It seems strange to me that a mere 500 knuckleheads in Charlottesville — in a country of 320 million — were able to set and dominate the national media agenda for an entire week.
People blame the president for failing to denounce them as rapidly and unequivocally as the press demanded, or for being a moving target on the issue, which then transformed it from being a story about 500 knuckleheads to being a story about the president of the United States. I suppose there is some truth to that. And it's also true that a counterprotester was killed, apparently by one of the neo-Nazis or white supremacists, which added to the newsworthiness of the story.
Even so, it seems to me as if the press played precisely into the hands of the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and neo-Confederates. Rather than treating them as a marginal, fringe phenomenon, they gave them tens of billions of dollars worth of free publicity. You basically couldn't pick up a newspaper, turn on the radio, or watch cable television this past week without hearing again and again about these people. To me it seemed disproportionate to their actual influence.
I guess if one believes that these extremists are actually driving the presidential agenda on things like immigration policy or the use of race as a factor in college admissions — a belief that appears to be widely held in the press corps — than maybe the coverage isn't disproportionate. It would be nice to see more thorough and fact-filled reporting on that issue, though, rather than assumptions and leaps.
I get that the racists and extremists want to claim credit for Trump. I get the perception, too, that Trump wants to be careful not to fling the "racist" label at every disgruntled white guy out there. What seems not clear to me, at this point, is that Trump's policy agenda is meaningfully congruent with the agenda of the racists. He did come out in favor of cutting back legal immigration, which I think would be a terrible mistake, but he didn't really devote much political capital to it or prioritize it the way he did with repealing ObamaCare. That's not to excuse the immigration position, it's just to say that for Trump it may be a means rather than an end. Maybe Trump secretly has a racist agenda that he's going to advance once he gets tax reform and health care out of the way, and he's just keeping it under wraps. Or maybe he doesn't.
Some historical perspective, as usual, is useful. John Kennedy had the endorsement of segregationist Southern Democratic governors in 1960. President Carter has condemned the Civil War as un-Christian and suggested that slavery might have ended without it. President Clinton once said this about the Civil War:
I grew up in the American South, in one of the States that tried to break from the American Union. My forebears on my father's side were soldiers in the Confederate Army. I was reading the other day a book about our first Governor after the Civil War who fought for the Union Army and who lost members of his own family. They lived the experience so many of you have lived. When this Governor took office and looked out over a sea of his fellow citizens who fought on the other side, he said these words: "We have all done wrong. No one can say his heart is altogether clean and his hands altogether pure. Thus, as we wish to be forgiven, let us forgive those who have sinned against us and ours." That was the beginning of America's reconciliation, and it must be the beginning of Northern Ireland's reconciliation.
It is so much easier to believe that our differences matter more than what we have in common. It is easier, but it is wrong. We all cherish family and faith, work and community. We all strive to live lives that are free and honest and responsible.
Maybe mentioning that is "whataboutism," and maybe standards have shifted over time. But one person's "whataboutism" is another person's context and perspective. In the absence of such perspective, normally sensible people are prone to alarmism and excessive anxiety about the influence of a bunch of losers.