After alt-right demonstrations in Charlottesville turned into clashes led by Antifa, leading to an alt-right Nazi sympathizer driving a car into a group of counter-protesters, things were bad enough.
As always, both sides of the political aisle have determined to make an awful situation worse.
The big problem is that both Left and right now use President Trump as a cognitive shortcut. The Left sees everything Trump says as antithetical to truth and decency; the right sees everything the Left says as motivated by animus and untruth. This means that no matter what Trump says, either Left or right will be wrong, since the truth of his statements has no bearing on this cognitive shortcut.
This has particularly dire ramifications for Charlottesville.
The Left has determined that everything President Trump says is wildly horrifying, no matter what the content. If Trump says that Antifa is a violent group, then the Left must declare that Antifa are equivalent to the allied soldiers of World War II.
That’s absurd, but that’s the case actively being made by journalists like Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, who tweeted: “Watching Saving Private Ryan, a movie about a group of very aggressive alt-left protesters invading a beach without a permit”, and Hillary Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon, who posted a picture of Normandy with the caption, “Also confronted the Nazis without a permit”). In the pages of The Washington Post, historian Mark Bray defended Antifa as a necessary countermovement to stop neo-Nazism, gushing, “their willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence and preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts before they turn deadly distinguishes from liberal anti-racists.”
The problem is that Antifa isn’t merely anti-fascist – it’s fascist in its own right. It’s a communist and anarchist movement dedicated to the use of violence against anyone they deem worthy – up to and including normal Trump voters and conservative Republicans. By allying with Antifa, the Left lends credence to the alt-right’s claim that they are victims of violence rather than perpetrators of it.
Meanwhile, thanks to the overreach of the Left, many on the right have determined that everything Trump says is correct. That means many conservatives think Trump must have been correct when he said there were some “very fine people” protesting with the white supremacist torch march on Friday night (there weren’t) and when he distinguished between the alt-right and white supremacists (there’s no distinction). The alt-right is a disgusting movement with one contention at its center: that race and culture are inherently intertwined, and that individual liberty is a chimera. By refusing to condemn the alt-right, then suggesting that some of the alt-righters at the torchlight march were hunky dory, Trump gave the alt-right cover.
But because the Left must be wrong in the minds of the right, many on the right have simply come up with their own alternative gloss on Trump’s words: He wasn’t talking about the attendees at the #UniteTheRight event. No, he was talking instead about everyday Americans who disagree with the Left’s statue-destroying agenda. That’s not accurate – Trump was talking specifically about Charlottesville. But thanks to the fact that the right has hit the mute button on the Left, we can safely ignore their interpretation for a more favorable one.
And of course, the same is true on the Left. Many Leftists thought Trump was talking about non-violent counter-protesters when he slammed the alt-Left – but that’s not accurate either. Trump was clearly speaking about Antifa.
The lack of honesty on both sides will only deepen our polarization. If the Left insists on siding with Antifa over Trump, they’ll drive more conservatives into the arms of the alt-right; if the right insists on siding with the alt-right over the non-Antifa counter-protesters, they’ll drive more Leftists into the arms of Antifa.
Charlottesville shouldn’t be about advancing political narratives anymore, on either side. It should be about opposing evil on all sides. If we can’t do that, we’re unfit to carry forward the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, or our World War II-era ancestors.
Ben Shapiro is the Editor in Chief of the Daily Wire and the host of the podcast The Ben Shapiro Show.