By Jim Sterling
With pitchforks and torches in hand, a mob of white nationalists has organized in Charlottesville, Virginia, leading authorities to declare a state of emergency. Okay–they didn’t actually have pitchforks and their torches were of the tiki variety, but when you’re equipping your hate rally at the local Walmart, you work with what you can find.
What’s revealing about this mob is not that there are a few hundred angry white people in the south yearning for the days of Old Dixie–that’s pretty normal. What’s revealing about this mob has been the way the left and left-leaning media have used this group of hateful malcontents to tar a huge segment of the American population.
Such is the volatile mixture of media and populism. The news media feeds on fear and sensationalism. Populism uses that fear and turns it into political movements. Wash, rinse, repeat. Both populist political factions and the sensationalist media need each other. Both make the other into larger than life forces that they tell us we must oppose. But in reality, each only commands the power we as a society give to them.
The hate mongers and zealots organizing in Charlottesville do not represent the right wing, the Republican Party, or Trump supporters. The clash happening there between nationalists and counter protesters does not represent America. It’s simply two of our most annoying and embarrassing elements feeding into each other’s delusions and biases.
Likewise, the mainstream left is not represented by BLM protestors blocking highways or people chanting about killing cops. Toxic, extreme elements exist on both sides of the spectrum. It’s populism and media sensationalism that makes them seem larger than they are. In fact, painting everyone who disagrees with you as an extremist is a great way to bolster extremism. This is a lesson the left has yet to learn and a mentality that significantly contributed to the election of Donald Trump.
The best way to deal with extremism in this country is to marginalize it. That means ignoring it to a large extent. Of course, in the age of digital non-stop news and career activism, that’s not likely to happen. At some point, the rational, middle of the road Americans will have to reclaim control of our national discourse or the frayed edges of our societal fabric will spread.