I have to admit to being surprised and disappointed in some of the reaction to events in Charlottesville, yesterday, particularly by some Rhode Island journalists. If I were to make a psychological wager, I’d say it’s something of a relief to them to be able to have a morally clear villain for a change. And with the Russia-Russia-Russia story fading (and maybe even raising uncomfortable noises for the news media’s favored political party), pivoting to the “alt-right” to keep the criticism of the president up and to excuse their own desire to undermine American democracy makes sense.
But still, what they believe to be appropriate commentary, particularly in the form of retweets on Twitter, should alarm those outside of the bubble.
Sean Daly of WPRI, for example, retweeted Tom Brokaw, who asked:
duke says trump should remember whites put him in presidency. america the white only? a burning fuse. who will extinguish, DT?
How insulting to white Americans, as if we’re this smoking bomb of racial animus just waiting for an excuse to explode. As I tried to express last night, this strikes me as a dangerous insinuation. These white supremacist idiots (whichever brand you pick) are a fringe cult. They aren’t like glowing blue bug lights to which all of us crackers will be drawn if they aren’t repeatedly declared to be a danger. Rather, they are psychological parasites that feed on feelings of alienation and powerlessness — precisely the sort of alienation that Brokaw reinforces with his insinuations.
Similarly, Katherine Gregg of the Providence Journal retweeted — in the heat of yesterday — a link to a Washington Post article from February 2016 noting that President Trump’s father was apparently arrested during a Big Apple Klan rally in 1927. The obvious insinuation is that the Trump family has long connections to the Klan and its violence.
That is unbelievably irresponsible of a respectable mainstream journalist. As Snopes notes, the only record of the arrest is a single news story, and in that story, Fred Trump is the only person named as being arrested who isn’t also named as being charged with some crime. In other words, he may have been a passing New Yorker whom police swept up more or less by accident. Or for all we know, he was arrested while fighting a Klan member. And yet, here’s the Providence Journal’s venerable State House reporter making politically and racially charged connections that ensure more heat in the public square and less clarity.
But we can salvage an interesting point from this mess of insinuations. Here’s a paragraph from the Washington Post article:
The predication for the Klan to march, according to a flier passed around Jamaica beforehand, was that “Native-born Protestant Americans” were being “assaulted by Roman Catholic police of New York City.” “Liberty and Democracy have been trampled upon,” it continued, “when native-born Protestant Americans dare to organize to protect one flag, the American flag; one school, the public school; and one language, the English language.”
That part about “one school, the public school” is particularly resonant. Just a week or so ago, American progressives and their friends in the mainstream media were attempting to smear school choice advocates, including President Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, as the heirs of racists because they favor school choice. Here we are shortly after, and the progressives and news media are recycling the allegation that President Trump’s father was connected with racists rallying because… they did not favor school choice.
This somewhat humorous contrast can have a talismanic power. If you feel yourself slipping into the group-think that the right-thinking people demand, consider the confused heads-I-win-tails-you-lose treatment of these mainstreamers when it comes to the Klan and school choice.
One suspects that the Klan in those days took its policy positions entirely for contingent reasons. If feigning a preference for parallel schools helps keep the black folks out of your Southern school, then that’s the right policy; if feigning a devotion to “one public school” helps keep those Catholics from gaining a foothold in your Northern community, then that’s the right policy.
Put that way, this contingency sounds more than a little like the American Left and the mainstream that supports it.