Weimar Street Politics Comes to America
This weekend nearly 20,000 people flooded into Boston to counter a “free speech” protest organized by a range of conservative groups, some of which were sympathetic to far-right protestors in Charlottesville, some of whom, in turn were explicit Neo-Nazis. The nature of that sentence illustrates a major problem with the current political environment. The very presence of representatives of a group at an event now has a reasonable chance of tarring the entire event with association with that group. Hence, a rally in Charlottesville by Alt-Right representatives which attracted Nazis and KKK aficionados became an explicit Nazi rally, while in turn, the counter-protests there and elsewhere associated everyone from Confederate nostalgics to conservatives with Nazis in order to justify violence in copycat attacks across the country. This was evident in Boston, where the local chapter of Antifa made a post stating that not just Neo-Nazis but “classical liberals, conservatives, libertarians” were also not welcome in Boston and should leave, followed by the words Free Speech circled and crossed out.(It has been brought to my attention that said post was on an alt-right troll account which gained widespread media attention. As such I want to apologize for according it official status, though I do think the fact people could believe it signifies a lot about where we currently are politically.)
This may not be the most effective tactic if Antifa actually wanted to fight the far-right, but the far-left and far-right have always had a curiously symbiotic relationship. In the 1930s, the Nazi Brownshirts and Communists actually worked together both to coordinate strikes by their own supporters and to break up ones organized by the Social Democrats. The Communists thought that if the Social Democrats and liberal parties were destroyed, their voters out of fear would have no choice but to vote for the Communist party to stop the Nazis. The Nazis, in turn, believed that the destruction of non-Communist options would leave voters with no choice but to support National Socialism in order to stop Communism. In the event, the German elites did make the latter choice, to their enduring regret and eventual destruction in August 1944.
Today a similar dynamic is at work. Historically neither Communism nor National Socialism has made much progress in the US, despite revisionist attempts to build up the German American Bund’s Madison Square rally before WWII. However impressive visually, they ran no candidates for office, and could not manage their own paramilitary force even for parades. One reason for this has to do with associations with foreign states which make such ideologies and their proponents appear un-American at best if not traitors at worst. But the largest single obstacle to their ability to break through has been their own small size. Generally, Nazi and Communist rallies have served to highlight not their support but rather their lack of it, almost invariably being outnumbered by protestors.
That has begun to change. This is not because of the “rise of the Alt right” or an increase in support for extremists, but because both Far-right and Far-Left have succeeded in embedding themselves in larger protests and causes such that they can coopt the sympathy of those who find them individually distasteful. The Confederate monument battle is an example, as the media has noticed, because it allows Neo-Nazis, who have no support base, to win the sympathy not just of Southern traditionalists, but also all those unhappy with the speed and/or direction of politically correct changes to culture, or even those who believe that perhaps the monuments should be taken down, but that the decision should rest with local governments. In effect, the Charlottesville protestors managed to polarize the nation around an issue where polls show two-thirds or more of Americans support them.
What has been missed is that this achievement would not have been possible without the cooperation of those on the Left. It has been asserted by many on the Right that what happened over the last week is a direct consequence of the embrace of identity politics on the mainstream Left. This is not true. But what is true is that the embrace of identity politics and causes, from battles over gender identity, to BLM, to the reframing of immigration as a civil rights rather than enforcement issue, has left the mainstream Left deeply vulnerable to infiltration, manipulation, and cooption by the Far-Left. So too, to it has been with ANTIFA. Mainstream Democrats and liberals probably are not eager to tear down every Confederate statue in the country illegally, but three years of activism around BLM and their own rhetoric means that it is next to impossible to condemn extremists when they engage in it. As such, rather than adopting a position in which the monuments should be removed, but by local governments and voters, or in which they think condemn the attacks, Democrats have instead been at best forced into arguing all the monuments must come down as a matter of public safety. In effect, at the same time they are assaulting President Trump for condemning violence on both sides, they are paradoxically insisting that the statues pose a public safety risk due to the fact that if they are not taken down violent leftists will riot and try and destroy them.
The Far-Right, if one wants to term the KKK that(and historically it has been an anti-planter, anti-middle class force in the South and Mid-West, hence the focus on anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism) , has a much bloodier and worse history in America, and may still pose a greater threat to individual rights. But for all the criticism of the President’s statements, it is Democrats and liberals who have a problem with extremism. The President at least condemned all violence and white supremacy explicitly, and with a Jewish daughter no one credibly thinks he is one with those chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Mainstream Democrats and most of the media, however, have struggled even to condemn illegal and violent destruction of monuments in cities away from Charlottesville effectively endorsing mob rule. Yes it was a Nazi who with his car caused the only fatality, but it is in fact individuals and movements that Democrats and liberals refuse to condemn who are causing the vast majority of violence nationwide. And while it may be justified or even noble to use it against Neo-Nazis, there were none in Charlotte where rioters attacked city hall.
It is all well and good to scream about the dangers of “moral equivalency” and to provide all of the reasons why almost anything would be preferable to National Socialism. But the battle over whether the perception among Americans will be one of a threat of National Socialism or one of an epidemic of political violence in general is one which cannot be won by screeds on the New York Times op-ed pages. It is one being fought on cable news and social, and the images, including those so many of my friends proudly posted of their participation at a rally against hate in Boston were undermined when they marched next to and with individuals carrying messages of hate and who advocate if not initiate violence. Marching with extremists benefits no one but the extremists, and the greatest victims are their allies. Ask anyone foolish enough to ever enter a coalition with Nazis or Communists at any point in history how that ended. But the Republican Party and even the overwhelming majority of the self-described Alt-Right are not marching with those who went to Charlottesville. On the contrary, Milo is a gay jew. Mainstream Democrats and liberals, whatever their views of Antifa, have no issue marching with them, and that means that if and when equivalency comes, they may find themselves dangerously exposed. Almost no one will disagree that the Nazis are far worse, but they are not the ones who have been welcomed into mainstream discourse.
Ironically, the greatest victims of this upsurge in political violence are likely to be liberals and the center-left establishment themselves. One of the prime reasons why partnership with Communists(and Nazis in the one case it was tried by conservatives) ended so badly was that the major differentiating factor between moderates and extremists was the commitment of the former to the liberal democratic system. It was not that Socialists did not want redistribution of wealth or confiscations, but that they valued individual rights and constitutional protections more. When conservatives went into partnership with the Nazis to protect themselves from Communism, they may have deplored the violence of their coalition partners, but they were in no position to oppose it because they themselves had insisted that Communism represented a mortal threat, leaving their only objection to Nazi methods being the importance of democratic principles, something they had thrown aside by joining with Hitler. Once he had established that one could "settle" Germany's problems by force, his opponents on the Right were left prostrate by their failure to ever establish any sort of reason why one should not do so. One could argue that even more "moderate" members of the Nazi party themselves fell victim to this dynamic if one is willing to credit the apologia of Albert Speer a good deal more than it deserves. Once one could "solve" the "problem" of the disabled, the gypsies, the gays, or the jews through illegality and eventually murder, and there was agreement that they were "problems" it was next to impossible to oppose "final solutions". Efforts to do so only looked like personal moral qualms.
The same is true today of liberals who argue that Confederate monuments are inherently celebrations of racism and treason, and innately offensive wherever found. The NYT editorial page may not be arguing that they should be destroyed by mobs, but once it is established that they can be, it becomes hard to argue purely process arguments, especially if it is not inherently electorally advantageous, which it may not be at all times, as the success of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK has shown. Having established that civil disobedience is justified for same-sex marriage, for immigration(sanctuary cities), and when faced with an Administrative one distrusts(the mass leaking under Trump), the only question is whether a given cause or issue reaches that threshold and to argue that one does not is to run up against the rock of identity politics, which insists that no one can say anyone issue is not important if it is important to a given group.
As such, the center-left is in the process of rendering themselves redundant. Why vote for cowards and leaders prone to cold feet, when something better is on offer? Yes there are dangers on the Right as well, but if the Republican party is perhaps too in thrall to Confederate nostalgics there is zero chance or danger of it being taken over by Nazis. The commitment to Israel among Evangelical Christians alone precludes any such possibility, as does the prominence of Wall Street money. No such countervailing forces exist to protect liberals, which is why their indulgence of the Left, starting in 2014, has led to a stampede. It is one that if they do not stop, is fated to consume them.