Is it OK if our President supports neo-Nazis?
by Rob Tiller
Last week it seemed like we might be ready to start a serious conversation about how to get out of our nuclear predicament, while we worried about a possible war with North Korea. Now that all seems long ago. Those hopes and worries were preempted by news feeds of marching, chanting, menacing neo-Nazis.
Of course, we always knew there were such people, but we understood that they were a small minority that posed little risk beyond being disgusting and offensive. Then the President announced that he thought neo-Nazis were OK, or at least no worse than the people opposing the neo-Nazis. The neo-Nazis were enraptured.
If you haven’t already watched the short Vice News documentary on this, you should. It brings home that these guys are real, and scary. They are not ashamed of their racism; they’re proud of it. And they are definitely not non-violent.
What is the matter with these people? There was an interesting interview on NPR last week with Christian Picciolini, who was a neo-Nazi leader as a young man. He eventually renounced the movement and founded a group to work for peace and help young people looking to get out of such groups.
In his view, all people seek three things: identity, community, and a sense of purpose. Hate groups are good at providing these. The young men who are vulnerable to being recruited by such groups generally have an underlying issue, such as psychological difficulties, or past trauma or abuse.
We can all hope that these guys get their issues addressed, but in the meantime, let’s not be encouraging them to act out! They could so easily get out of control. It is despicable that the President has knowingly inspired them.
On a related subject, what to do about confederate memorial sculptures, Trump’s commentary (suggesting they’re comparable to statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) is ill-informed, but raises interesting issues. These founding fathers were indeed slave owners, and that doesn’t fit well with our tradition of venerating them. As I’ve learned more about them and their time, I’ve found my admiration for their courage and intelligence tempered by disgust for their willing participation in the slave system.
But, obviously, individuals are complicated, and history even more so. As to the confederacy memorial statues, I didn’t learn until this past week that most if not all of those currently being discussed do not date from the generation that experienced the Civil War. Rather, these statues were put up decades later, well into the shameful era of the Jim Crow, when blacks were suppressed by law, custom, and mob violence. Those statues were not put up as reminders of beloved fallen ancestors, but rather to terrorize and subjugate living black Americans.
Maybe on the race issue, the debacle of Trump will ultimately do some good, by highlighting history that we might have preferred to forget and forcing us to grapple with unresolved problems of prejudice and inequality. But in the meantime, we need to get past Trump. He still has fervent supporters, including some who are not committed racists or otherwise crazy. For them, perhaps this latest outrage will bring home that he is a national disgrace and morally unfit to be president.