Thoughts on Charlottesville

I just returned from a long drive to the South. In twelve days, we were in NJ, DE, MD, VA, NC, VA, WV, and PA. Needless to say it was too much driving, and we have vowed that the next vacation will involve staying in one place for the entire time.

We were driving through VA when the problems in Charlottesville broke out. I momentarily considered a detour to Charlottesville to get a story, but I had two very tired kids in the backseat. They just wanted to get home. I feared them more than I feared the skinheads, so we stayed on course back to home.

I’ll be the first to say that I don’t really understand the South. The first time that we visited my in-laws in North Carolina, we toured Fort Macon.  When the guide started talking about the War of Northern Aggression, I whispered to Steve, “what is he talking about?” I had never heard of this term for the Civil War.

But what I do understand is compromise, because that has been the way that the North has dealt with the South since the Revolution. For good or for ill, the country has turned a blind eye to evil practices in order to keep the nation together. When compromise hasn’t worked, there’s been conflict, riots, and war, of course, but then we very quickly return to compromise.

The compromise that we’ve had since 1960’s is that as long as African-Americans can vote and are not overtly discriminated against in terms of education and employment, then we will allow Southerners to maintain certain myths about their past – the whole tragic nobility of the South. We would allow them to honor their ancestors. We would allow them to pretend that slavery casts no shadow on today.

Well, when we uproot statues in their parks, when we punch holes in their myths and traditions, when we point out that grand-daddy was kind of an asshole, then that compromise unravels. There’s no question that the Nazi’s that marched through Charlottesville were a mentally unwell minority. However, there are a number of people down there who have been unhappy about the unraveling compromise. They might not wear swastikas, but they voted for Trump.

Honestly, I am not quite sure of what to do about this situation. Clearly, we can no longer have statues of Robert E. Lee in public parks, but how can you tell a group of people that their past and their ancestors are shit, and then expect that they will vote for our candidates and support our platform?

One way to have Southerners walk away from their culture is to heavily invest in modernity. We stopped in Raleigh on our long drive across North Carolina. Steve’s old college roommate lives there with his adorable wife. They are just about the nicest people that I’ve ever met. And like all super happy people, they started up an ice-cream store. Their business is booming like just about the rest of the town. Raleigh is a mix of Northerners who have come down to the new banking centers, university eggheads and students, and employees in all the new science and tech businesses. They have the largest, newest, shiniest high schools that I’ve ever seen.

Maybe by creating a better future in those states — more places like Raleigh — the South will more easily walk away from the past.

35 thoughts on “Thoughts on Charlottesville

  1. “how can you tell a group of people that their past and their ancestors are shit, and then expect that they will vote for our candidates and support our platform?”

    So how did they do it in Germany?

    Because, it’s not possible to compromise on the truth. At the end of reconstruction, the country compromised on nominally allowing blacks freedom, but essentially giving them no participation in our democracy. Then, the country compromised on segregation, Now, the country compromises on a legal justice system that disportionately affects the people whose ancestors were enslaved. The compromises have been aided and abetted by compromising on the truth.

    Underlying your question is a false belief that respecting that false history white southerners have built for themselves will buy political support. Many of the of the racists marching in Virginia were simply racists — they reject modern America. They are using the South of slavery as a symbol not because it’s a part of their history, but because it is a symbol of racism (thus, the embrace of Nazi symbolism and anti-semetic hatred).

    I do not know how these battles will end, but the only compromises I have to offer is to provide the economic opportunities.


    1. bj,

      One main difference is we didn’t let the Germans think they’d won. We didn’t let them keep a sense of honor or dignity in a “lost cause.” We let them know that they’d lost on no uncertain terms and they were not on the Right Side of History. We forced them to publicly admit that they had committed moral atrocities on an unprecedented scale. We shamed them. We made being a Nazi so shameful, not even Nazis were willing to publicly admit they were Nazis. It didn’t change the hearts and minds of a generation of Germans (dig persistently at elderly Germans and you’ll find plenty of antisemitism and fond feelings towards Hitler), but we did make Nazism so toxic that the chain of transmission was broken. Talking to baby boomer Germans, they grew up learning nothing about the war from home. When they did learn about the horrors of the holocaust as teenagers (late 60s), they were shocked and horrified and disgusted. There is a giant, unbridgeable generation gap between WW2 era Germans and post-war Germans, and that exists because by and large younger Germans were not taught about the glory and honor of Nazism. They were not taught at home that their parents and grandparents were good people, and the evil allies ruined it all. They were not taught to mourn the passing of the Reich that was to last for a thousand years. They share the same disgust we do, with an added layer of perplexity that their own relatives committed these atrocities.


      I completely agree, and I find it kind of baffling that Americans need their ancestors not to be shitty, especially since we live in a country founded on genocide and slavery. If you’re a white person in America, you have at least indirectly benefited from the deaths and enslavement of others. It’s simply a fact, and it doesn’t say much about who we are as people. Doubling down on white supremacy and white resentment does, unfortunately.


  2. “how can you tell a group of people that their past and their ancestors are shit, and then expect that they will vote for our candidates and support our platform?”

    Like bj, I was struck by this sentence.

    We all have ancestors who are shit. Get over it. My ancestors are almost all New Yorkers with a sprinkling of New Englanders. Several of them owned slaves when it was legal (especially the Hudson Valley Dutch, but also the Long Islanders). So. That happened. I’m fascinated by my ancestors, I value them, but I also don’t need to believe they are 100% good people.

    My 97 year old cousin (2nd cousin of my grandfather) recently died in Germany. He was born in 1920. He was almost certainly a Nazi (we never asked him directly; our German wasn’t good enough to communicate about such a sensitive subject). He also could have been a Stasi informer after the war as his town was in East Germany. I understand that and yet it doesn’t destroy me or my identity. It doesn’t affect my decisions about policy or voting.

    So, again, people in the South need to get over it.

    But here’s the thing: I don’t think it’s about the history at all. I think it’s about white privilege, plain and simple. Giving up privilege is hard, and it’s harder when you’ve been taught you’re entitled to it.


    1. I remember being annoyed by the hypocrisy of white male fragility, in which white men seemed to want to be allowed to say derogatory things about women and people of color but couldn’t handle even the mildest criticism in response. And then I realized I was completely wrong, since it was only hypocrisy if one assumed white men saw the relationship as between equals. When I realized that the fragile white men getting upset were doing so because they saw women and people of color as their inferiors and therefore were upset about their insubordination, suddenly it all made sense.


  3. Just like I find people who justify violence against women as “male nature” to be super insulting to men, I find it sort of insulting to rural white people to imply that economic insecurity makes them turn into Nazis. My Norwegian grandmother grew up in rural Norway where there are zero Jewish people. When she got married in 1937, she received a copy of Mein Kampf as a wedding present. She read it (and then burned it in protest). When I asked her if it had influenced her opinion of Jewish people, she looked at me like I’d said the most insulting thing possible. Her response was, “I might not have recognized anything about Jewish people, but I was smart enough to recognize what racial hatred looks like. The only thing I knew about Jews is that they were people, but I grew up learning that people deserved to be treated with respect.” Then I felt bad for having such a low opinion of my grandmother. I feel pretty comfortable holding rural Americans in 2017 to the same standards as rural Norwegians in 1937.


  4. B.I. and Wendy, I see a kind of priggish certitude to your remarks about how white people need to revise their views and confess their sins. I had a back-and-forth with MH at the end of the last post but one, and recommended to him an article to which Instapundit had pointed his readers,

    “Treating people equally has given way to making all of us ambassadors for our race. This is a classic theme in critical race theory, that people of color carry a burden of representation that white people do not. But foisting the baggage of representation onto white people doesn’t solve that problem. It makes it worse.
    Treating people equally has given way to making all of us ambassadors for our race.
    White people are being asked—or pushed—to take stock of their whiteness and identify with it more. This is a remarkably bad idea. The last thing our society needs is for white people to feel more tribal. The result of this tribalism will not be a catharsis of white identity, improving equality for non-whites. It will be resentment towards being the only tribe not given the special treatment bestowed by victimhood.
    A big part of the reason white Americans have been willing to go along with policies that are prejudicial on their face, such as affirmative action, is that they do not view themselves as a tribe. Given the inequality of resources favoring whites in our society, it is a good thing that white people view themselves as the ones without an accent. Should that change, white privilege (whatever one views that to be) will not be eviscerated—it will be entrenched.”

    “education student named John, from a small, non-diverse town. In his final essay for the class John explained his reaction to McIntosh: “I got the feeling from it that it was more about trying to make white males feel guilty for things they most likely had no control over. Being a white male I got a little worked up about the whole list since I don’t feel like I have anything to apologize for.” John rolled his eyes at privilege theory. However, his teacher reported that other ways of exploring racism and multiculturalism such as films on race relations and historical texts broadened John’s empathy towards non-white people.”

    One of Instapundit’s regularly repeated lines is, ‘You want more Trump? This is how you get more Trump’. I think he is quite right, and that the sort of attitudes the two of you are pushing are leading in directions which have already put us into a disastrous presidency.


    1. “I see a kind of priggish certitude to your remarks about how white people need to revise their views and confess their sins.”

      You can’t stop seeing disagreement in terms of morality and sincerity (i.e., your incessant impotent whining about virtue signaling), and I’ve finally figured out why. It’s because at heart you know it’s morally wrong to support white supremacism, but you just can’t give it up because it feels so good, so the only way to rationalize it is to cast the non-white-supremacists as prigs and nags and thus undermine the very idea of right and wrong. And when you say you’re not racist, you know it’s a lie, which is why you have to accuse non-white-supremacists of being insincere.


      1. Wendy, this is the purest piece of Bulverism I have seen from you yet. Here, let me give it back to you: Of course you say this, because you are a parlor lefty, and that’s the kind of thing parlor lefties say.
        Or, you could actually respond to the statements made. Your choice.


      2. Why? You never responded with anything but chaff and redirection to the questions anybody else has asked.


  5. I haven’t read all your well articulated comments, but I have a comment/question about something that Laura wrote. I have a feeling that this statement may not be a good description of all the thousands who descended upon Charlottesville. I don’t know if they “were [or are] a mentally unwell minority.” A minority (of people in the U.S.) yes, but I think they know what they are doing… what exactly did you mean, Laura? Sorry if I’m being nit-picky with language.

    I really like what you say about the South in general. Now, here’s a question that one of my history professor friends posed: Why such a raucus in Charlottesville about the removal of a statue when they didn’t dare go to New Orleans to protest the same way the recent removal or General Lee statue there? (last May). My short answer is that Blacks are actually a majority of the population there (60% acc. tp Gppg;e_. They are a sizeable percentage of C’ville population (22%*), but not a majority.

    * source:


  6. I do not need white people to feel guilty for the atrocities committed by other white people — only to not venerate them or deny their wrongdoing.

    I think we are going through what the Germans had to go through at the end of WW2 — which in this context is a complete rejection of racist institutions on which this country was built and a sincere effort by all of us to mitigate the harms of the past. Us, including me, whose ancestors played no role perpetrating slavery in this country, because all Americans are heirs to that past, including the new ones.

    If this attitude drives ordinary white people (as opposed to the disturbed ones) to the ugliness being exhibited in Virginia? Well I guess we are in a state of siege until we win.


  7. “Given the inequality of resources favoring whites in our society”

    I cannot for the life of me understand what that is supposed to mean, and I mean that completely non-rhetorically.


  8. My own view is that the current residents of (say) New Orleans should decide what statues are displayed there, and I don’t much care. But I was struck by how several of my friends, who would have been the first to demand the removal of Confederate statues, were outraged when the residents of Budapest took down a statue of Georg Lukacs. (Remember him?–“the greatest Marxist since Marx”–staple of my youth.) Do we also tell red diaper babies, or their children, that their ancestors were shit?


    1. Really, you “What about”-ism is “What about Gyorgy Lukacs?” Did several of your friends go to Hungary with torches to “protest” the Budapest citizens decision to take down the statue?


      1. No. None of my liberal friends went to Budapest to protest, none of my conservative (or Trump-supporting) friends went to Charlottesville. We mostly just sit around and argue. Parlor pinks (or the right-wing equivalent), all of us.


  9. It’s good to remember that Instapundit also suggested his readers drive over protestors. I may have stopped reading him, but he clearly still has readers.


  10. Maybe by creating a better future in those states — more places like Raleigh — the South will more easily walk away from the past.

    I’m not sure that’s right. At least, I would bet the Research Triangle has grown since I was there, but in those same years North Carolina Republicans have taken the lead in rolling back the Voting Rights Act.


      1. North Carolina has been systematically, deliberately, smoking-gun style (there are emails) gerrymandered to minimize the impact of democratic votes and the votes of african-americans.

        Though with no smoking guns or institutional racism, Maryland looks pretty gerrymandered to minimize the impact of republican votes. States like Washington, which have non-partisan drawing of districts, have representation that is more reflective of the distribution of votes in their population.


      2. “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America” by Ari Berman details the NC gerymandering/voter suppression efforts.


  11. how can you tell a group of people that their past and their ancestors are shit, and then expect that they will vote for our candidates and support our platform?

    I don’t think anyone who lives today needs to feel personally attacked by someone pointing out the obvious truth that the Confederacy was shit unless they’ve chosen to adopt it as an organization to identify with. It’s over a hundred and fifty years ago — an attack on Confederate symbols isn’t an attack on any white person now living in the South unless that white person decides to take it that way.

    For anyone who looks at the history of the world, and decides that the Confederacy is the part of it they want to get sentimental about? I do think it’s productive to point out that they’re being sentimental about an organization founded on an ideology of racialized torture and murder. People who are still sticking with it despite that probably aren’t going to vote for our candidates. I’m betting that eventually, decent people will outnumber them.


  12. I can’t leap from the actions of a few to condemning entire towns, regions, or cultural groups. I have a hard enough time trying to figure out what motivates family members.

    Local people–anywhere–will often object to the removal of local landmarks, especially if it seems to be coming from outside the area. Witness, a group of small town Mainers object to a proposal to remove derelict pilings:

    In the case in Maine, I think I would side with the local citizens to the rich, out-of-state developer. I also wonder if it’s a new trend on the part of summer people to cite “global warming” to do whatever they were planning to do anyway. I agree the derelict posts in the water aren’t serving any useful purpose, but it is not proper to leave the citizens of the town out of the decision.

    In Boston, a 17 year old man is accused of vandalizing the Holocaust memorial: This is the second incidence of vandalism on this monument, the first having been committed by a 21 year old man with a history of mental illness.

    It’s likely this new offender also has a history of mental illness. Looking at the pictures of the Charlottesville riots, it strikes me that many of the protesters (on both sides) are young men. They probably don’t have wives or girlfriends, because then they’d be unlikely to participate in actions that could result in a criminal record. And no matter where you are, being a neo-Nazi is clear evidence of being a stupid loser.

    Nicholas Eberstadt has drawn attention to the issue in _Men Without Work_. There are young men who are not employed, not married, and who are not doing much other than watch entertainment. There is the old saying, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”


    1. I haven’t read the full thread yet, but I wanted to reply to Cranberry.

      “Looking at the pictures of the Charlottesville riots, it strikes me that many of the protesters (on both sides) are young men.”

      I was noting their northern pallor. White people who live in the South don’t look like that (at least not the ones who ever leave their homes). I can literally freckle up while crossing a Walmart parking lot this time of year.

      Also, I believe Serbs may be overrepresented in the alt-right. I’m not an expert on the South Slavs, but I suspect that Peter Cvjetanovic (the shouting guy in one of the tiki photos) is Serbian-American (I’m 90% sure he’s a former Yugoslavian of some sort).

      Needless to say, Serbian-Americans are not thick on the ground among indigenous white residents of Southern states.

      “Nicholas Eberstadt has drawn attention to the issue in _Men Without Work_. There are young men who are not employed, not married, and who are not doing much other than watch entertainment. There is the old saying, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.””

      I see a lot of that online in the manosphere. You have a mixture in those parts of a) malice b) technical skill and c) apparently unlimited free time.


    2. The removal of Confederate statues is not coming from “outside the area.” It mostly comes from population turnover, as blacks and people without Southern roots come to predominate in certain areas. (I’m sure that there are rural areas in the South where the Confederate memorials are quite secure.) Furthermore, it usually comes from local, democratically elected bodies, in contrast to (say) legal abortion and gay marriage, which have come from unelected Harvard graduates in Washington.

      I don’t claim to know the hearts of my fellow citizens, particularly, but I doubt that the removal of Confederate statues is making Trump voters, given what I said about its source. That said, it also isn’t going to win many working class whites over to the Democratic party, if that is someone’s goal. (It seems to be Laura’s, though many on the left seem to prefer having nothing to do with those yahoos, even to the point of having become rabid free traders, now that they realize that the white working class is on the other side.)


  13. In reply to Laura’s twitter bar, I agree that Trump is trying to create his own party. Or maybe just to destroy the Republican Party. I think the facts support either.

    If the Republicans ever do find some convictions they are willing to stand up for, I strongly recommend they put some super delegates into their primary system.


    1. Apparently Rupert Murdoch is pressuring Trump to dump Bannon. Fox News knows that if they want to save the Republican Party brand, they’re going to have to turn on Trump. It’s going to be interesting to see if the Republican establishment will put the long-term survival of the party over short term power.


  14. Something significant has happened to me today. In protection of my husband, my daughters, two of whom identify more with their Jewish heritage, I can no longer have any social connections with Trump voters or defenders. There are limits, there are lines. This weekend we are burying my mother’s ashes. Some of my father’s family voted for Trump. I have told my siblings that I would prefer these members of my father’s family not attend. I will have nothing to do with them. I cannot spend time with those who refuse to acknowledge this threat to the humanity of my husband and daughters presented by Nazi flags or “Jews will not replace us.”

    I have felt anger all year, but never the slow boiling rage I feel tonight.


    1. Hugs, Lisa. That must be hard. I have a family member who is a former police officer and current Trump supporter. I see his issues as very complex, and so I actually see the issues of many of these Trump supporters as complex, but it doesn’t make it easy to deal with at all, and above all we have to practice self-care in these difficult times.


    2. Good for you. One of the joys of modern life is having a greater degree of control over who we associate with.

      I have curtailed my, and more importantly my children’s, contact with my in-laws who are Trump supporters of the evangelical christian variety. I’ve heard my FIL say many racist things in the past and was always willing to look the other way to some extent to keep the peace. My children were younger and racist sentiments were more deprecated by the culture at large, at least in public.

      After Trump’s election that is no longer the case. I don’t feel like my in-laws are trustworthy or good people that I can leave my children alone with. They do still see them on a limited basis, but I try to limit their interactions and I will never leave them alone with them every again.


  15. My husband and I were talking about how if this were a TV show, it probably never would have even been made into a pilot. The script would be considered implausible, heavy handed, and the satire would be completely missing the mark by attacking a straw man. I’m picturing a writing room in 2014 where the head writer sits up and says, “ok guys, the moral takeaway of this episode is going to be ‘Nazism is bad.'” Think of the eye rolling and laughter.

    Instead, in 2017, I am seriously wondering what would happen if our president gave a Nazi salute at his next press conference.


    1. Alas, the surreal can become real. (I’m not saying it will happen here, but it has happened.) George Orwell wrote an essay about H.G. Wells, noting how baffled Wells was, that he had devoted his entire life to promoting a technocratic, hedonistic utopia, a vision for which not six people in Europe would cross the room, while across the Channel a madman ranted about blood and honor, and millions flocked to his banner.


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