At Charlottesville, numbers of white nationalist and counter-protesters were estimated to be of the same general order of magnitude, but recent street actions by white nationalist/supremacist/racist groups have been universally overwhelmed, shut down, and shouted down. Public denunciations by politicians from Jeb Bush to John McCain to Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan condemned either the right’s Charlottesville action or Trump’s response; even Steve Bannon called white supremacists a “collection of clowns” in an interview shortly after Cville.
If you care about state politics (which, to some extent we all must, because the backdrop of conventional politics speeds, slows, coalesces, or dissolves the tide of social movement beneath), it appears that enablers of white nationalist/supremacist/racists on the far right even lost in politics; Donald Trump’s popularity is at an all-time low for a modern president; most Republican contenders lost in the November 7th elections; and in Virginia, a transgender candidate even knocked out a veteran state congressman (and bigot) to become the first transgender state legislator in the country.
Are we home free? Has the #RESIST sentiment touted by liberals, who, up until the 2016 election were more concerned about paper-vs-plastic at the supermarket, actually amounted to something?
At least on the public front, it might seem at first that hate groups are on the run. The optics debacle that Charlottesville was for the far right woke up a hitherto ignorant and complacent American public, who had up to then had dismissed them as a fringe movement, and as a result, liberal/educated/city/university communities were ready the next time. Despite the fact that it only took a two weeks after Cville for liberals (and even certain anarchists) to shift their focus to “Antifa” for potentially someday bringing down the wrath of the state—and despite liberals continuing to argue that Nazis have the same right to free speech that everyone else does, and that to repress them “makes us as bad as the Nazis,” an 800-to-1 ratio of counter-protesters to fash in Boston certainly seems to suggest little national tolerance for hate speech.
And yet: let’s keep in mind that public sentiment is temporal, fickle, and, after something like Charlottesville or the most recent mass shooting, very event based. At a recent unconference in Missouri, a local organizer said “white people need to keep up the work outside of rallies by having difficult conversations with other white people about white supremacy. ‘It’s easy to put on an ‘Assata taught me’ T-shirt and go down to the rally and get your kick of pumpkin-spice activism,’ Merritt said.”
Because despite being shut down and booted off of servers, racists and fascists remain active; they’re still on servers, but now they are on Russian ones. A recent influx of rash of signs on campuses across the country proclaimed “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE;” there were racist flyers posted around town against two Asian New Jersey school board candidates; Anticom has been posting and exchanging manuals on grenade and bomb production; and Richard Spencer continues to attempt speaking engagements at universities. Fascists on the run and licking their wounds? Perhaps, but we think a better conclusion might be that some are just in hiding, while others are creating craftier ways to get across on the American public. And we don’t think the danger has diminished.
That is because the underlying things that embolden anger, retribution, and ultimately fascism have not diminished. White people remain angry either about a debt-driven service economy that has forced them into multiple part-time jobs with no health benefits, or, if they have good jobs, angry at the perceived “unfairness” people of color or immigrants that demagogues convince them have taken jobs from other white people. “Deaths of despair” from suicide, drugs and alcohol have led to a dramatic rise in mortality among middle-aged white Americans; an “opioid epidemic” is said to lead to the deaths of over 30,000 Americans each year and costs the economy some $78.5 billion; another “obesity epidemic” affects some 78 million Americans; and a suicide epidemic among veterans of multiple Middle-east wars has claimed more lives of veterans than have been lost in actual combat. Record numbers of firearms in distribution, up to now mostly purchased by conservative-minded Americans, float in a cultural atmosphere of despondence, hopelessness, despair, and fear… and, interestingly, there is simultaneously a numbing regularity of mass shootings. The question becomes one about “what people are going through every day and what it is that is driving people to these kinds of situations, where they feel so entitled to dominance, that when that’s questioned, they can explode in these very, very unpredictable ways,” in the words of George Ciccariello-Maher:
“ …we act surprised when these people have breaks, when they fall into some kind of crisis, when they find maybe feelings of entitlement frustrated, that they then resort to violence, when we’re talking about a structure and institutional apparatus that trains people in violence and that encourages them to feel as though they’re on the losing side of history. You know, Trump makes hay out of the fact that white men, in particular, feel as though they’re the victims of this society, despite being in absolute control of it. And this is something that is powerfully dangerous, and it’s why we’re not seeing only the rise in violent attacks, more generally, and the rise of far-right movements, but we’re certainly seeing, clearly, sort of some very serious incidents of mass violence, as well.”
It might seem, for the moment, that mainstream America is fed up with white supremacists; that the enabling of these people by the Trump presidency has fallen flat; that when the general public sees the face of militant hatred, it repels in shock and with disdain. But let’s not be too hasty in thinking that all is well within our section of the world, or that the separation of powers will rein in corrupt demagogues, or that a superficial two-party system can deal with the undertow of white angst beneath the fancy coffees, expensive pickup trucks, and hundreds of cable channels that for now seem to soothe so many of us. Do we who live on the North American continent, in the political entity called the United States, look ahead to 3 more years of a declining & inept Trump presidency, to be followed by the soothing of an Elizabeth Warren and a concomitant return to latte-fueled elitist liberal complacency, while another debt crisis—student debt this time, perhaps—siphons off just enough wealth to make some rich and keep others in distress, but not enough to create revolt?