Charlottesville in Perspective
Megan GisclonAs a white, non-Hispanic American, it is easy to dismiss Confederate flag-bearing citizens as simply distasteful, speaking with no more than a “shame on you” rebuke behind their backs. In America, especially living in a state that was part of “the North” in the Civil War, the white supremacist ideology is largely perceived as a symbol of someone’s backwardness and low intelligence. After all, most of this ideology is based on the delusional vision of a long-dead “South” rising again and a world that is underpinned by what I always thought was an almost extinct ideology in modern America: white supremacy. Groups of such people were small, voiceless, and without any political capital. They were, in essence, a joke; they were rednecks on a disturbed mission. However, with the events and ideologies that have been brought to the fore since the rise of Donald Trump and his presidency, it is apparent that we were wrong: the weight of the white supremacist ideology has been hiding in the woodworks of America for decades, just waiting for a leader without a moral compass to emerge.
The surprising way in which Turkish media has covered the protests and terror at Charlottesville has provided interesting insight into the way in which such domestic events have an effect on America’s face abroad. The common narrative across Turkey has been that Charlottesville is a symbol of the decline of America, a decline which has been brought about by scathing inequality, or even the price of decades of American interventionism. While the latter theory touches on notes of the broader anti-American conspiracy theories prominent in Turkey—after all, the institutionalized and socialized racism since Jim Crow cannot, logically and historically speaking, be the product of conundrums such as Iraq and Afghanistan—the former ignores the fact that America’s billionaire leader has been the most prominent name in pandering to racists and implicitly accepting the support of the KKK and neo-Nazis.
Further academic study may prove the correlation between the radicalization of such domestic terrorists, white supremacists such as James Alex Fields included, and economic inequality; however, such a narrative ignores the fact that America has allowed racist relics of its post-Civil War, Jim Crow segregation past to linger on not only under the guise of free speech but also on the premise that this pitiful number of extremists is “harmless” or without power, or a joke led by such despicable characters as the KKK’s tragicomically named “grand wizards.” For Americans, white supremacy is not, and will never be, a question of economic distribution: it is a matter of the corruption of the soul of the American idea and a greater question of good versus evil. The consensus across the aisle in America—despite what the international community may see behind the Trump presidency, behind the 500 white supremacists marching on Charlottesville—is that such ideology is unequivocally morally corrupt and cannot and should not be hidden behind the auspice of the economic ailments of working class white Americans. Such hatred in America is rightfully confronted for what it is: unequivocally wrong.
The second round of rallies across America this weekend has shown the meekness of the white supremacist ideology. In Boston, the so-called “free speech” rally on Aug. 19 gathered around 100 people while the counter protest gathered an estimated 40,000. The number of people who have left Trump’s side following his Charlottesville remarks, whether from his media support, his business council, or his poll numbers, has proven the hollowness of Trump’s equivocation of neo-Nazis with their opponents, no matter how allegedly violent they may or may not have been.
Charlottesville has been, by far, the greatest moral test for Trump throughout his presidency: a test that he has ultimately failed. For Americans, this domestic test is greater than any foreign policy, any trade agreement, or greater post-war economic and social consensus. The most immediate expectation that the international community should have for President Trump in the wake of Charlottesville should be that he may be more likely to show up at their country’s door, for it may be a good time for Trump to avoid his domestic troubles and take a tour abroad right now. America and the American ideal will not tolerate such bigotry and hatred, no matter its international status.
* Megan Gisclon is the managing editor and a researcher at Istanbul Policy Center.