It’s been less than a week since the much-discussed Unite the Right white nationalist demonstration erupted in Charlottesville, Va., resulting in the tragic death of counterprotester Heather Heyer and the injuries of 35 people. We’ve since been inundated with commentary, reactions and subsequent statements from celebs, pundits, elected officials and, unfortunately, Donald Trump.
For now, at least, the demonstration seems like a relatively decisive thing to condemn: a feat, for a country that not too long ago was embroiled in several debates about whether or not it’s ethical to punch Nazis or use force to prevent them from speaking at universities and possibly doxing students who are undocumented immigrants.
While repudiations are plenty, and while there seems to be a popular shift supporting the removal of monuments celebrating Confederate soldiers, it would be wise not to get too swept up in the current feel-good anti-Nazi/anti-white-supremacist frenzy. America has a pattern, and in all likelihood, this moment will follow suit.
Just a few days before this nation’s oppressed and disenfranchised huddled white masses took to the streets to decry their marginalization, the country was focused on another persecuted white guy—former Google engineer James Damore. Damore and his leaked 10-page memo, which he claimed was aimed “to improve Google’s discriminatory practices,” ran the gamut of clumsy evopsyche, biodeterminism, false equivalences and subtle racist dog whistles.
He even asserted that the right’s denial of climate change is no different from the left’s denial of biological differences between the sexes and IQ disparity. According to his manifesto, he and other like-minded people felt restricted from expressing this objective truth because of the totalitarian rule of Google’s politically correct culture and malignant implementation of diversity initiatives.
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It’s no surprise that shortly after Damore’s firing, he became a darling of the “alt-right.” 4chan began to plan boycotts (one diabolical plot involved going to the library to create Gmail accounts), and he was embraced as another victim of rabid leftist “SJWs” and their disdain for rational white men. He was even offered a job via tweet from WikiLeaks in a show of solidarity.
Alt-right memes of Damore depicting him as a crucified Pepe Frog Jesus and Google as baton-wielding Nazis beating the First Amendment circulated through social media. While Damore, no stranger to histrionics, claims that he still supports Google and hasn’t been pressed to answer to why his memo resonates so much with white nationalists, he sports a T-shirt with the word “Goolag” displayed in the fashion of his former employer’s logo in his Twitter avatar. Nothing says former Soviet political-labor-camp prisoner like having had a $250,000-per-year engineering job with amazing benefits and an on-site masseuse.
The common thread between the lionization of Damore and the rally in Charlottesville is a fundamental belief in white male victimhood: the notion that white people, particularly white men, are being oppressed by “PC culture,” “the intolerant left,” feminists and minorities, and are systematically excluded via efforts to diversify workforces.
This thread extends to other seemingly opposite or less extreme sides of political ideology, too. Even among the more cosmopolitan “progressive” media outlets like The Atlantic and the New York Times, Damore’s confirmation-bias-laden memo was defended from “crazed moral absolutists” by the most rational and objective of white men. In defense of Damore and in response to a call to fire Google’s CEO, the New York Times’ David Brooks wrote, “We are at a moment when mobs on the left and the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats. That’s when we need good leaders most.”
This behavior is typical. Nothing spurs national conversations about the erosion of free speech like the minimal-to-moderate reprimand of bigoted white men. Before Damore, these same pieces were being written to defend Bill Maher against backlash for his field-nigger joke, and before Maher, it was alt-right-adjacent “political commentator” Milo Yiannopoulos, who had been banned from Twitter. Before Yiannopoulos it was notorious white supremacist troll Chuck C. Johnson.
Even the now-disgraced former Clippers owner Donald Sterling spurred a national debate about privacy and free speech. Not ironically, it was Maher who came to his defense and claimed that Sterling’s “privacy violation” was akin to living in East Germany. America seems to measure its morality by how fair it can be toward racists, not how far it will go to protect the marginalized groups targeted by their hatred.
This nation gets uncomfortable when white men are arguably punished. Suddenly these isolated instances, which never seem to amount to disastrous, life-shifting consequences, become ominous foreshadowing of the country’s gradual decline toward an Orwellian society. The performative moral parity that has become commonplace among progressive liberal political pundits had just as much a voice in the rally to combat the “genocide” of white people as the chants of “White lives matter” that echoed in the streets of Charlottesville.
White supremacists don’t have to confine themselves to subreddits and the Daily Stormer to have their imagined victimhood affirmed. They can read recent New York Times op-eds about the silencing of white men. Or revisit the dozens of profiles written about misunderstood Trump voters, replete with photos of white rural folks staring forlornly into the unknown yonder while straddling rusted tractors.
They can look to the academic language of social psychologist Jon Haidt, in which he and another white male Vox journalist discuss the “dangers of multiculturalism” and conclude that assimilation is the solution to polarized division on “both sides.” Among the CNN interviews, the countless Vox and Vice human-interest exposés, and the teary-eyed olive branch gestures from noted Negro-love warriors, amazingly, white supremacists still feel as if they’re being neglected, erased and silenced.
And this country is always more than willing to indulge their ridiculous delusions, treating them like wayward teens who are simply acting out because of their parents’ divorce. Long has pragmatism been distorted into a measure of how tolerant and compassionate one can be toward bigots. As more of the neo-Nazis and secessionists who participated in the rally have their identities revealed and their jobs and personal lives compromised, I fully expect America to act as it always has. Condemning Nazis (at least for now) is easy; removing Confederate monuments can be a symbolic first step.
The real work, however, comes when we accept that the racial oppression cosplay and persecution complex that fuel white supremacists aren’t just confined to right-wing ideology and poor rural white people. They’re just as present in the passive-aggressive bigotry that masquerades as fact-based rationalism spouted by residents of the enclaves of Silicon Valley and Manhattan. The only difference between Trump’s “both-sideism” and the generally accepted brand is a lack of flowery language and the facade of objectivity.
Trump, as always, is simply what happens when America moves out of frame and the Snapchat filter disappears. The real test is seeing how long we can stomach adult white men suffering mild consequences without calling it the rebirth of McCarthyism, comparing it to lynch mobs or some other hyperbolic description. Quite frankly, as someone familiar with America, I fully expect to see another failing grade.