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In Charlottesville, America Showed The Alt-Right They Don't Belong

White nationalism took a severe hit — not enough to kill it, but to remind the movement that they are still on the "outs" as far as Americans are concerned.

08/15/2017 14:32 EDT | Updated 08/15/2017 14:33 EDT
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Counter protesters shout outside the Charlottesville City Hall on Aug. 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

There is no way to adequately describe the Donald Trump phenomenon, regardless of the now countless attempts to get our collective heads around it. It's gone from being a novelty and growing sense of unease to a place where millions are actually fearing for their democracy.

That's a good thing, and it just could be that Trump's particular brand of egoism is creating something in America that it couldn't create by itself — a yearning for a better democracy.

The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the past week has sufficiently reminded us what can happen when, and if, leadership refuses to put a clear definition on the very threat such actions and such groups represent to the collective well-being of citizens. Yet it's also a reminder that Donald Trump didn't create such depth of animosity, racism, bigotry, hatred and violence. As DeShanne Stokes would put it: "Trump didn't divided America. He just doused us with gasoline and fanned the flames."

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Protestors rally against white supremacy and racism in Columbus Circle on Aug. 13, 2017 in New York City.

And there it is: by failing to keep a careful watch on democracy the ghosts of history have returned in a fashion that is deeply painful to all those groups targeted by the haters. But it's consequently deeply scarring to the rest of us as well. Things are happening in the United States and around the world that are movingly unacceptable to us, but not to the degree to where were are moved sufficiently to prevent them.

For the alt-right white nationalist movement, this is proving a difficult lesson.

If Charlottesville has done anything, it has reminded us that a fluid sense of social justice and idealism still run through civil society and will bite back and display signs of life that many thought had elapsed.

For the alt-right white nationalist movement, this is proving a difficult lesson. Their hope that having somewhat of a mild anarchist in the Oval Office could permit a resurgence for their efforts, has, for now at least, been dashed. They had somehow seen in Trump's victory and rampant promises to "make America great again" and to initiate an immigration ban as something of a moral cover, and opportunity, to "go public" once more and up their cancerous designs.

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White Supremacists form a phalanx against counter protesters on Aug. 12 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.

Let's be clear: white nationalism took a severe hit this week — not enough to kill it, but to remind the movement that they are still on the "outs" as far as the majority of Americans are concerned. For all the criticism of the media, the Republicans, the Democrats and the entire political order this past week has revealed a latent sense of decency and political poignancy that would have remained lethargic if Charlottesville had not occurred. And the message was unequivocal: not here, not now, not ever. There would be no room in main street America for such animalistic tendencies.

Democracy, for all its complexities, layers and confoundedness, is pushing back and it's likely that the white nationalists underestimated just how much civil society, the media, political elites and even the world would denounce them. The sheer scope of the opposition to their hateful methods has been compelling.

It is up to citizens and not just voters to show that they dream of something better than the society they tolerate.

But the real question remains: is it enough? Comedian Jimmy Fallon, in reacting to Charlottesville and Trump's tepid reaction, said it was time, "to show the next generation that we haven't forgotten how hard people have fought for human rights. We cannot do this. We cannot go backward." He's right, of course, but are we ready to live our daily lives as living expressions of that reality, or only respond when some horror occurs? It's an important distinction.

Another comedian, Seth Meyers, put it plainly: "He is not president." Millions might feel that way, but it's not true. Donald Trump is in the Oval Office, and citizens, politicians and the media helped put him there. This is ever the curse of democracy — open elections don't always result in fair elections. It is up to citizens and not just voters to show that they dream of something better than the society they tolerate. That has been occurring across many fronts in the past few days. The secret is now to turn that into a collective and individual way of life and not just a sentiment.

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