2017-08-18 / View From Here

THE VIEW FROM HERE

Charlottesville
BY BOB MORGAN, JR.

A few thoughts on the hate-filled Charlottesville weekend.

To be absolutely clear, let me say upfront that I find the white supremacist movement completely abhorrent and I completely and utterly reject its contention that one race is superior to any other. And after the evil effects of Nazi rule in Germany and much of Europe, which required a world war to suppress, it is inconceivable to me how anyone could possibly support or honor any part of such a hate filled ideology. Nor is there any place for glorification of slavery or Jim Crow laws in the United States.

As for the individual alleged to have intentionally run over protesters, he deserves a fair trial, but he should be punished severely (I would not rule out the death penalty) if these charges are proven.

And yes, President Trump did himself and his supporters no favors by not quickly and specifically condemning white racists, whether or not some elements of the so-called alt right have been supportive of him. Eventually, Mr. Trump got his messaging right, but it took far too long.

Having said all of this, there is much else to be said about the Charlottesville disorders.

First, this matter seemed very oddly handled. Even white supremacists have a legally protected right to express their warped ideology. Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union went to court to uphold that right. It was thus very surprising that the local authorities made little or no effort to keep the peace by separating the white supremacists from antifa and related counterprotesters. The antifa groups have their own history of violent actions in many places, for example during a riot in Berkeley. It is hard to believe that the police, aided by the national guard if necessary, could not have created separate areas for the dueling protest groups.

Second, and more fundamentally, I think that consideration must be given to the proposition, as suggested this week on the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, that there is a relationship between the rise of identity politics and the ugliness we have witnessed.

As the Journal editorial board sees it, identity politics abandons the language of equal opportunity and color blind justice for a new politics based on race, ethnicity, gender and even religion, with “diversity” as the all-purpose justification. The Journal explains that “identity obsessives want to boil down everything in American life to these categories… this means allocating political power, contracts, jobs and now even salaries in the private economy based on the politics of skin color or gender rather than merit or performance. Down the road lies political tribalism”.

And related to identity politics is the idea that people must “check their privilege” before being allowed to speak out on controversial subjects. In a column this week called “I’m a White Man, Hear Me Out”, liberal New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who is both white and gay, astutely rejected “the assumptions — otherwise known as prejudices — that certain life circumstances prohibit sensitivity and sound judgment while other conditions guarantee them.”

Again, the rise of identity politics on the left, or an insistence that only some groups of people have the right to speak out, in no way justifies racists and their weak-minded followers to attempt to revive the Ku Klux Klan or to march around with swastikas. And it is not completely fair to complain about identity politics on the left without noting, as Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot does, that there is a form of it on the right among politicians who focus on subjects like immigration.

The concern here, however, is that identity politics and related manifestations can have a corrosive effect on the system. Dividing the economic, political or free speech pie in favor of favored identity groups will create losers as well as winners. The last thing our country needs is a movement of disaffected people trying to remedy perceived unfairness by spewing hate in the streets.

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