Back when I was a drunk, everything was always someone else’s fault. Eventually, I discovered, with Jimmy Buffett, that it was “my own damn fault.” Once I accepted that, I could get sober and build something out of the ruins. I no longer had to be destructive….
Denial of responsibility, the flip side of bootstrap individualism, extends far beyond addicts. It’s the core attraction of the White Supremacy movement, too—just as it was for Germany’s National Socialists, a connection the leaders of the newer movement draw upon. The White Supremacists—and there are some within my own family—are generally people who have never lived up to their dreams and need to find someone to blame. They are full-throttle angry, off the rails but, instead of really taking control of the engine, they are riding it right off the cliff, imagining they are about to fly.
I am not talking about the leaders of this movement. They are different, are manipulators. They are trying to build their own successes off of the resentments of others. No, I am talking about the people who listen to them, people who still believe they could make it if they stopped being subverted by whatever evil forces they imagine are out to get them. Yes, among them are people who would love to rise to the leadership—and they might—but most of them will remain the angry and driven, herded toward stampede and never in control.
Deriding these people, laughing at them, accomplishes nothing. It only feeds the emotions others are manipulating. These folk were raised to believe in their own success but have failed. They yearn for independence yet depend on others—wives (they are generally men), parents and even children or the government. The White Supremacy movement gives them a sense of independence and place (as ‘superior white men’) that has been eroded from their lives. The symbols and uniformity they grasp give them a sense of belonging. Their weapons give them the idea of power.
They are powerful. Or, at least, dangerous. These men can just as quickly become killers as did the Nazi recruits between the world wars. They are not to be toyed with—something they know and something that attracts others to the movement.
Through White Supremacy, too many young white men finally see a path to the kind of success and power they believe is their birthright. No longer are they floundering in a world that, quite frankly, cares little for them at all. Coalesced, they believe they have a real chance of wresting control of that world from the forces that have deviated from their ‘straight and narrow.’
It does nothing to attack them, either figuratively through print or even at the family dinner table, physically or through the power of state authority. Attack confirms them in their beliefs, authenticating their power through the fear they have built in their current ‘oppressors.’ They cannot be fought directly, for they love losing—for now. Each defeat makes them stronger, bringing new members and demonstrating resolve and ability to endure.
Each defeat, don’t forget, makes it easier for them to turn into killers later.
And those leaders of theirs? The inhumanity of the Nazis did not appear overnight. It was carefully cultivated over a decade and more. Its power, though, rested on the base. Lopping off the head would not have stopped it.
Unless you want to destroy your foe completely, you need to offer an avenue of retreat and a way of salvaging their sense of worth in defeat. This is one of the lessons of the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I, when Germany was put into an impossible position, one that led it to rise again as a particularly pernicious enemy to France, Great Britain, the United States and, yes, the Soviet Union. We need to take down to a much more personal level, asking how do we, in a Trump-besotted milieu of aggrievement, turn this growing cadre of disaffected young white men down a less destructive path.
Sneering at them, calling them racist and making them feel shut out unless they change doesn’t work. That only confirms their belief in their own persecution. As the government we have right now likes these White Supremacists, we cannot expect it to develop any positive programs that might change them. If we are to stem this fascist threat, we are going to have to do it as individuals.
But, again, how?
Through peace and love? By sitting down with them and talking? No. These don’t work on the alienated, and the American liberalism of the past 87 years certainly has accomplished alienation—especially in its recent manifestations. It have made millions of Americans feel disenfranchised. Just think back on the number of times you urban and suburban residents have heard casual derogations of rural white Americans, ‘rednecks,’ ‘hillbillies,’ ‘crackers,’ ‘mountain outwash’ and the like. Rural Americans know about this and recognize the hypocrisy of people so sensitive to insults to other groups.
The racial, ethnic, religious and even regional animosities of the United States extend everywhere. When we fight only one or two while indulging another, we solve no problems.
Just as we have been advocates of social programs for other groups, we need to start doing the same for these disaffected Americans. We could start with things that would get broad support—like real service for veterans, something the right backs tepidly, at best, and which would have the added benefit of helping people of all races. The same might be said of combating the opioid problem, which needs more than hand-wringing and lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies. Addressing both veteran and opioid problems could be popular with politicians across the spectrum but it is the left that can provide the impetus for something more effective than what’s going on now, for the left believes government can have positive impact.
We could also initiate small-business subsistence programs for small-town and rural communities that could include micro loans and subvention for rural establishments endangered, for example, by internet retailers from the metropoles that subvert local retailers, leaving some communities without the hubs that make community sustainable. New infrastructure projects could make it easier for the people of rural and small-town America to get to the cities and vice versa.
At the same time, we could advocate for better community-college funding and development of major and certificate programs more in line with both career possibilities and the interests of recent high-school graduates. This could go along with a refocusing of public education funds to actual public schools where students could feel supported rather than warehoused. Such revitalization would go a long way toward providing a real sense of future possibilities outside of cult-like movements such as White Supremacism. While they could not stop the hatreds so pervasive in America, they could reduce one of its most vile manifestations.
Such programs would aim at the future. What do we do right now when faced with threats from White Supremacy and its fellow travelers?
We can learn from what we do when we encounter a drunk in the family, someone who can decide their own fate but who can’t give up the path they are on. Deprogramming doesn’t work unless the person being deprogrammed cooperates. White Supremacists see a path to a glorious future of resurgent Eurocentric world domination with themselves as central forces. That they are living a fantasy doesn’t matter; the alternatives they see are bleak, below what they had once expected for their lives. They see positive alternatives as equivalents to the fantasies they were sold as children.
At this point in our national crisis, the White Supremacists are not even the primary enemy of the American way—though they certainly could become that. The way to combat them right now is to never embarrass them or put them down and to confront our broader problems of race, ethnicity, religion and class.
Doing so may be hard, and may go against our sense of the danger the White Supremacists represent, but reacting to them simply as people is best, acknowledging them but never falling into the traps they set, traps designed to reinforce their self-perceptions as a persecuted minority. Traps designed to make us react poorly and become the enemy.
If we have the strength to react to provocation without rancor while rebuilding necessary supports for rural and small-town America, we can avoid the White Supremaist bullets in the gun even now turning toward our heads. We certainly can’t head them off, as the antifa want to, by reacting to threats of violence of our own.
Nor can we believe that nonviolent resistance as they grow more powerful will be enough. It won’t be. Resistance, to be effective, must start before the violence begins.
Creating huge new social programs aimed at America’s struggling rural communities along with treating White Supremacists without anger until they step over the line into violence is really all we can do right now—if we expect to win and see the United States continue as a whole and not as a fragmenting mess. It’s a hard task, for it goes against our very human desire to confront an enemy head-on.
Remember to think about them and their own reactions: it’s hard to blame someone for your own failings when they are offering you a path to recovery of your dreams without blaming you for having lost them. It’s hard for a number of reasons, but mainly because you start to discover it’s your own damn fault.
It’s hard for all of us, but it’s the only way forward.