Consider for a moment the implications of President Trump’s astonishing statements on the protests and violence in Charlottesville, and the revisionist affect his words have on America’s history. Former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw dubbed the Americans who grew up in the dark days of the Depression and who went on to defeat fascism in World War II, “The Greatest Generation.” Their stories of courage and self-sacrifice during the war are not just history, they are foundational to our collective vision of America and its place in the modern world.
President Trump, as he insisted on Tuesday, does not share this same view of America. When you equate, as the President did repeatedly and insistently, the premeditated acts of racism and anti-Semitism perpetrated by neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and other white supremacists in Charlottesville with those who would oppose their fascist ideology, you dismiss The Greatest Generation as just one more side in a violent fracas.
After all, as President Trump stated, “there was violence on both sides,” a fact that was equally true for our involvement in World War II. For most Americans, that was a war between good and evil. It’s a somewhat sanitized version of history to be sure, but there is no question that the world faced a turning point and a test of human resolve with the rise of the Third Reich.
The world found there was no appeasement possible when dealing with fascism, because the ideology allows no compromise, only conquest and the destruction of those who might oppose them and their delusions of superiority. The world eventually recognized the need to destroy fascism at the root and keep it from ever gaining a foothold again.
That’s why the spectacle, last week, of hundreds of neo-Nazi and white supremacist protestors marching with torches at the University of Virginia chanting “Jews will not replace us,” should have sent a shudder down the spine of every American. President Trump cannot deny that his campaign, his ignorant words, and his election as president, have opened the door to a very dark crypt. Those who put themselves in harm’s way to protest, and even do battle, with these malignant forces can in no way be equated with the evil they oppose.
For the president to demean those who stood up for American values as members of the “alt-left” was a display of his historical ignorance and an acknowledgement that his election depended, at least to some degree, on his flirtations with the fascist, or “alt”, right. While the evidence is unclear whether President Trump shares their ideology, there is little doubt that Trump will join league with virtually any group, no matter how vile, willing to feed his insatiable ego or support him politically. His reluctance to disavow the endorsement of former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke during his campaign was just one of many examples. In Trump’s mind, the worth of an individual relates directly to their willingness to praise him, and Trump has garnered considerable praise from adherents of America’s fascist movement.
Trump, in turn, has given white supremacists a moral victory, and it’s one that they claim will further their cause. And that’s why Trump’s misguided words were, ultimately, so damaging. He gave fascists the moral legitimacy they didn’t deserve. It will take real Americans to put them back in their hole.