A look at Charlottesville

Muhammad Mahmood | Published: September 05, 2017 19:09:43 | Updated: October 23, 2017 09:38:01

A gathering of hundreds of white nationalists near the statue of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017.

It now appears President Trump's fire and fury was made manifest on the small town streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. The violent scenes at Charlottesville led to the death of a women and left many more injured. First came the "fire'', a sea of flickering Tiki torches lighting up the night held up by about 500 white supremacists to protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee which sits in the local park. Then came the "fury'' with the chants of "Heil Trump" with the Nazi salute along with old Nazi slogan "Blood and Soil" waving Confederate flags. These Nazis were fully "locked and loaded'', and dangerously armed -  ready to murder and cause mayhem.



To the white supremacists Lee represents white military and political power.  More precisely Lee represented the military endeavour to preserve slavery making him a powerful symbol of the Confederacy. But to their opponent, Lee represents the oppression of African American under slavery and the Jim Crow segregation laws. The presence of his statue is a daily reminder of the vulnerability of the African Americans. These confederate memorials symbolise white supremacy and a message to deny demands for equal political and civil rights to African Americans.



The Charlottesville city council voted in February this year to remove the statue in a bid to challenge the ubiquity of Confederate symbols in the South. The white supremacists, who gathered at Charlottesville, sought to celebrate their vision not just of the past but also of the present ascendancy of white supremacy and to remind African Americans of their perceived place and inferiority. The Nazis gathered at Charlottesville may not be significant force by looking at their number; but they have been a great symbolic force, they killed a woman and injured many. They have been successful in reigniting the white supremacists fervour so much so that in the wake of the riot there is now a great surge of sales of the confederate flag in southern states to show solidarity with the white supremacists. 



What happened at Charlottesville is not in any way unique in American history but feeds into a much longer history as old as the US itself. There is a tendency in some quarters to dismiss 500 white supremacists marching through Charlottesville as unrepresentative of the wider US society. But a closer examination of the US history will tell you otherwise.  It started its journey as a colonial settler state and its vey foundation was built on the twin pillars of systematic extermination indigenous people and slave labour. The overriding reality of the US has been one of acute racism, both institutional and individual.



But over time the manufactured consensus has been created by the US media and perpetuated by the Hollywood film industry of the fairy tales of white American goodness. In the process the story of colonial settlers' systematic plunder, genocide and the reality of manifest destiny has been erased. Even people dubbed as liberal in the USA find it difficult to face the reality of their country's very troublesome history and they in fact have compartmentalised the history into what they want to see and tell and things they do not want see and talk about.



The fact is, those who took part in those demonstrations to assert white supremacy at Charlottesville are the reality of the US social and political fabric rather the American myth spun by the media and the film industry. The American exceptionalism has a deep root in the US political culture  and so much so that  mainstream  politicians of all  persuasions display a commitment  to that ideology. But in essence this is the ideological foundation of white exceptionalism as the American author John Wright  pointed out, in truth white exceptionalism - "white'' in this context is not only a racial construct but also an ideological construct. Racist violence has always been an essential instrument to maintaining a system of white privilege. There is now a sense of desperation in the privileged whites that the system is failing them to protect their privilege. Trump has successfully turned that white resentment into white rage which eventually catapulted him to power.



President Trump's incautious remarks defending the Nazis who rioted at Charlottesville attracted criticism from the mainstream (corporate) media, bulk of his Republican  party and the Democrats. His remarks revealed the orientation of his administration towards Nazis and white supremacists. To the white liberal establishment this has caused grave concern because that   discredits the USA at home and abroad as a nation.  Trump could not bring himself to denounce white supremacists and Nazis, because he knows his political base. Despite near universal criticism, he is sticking to his guns.



There is now a growing fear that he and his close political associates, likes of Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Millerare, are cultivating a very distinct social layer of  ultra-rightists, white supremacist and outright fascists which will eventually be used to form a basis for spearheading a fascist movement in the country. Bannon  has already  been successful in whipping  up the fervour of the ultra-right , white supremacists and the Nazis and made  them a solid constituency for Trump. This fascist movement will combine racism, white evangelicalism, economic nationalism (neo-mercantilism) and militarism.



Such an apprehension makes the US establishment very jittery. Bannon is now back as head of Breitbart and already declared he was going to war for Trump against his opponents - on Capitol Hill, in the media and in corporate America. Bannon is not talking about resolving political differences through the electoral process but mobilise the ultra-right and fascist forces to achieve his political objectives. He will use the democratic processes and institutions to the extent that will help him to the destroy them.



For the Nazis and white supremacists whiteness has become the rallying cry for white America - also a unifying force to achieve that objective.The use of violence to preserve white supremacy is an integral part of the US history; violence at Charlottesville can be easily described as entirely an American phenomenon. It is also a return to the darker past which now easily connects to America's  present that is evolving  under President Trump.


The writer is an independent economic and political analyst.


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