign, Donald Trump was a prominent leader in the ‘Birther’ phenomenon, which claimed that then President Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore an illegitimate president. Everyone remember Trump himself creating, actual, fake news over President Obama’s birth certificate? His campaign was even started by the now infamous statement that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and criminals. Steve Bannon, former executive chairman of the right-wing website Breitbart News, as the chief executive of Trump’s campaign claimed that “[Breitbart news was] the platform for the alt-right”. Now the chief strategist in the Whitehouse, is it surprising the Trump administration is not willing to now condemn the ‘alt-right’? Time and time again, President Trump has exhibited nothing but disregard for racial relations, and his time in the Whitehouse hasn’t changed this. Where as in the past the office of the President would seek to provide stability and reassurance to the nation, it seems instead political capital amongst Trump’s core voter base took priority. Now over 200 days into his presidency and with almost no major legislative gains to show for it, and the 2018 mid-terms steadily approaching, we will have to see how Trump will try to claim success – and create his own ‘alt-reality’.
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