Of all the flags seen at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month – the Gadsden, the Confederate, the National Socialist – none so caught the media’s attention as the one raised in its immediate aftermath. Responding to the far-right rally, and to the atrocity committed by one of the protestors, the Cheeto Jesus equivocated. There was, he said, blame on “many sides” – a claim he reiterated a few days later in an impromptu press conference at Trump Tower in New York. Indeed he went further, describing as “fine people” many of the protestors who’d attended the march and more than implying that their central grievance, the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, was based on solid reasoning. Even by Trump’s standards this was a shock, and rival politicians and mainstream media wasted no time in denouncing his comments. In his response to the violence in Virginia, they said, the president had revealed his “true colours”.
Personally I doubt Trump has any true colours. He is too chaotic an individual to have a consistent ideology, save for the usual dog-eat-dog shtick that passes for wisdom at the big end of town. But there’s no doubt he represents something in the minds of the millions of Americans who voted for him, and the question of what that is is crucial. One doesn’t need to have read Sun Tzu to know that in order to defeat an enemy it is first necessary to understand it, and at the moment we are presented with very different interpretations of the reasons for Trump’s ascendancy and the rise of rightwing populism more generally. To a great extent these interpretations reflect broader ideological frameworks. These, too, need to be named and delineated before liberals and leftists can begin to construct a coherent platform from which to fight back against right-wing populism in the US and beyond. [More here.]