Scott MacKay Commentary: Sorry President Trump, But Nazis Are Not Fine People

Aug 18, 2017

The white supremacist march in Charlottesville has stirred a variety of emotions. But RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says there should be only one takeaway from this demonstration.  

“I don’t see much future for the Americans. It’s a decayed country. And they have their racial problem and the problem of social inequalities”

Those pre-World War II words from Adolf Hitler hold a perverse irony in 2017, as we witness the horrifying demonstrations in Charlottesville. Hundreds of neo-Nazis, some toting guns and screaming anti-Semitic slogans, thronged the Virginia college town to protest the removal of a statute of Civil War General Robert E. Lee.

They were met by counter-protestors. The result was violence, three deaths and a rough wake-up call to all who think politics doesn’t make much difference in how our nation is run. President Donald Trump only made things worse by saying that some of the white nationalists were “very fine people.”

As if any patriotic American could be a neo-Nazi. Thousands of Americans lost their lives subduing Hitler. American blood spilled, American treasure spent. Hitler was a master at genocide and suppressing civil liberties. His Thousand Year Reich lasted 13 years. There is nothing in Nazism that mirrors America’s professed values.

History is complicated, life more so. Most issues have at least two sides. Not this time.

The self-described victimization and jingoism of the neo-Nazis would be laughable if it were not so pernicious. Their leaders vow to expand their movement with more demonstrations is a threat to democracy.

It appears there was a breakdown in law enforcement in Charlottesville. In future rallies, political leaders and law enforcement must be on guard against violence. Allotting well-guarded venues for demonstrations, as is done at the national political conventions, is one avenue. More use of the National Guard may be another. Bags, backpacks and weapons should not be permitted  during these demonstrations.

Our country must also stop sanitizing and white-washing history. The Confederacy was not about states’ rights. It was all about slavery. Read what those who left the union said. The South Carolina Declaration of Secession said the state was leaving the union because after Abraham Lincoln takes office, “The slave-holding states will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection and the federal government will have become their enemy.’’

If the South cared about states rights, why did they insist on enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, which many northern states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, were so loath to acknowledge? Rhode Island was the first place in the western world to grant religious freedom. Jews had full citizenship rights more than a century before they were granted in Britain. Massachusetts was at the forefront of the abolition movement. Every school child should be taught these values.

Rabbi Les Gutterman led a Providence synagogue for more than four decades. Some in his congregation and their relatives were Holocaust survivors. He says he weeps at what he saw in Charlottesville. He also thinks of Rhode Island’s state motto, hope.

He says we all need reach out more to those of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. “When is the last time you went to dinner with a black person,” Gutterman asks.

If ever there was a time to get out of our comfort zones, now is it. The Rhode Island State Council of Churches is rolling out this fall an initiative discussing white privilege. Called “White Privilege: Let’s Talk,” the idea is to develop serious discussions about racial attitudes among whites and blacks.

Vigils, says Rev. Don Anderson, executive minister of the church council, are fine. But the religious community must more beyond public protests and work to open the hearts and minds of citizens.

Interfaith cooperation and education hopefully will help, as will striking a blow against the historical illiteracy that infects too many of us.

In the end though, we need to focus on these words: “Justice grows out of recognition, of ourselves in others; that my liberty depends on my respect for yours, that history must not be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.’’

Thank you, Barack Obama.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45 and on All Things Considered at 5:44. You can also follow his political reporting and commentary at our `On Politics’ blog at Ripr.org