Very Fine People
A subtle but important distinction
I think Haidt and Lukianoff have misstepped. In their recent post aiming to substantiate various lunacies of our current dark age, they have aimed for the term ‘monomania’ to describe the obsessions of the Right as a counterweight to the sanctimony of the obsessions of the Left. It’s a good read I recommend. They start with the following:
Readers of our book might be surprised to know that almost all of the hate mail that we get about the book comes from readers on the right, not the left. They mainly accuse us of perpetuating the “Charlottesville Hoax,” which is the claim that Donald Trump called the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and KKK members of the 2017 Unite the Right Rally “very fine people.” The claim that this is a “hoax” relies on the fact that soon after in that same wild press conference, Trump mentioned, “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists—because they should be condemned totally.”
This seems like a good point to make against someone asserting that “Trump called neo-Nazis and white nationalists very fine people.” But that’s not what we wrote. We wrote: “With those three words—‘very fine people’—the president showed that he was sympathetic to the men who staged the most highly publicized march for racism and antisemitism in the United States in many decades.”
Since I have no need or desire to defend Trump, whom I do not hate, I find it interesting that they have decided to plant a flag on that particular hill. The fact of the matter is that I believe that Trump fumbled in typical style. But I also interpreted his remarks to be directed not at the reactionary protestors who flooded the streets of Charlottesville but those plaintiffs and defendants in the court proceedings that had been ongoing over the fate of the dread statue.
It’s a very important distinction. So I reiterate my stoic observations from those very days.
Our identity politics have been ratcheting up the stakes of the continuing Culture Wars but they haven't reached a crescendo. The failures of the multiple intersectional third wave theoretical tentacles on the appropriate pronouns for pet groups, while crumbling to its foundations, have not yet lost their grip on the popular imaginations of the Chatting Class. So 'racism', 'sexism', 'homophobia' and various other accusations have not lost their cachet despite actual progress against these very real sins. That a lone wackjob like Dylan Roof can kill nine in Charleston and not set off so much acrimony as the gang of neo-confederates in Charlottesville tells us something very important. We have political groups of Americans who wish to see the destruction of other political groups of Americans. As I say, there hasn't been enough violence to satiate that bloodlust.
In a way, we are fortunate to have Antifa and Alt-Right to enact these fantasies. Call it the boneheads vs the skinheads. So far we, we meaning Left and Right, remain willing to send them into ritual combat as non-official proxies for the never ending stream of invective that is our contemporary political dialog. We are in that same perverse way, fortunate to have a President whose oratorial vacuity allows all sides to interpret whatever they wish to project as emanating from his bully pulpit. Americans are not actually having to deal with leadership in anyway resembling a responsible republic. So the wars between ourselves against ourselves continues. And it shall continue as the Congress, the Executive and the Press continue to fail to lead and America stumbles into a triple witching hour when all three fail simultaneously. Charlottesville is just a test. Our good fortune will soon run out and real riots will begin, but we now benefit by watching all the ingredients. Time will provide us another OJ Simpson or another Timothy McVeigh or another James Damore or another Matthew Shepard. Somebody whose fate will align the political opposition like Alt-Right and Antifa into a perfect storm. America will rage. Then America will hug. But first we must suffer the fire next time.
What strikes me as particularly notable about this latest non-event in Charlottesville all due respect to mere three deaths in Virginia, a number that MS-13 would consider a weak showing, is the actual symbol at the heart of the matter; the fate of a statue. You see there's still a lawsuit. And while lawsuits are generally the respectable and civilized way to resolve disputes, nobody is really talking about that lawsuit. The focus of our finger-pointing is the animus of the non-official proxies and what pronouncements we in the Chatting Class are demanding of their putative leaders. The legal process and the legal solutions for violence and rioting and municipal statuary are not what we really care about. We demand that the right people make the right sounds. We demand rhetorical satisfaction, ultimately a pledge of fealty. We are demanding satisfaction for something with great historical import and mythological power to validate our claims of sovereignty.
You might wonder whatever became of the lawsuit and the civil and peaceful parties to it that the good gentlemen have ignored for the sake of their indictment of the Right. A moment of Googling…
In October 2017, two months after the rally, a circuit court judge ruled against removing the statues from public spaces, saying that they were protected by a state statute that barred the removal of "memorials and monuments to past wars," court documents show.
But in April 2021, the Supreme Court of Virginia overturned that decision. Both monuments were erected in the 1920s but the state law protecting monuments was enacted in 1997, and "had no retroactive applicability and did not apply to statues erected by independent cities prior to 1997," the opinion reads.
A state law protecting memorials and monuments to past wars doesn’t apply to statues erected by independent cities prior to 1997. I see. How many wars have we had since 1997? Now there’s the travesty and the death blow against the intent of commemorating history in public spaces. Today Thomas Jefferson, tomorrow the Lincoln Memorial. Go ahead, you know a Wokie. Ask them if Lincoln was racist. I dare you.
We must remember that in all our human capacities, whether we have them recognized in our favorite media or political rhetoric or not, that we are indeed capable of civil and reasonable behavior and we still possess institutions capable of extending our reason and civility across generations. It is civil and reasonable to always believe that there are very fine people on all sides. They often get caught up in madness, and they are often ignored. Our failure to commemorate and respect them is how very fine people get killed.