My Facebook feed is loaded with conservatives posting angry memes defending confederate statues and attacking those who marched against the Nazis in Virginia and Massachusetts. This, of course, follows three responses from Trump, one of which was clearly scripted, and the other two of which focused more anger on the protesters than on the Nazis.
In other words, conservatives saw people protesting Nazis, and they became extremely defensive.
This is strange, to say the least. One becomes defensive when attacked. So the question becomes, why did these folks see attacks on Nazis as attacks on them?
Okay, I know what you’re thinking… and I think it’s wrong. Sure, many of those Nazis were clearly Trump-ites, but that doesn’t mean the reverse is true—that many of the Trump-ites are Nazis. That logic doesn’t work. (Consider: all motorcycles are vehicles, but only a small fraction of vehicles are motorcycles.) Plus, I know many of these Facebook folks. I disagree with their politics—deeply, profoundly, in some cases—but they’re not Nazis. They’re wrong, and sometimes horrible, but not Nazis.
So what’s going on?
There are two broad ways we can be driven to become members of a community—and I mean any community, from Yankees fan to Southern Baptist to runner to liberal/conservative/Democratic/Republican. First, we can positively identify with the people and ideas of that community. In other words, we share some positive elements, characteristics, loves, beliefs, understandings of the world, etc. But we can also become members of a community by sharing an opposition to something with other members of that community.
In other words, you can be a Democrat because you think Obama was great or because you support a higher minimum wage or universal health care. But you can also become a Democrat because that community, like you, hates Trump or opposes the Iraq war or something like that. Burke (Kenneth, that is) called this identification by antithesis. A simplified view of this is below:
The thing is, the modern Republican party no longer stands FOR much of anything; the green side of the picture above is largely empty but for a few items like guns, the military, police. However, the red side is jammed because Republicans are mostly AGAINST things. What things? Immigrants. Government. Taxes. “Urban” people. Welfare. China. Europe. That list goes on for quite a while. But mostly, they stand against “The Left.” Hating liberals (progressives, Democrats, whatever you want to call them) is far and away the most significant element of modern Republican/conservative identity. If the left is for it, they’re against it. Update daily.
So what happens when a bunch of liberals go out and protest Nazis? Republicans find themselves in a bind. They hate liberals, but liberals hate Nazis, and they sure can’t agree with liberals. The answer, apparently: attack “both sides.”
There’s always more to it. And in this case, some of the obvious answers are obviously correct. Republicans have, since the 60s, become the Southern party, and so have a knee-jerk defense of anything related to the South. They also identify with guns, and it was the Nazis who had the guns. Plus, to be a member of a community is generally to rally to the side of others in the community, even when they do something horrible. Like excusing Nazis.
But in the end, I think many of my conservative Facebook acquaintances would have been happy to condemn Nazis… If only liberals hadn’t done it first.
(By the way, for those still paying attention, this notion of identification by antithesis also means that no, we can’t just get along. Hating the left is what defines much of the right, so the left can’t just adopt moderate stances and win these folks over. The hatred isn’t based on the stances. They hate the left for the same reason that Yankees fans hate the Red Sox, which is to say, for no logical reason at all. It’s just part of being a member of that community.)