It has come to this: The President of the United States had to be dragged kicking and screaming into making a statement condemning neo-Nazis in Virginia. This was not a mere abstract exercise. The neo-Nazis in question had staged a rally to protest the removal of Civil War statuary that commemorated the rebels. The predictable scuffles ensued and in the end one of the Nazi sympathizers deliberately drove his car into the crowd of counter-protestors, ISIS style, killing one and injuring 19 at last count. The President, not exactly known for his reticence, found it difficult to forthrightly and explicitly condemn this behavior in the immediate aftermath.
The Alt-Right, a sometimes-violent lunatic fringe group dedicated to preservation of “the white race” was apparently pleased with Trump’s performance. On their websites these cretins have actually taken to making derogatory remarks about the murdered woman’s appearance; they have cast aspersions on her reputation, and have gone so far as celebrate the fact that she is deceased, although they carefully avoid mentioning exactly how her death came about.
What is both remarkable and horrifying about all this is that Trump’s behavior is about par for the course. It is what we have come to expect. Which is to say that the leader of the free world apparently had to be talked into denouncing neo-Nazi violence that ultimately resulted in a deliberate killing.
On the campaign trail then candidate Trump argued that President Obama’s refusal to use the phrase “Islamic terrorist” showed that he did not understand the problem and was therefore incapable of dealing with it. And then as President, Trump has to be dragged into acknowledging (sort of) that the motivation behind the attack in Virginia was precipitated by neo-Nazi ideology. Not simply the all-purpose and by now next to meaningless word “hate”. The neo-Nazis, for instance, do not simply “hate” in general. They have a specific ideology with specific and well-known beliefs. And those beliefs demand action. We got some of it in Virginia.
While we are at it, let us drop the neo part of “neo-Nazis” because there is nothing new about it. Evil has been with us for a very long time, and this brand of it is as old as the hills. The individual doesn’t matter, only the tribe. Blood and soil determine the tribe. Instead of each human being being a unique individual soul with an inherent right to life, humans and human society are essentially like an ant colony waiting for a glorious leader to take them into a more glorious future. And for the leader, like all revolutionaries seeking some twisted earthly utopia, the struggle and its attendant violence and destruction are liberating forces. Killing and destruction and death are a necessary part of the package.
If you don’t think so read what Adolf Hitler said in Mein Kampf: “He who would live must fight. He who doesn’t wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.” Or for that matter, Osama bin Laden who said over and over again: “We love death as you love life”. In resolving the tension between Eros and Thanatos in his Eros and Civilization, Marcuse finds that “Death can be a token of freedom”. And of course Bobby Sands, a professed atheist and communist, starved himself for “the cause”. It is always “the cause” whatever the cause happens to be at the moment.
We live in an age that rejects the permanent things—and it does so at its peril. The moral relativism that infects the body politic makes it a soft target for radicals of all stripes, from Saul Alinsky to ISIS to Jason Kessler to Milo Yiannopoulos. And we should not be deceived into believing that these people are simply out to make a case, however noxious. They seek to further undermine the institutions and culture of Western Liberalism so as to ease the path toward their totalitarian fantasies.
The mere fact that the President of the United States took his time about condemning the violence and murder in Charlottesville, VA should be (but isn’t) stunning. Combine that with the fact that plenty of people are still willing to defend Trump’s behavior and we have an illustration of just how far the culture has deteriorated and just how fragile the line is between civilization and barbarism.