“Doomed to Repeat It”: Beware The Rise of Political Radicalism in the United States

Richard Spencer, white-nationalist and advocate of ethnic cleansing, shares a “selfie” at Donald Trump’s Inauguration.

It is no secret, nor surprise, that the current Presidential administration has inspired passion and activism within the United States. While protests and speeches compliment the tenets of civic duty well, there seems to be a lurking zeal that is ready to devour the American public. On the one hand, the alt-right and other ethno-nationalist, jingoistic groups have determined Donald Trump’s ascendence to the Presidency to be an invitation to surge the mainstream of politics and begin recruiting disillusioned conservatives to their radical causes; we need only look at Milo Yiannopoulos’s sudden celebrity and Richard Spencer’s smug conversations with every camera that comes his way to determine such. On the other hand, the Black Bloc — representing anti-fascist, pro-communist movements — decided that now is the time to take their agenda more mainstream; the fact that many progressive Americans now feel a desperation to protect individual and civil liberties ought to enable their success in recruiting efforts. And here lays our American divide, as well as an ugly truth: Political Radicalism is on the rise in America, and the chaos that might result from a Trump presidency, as well as the passions that it has and will continue to inspire, only serve to grant these fringe elements within our society the sturdiest of platforms.

Any student of politics or ideology might tell you that these fringe movements resemble — if not totally mirror — Fascism and Communism, respectively, though any student of history might tell you that the circumstances that enabled such to rise in the early 20th Century are currently non-existent. However, there is one caveat on this historical observation: these ideologies established themselves well before their proselytes ascended to power, and the actions that we are witnessing their proponents undertake today are likely them bracing for new storms.

Steve Bannon, former CEO of Breitbart News, and current Chief Strategist for the White House. (Associated Press)

Not without pause, storms are being readily brewed by populist movements across the world, to include Donald Trump’s administration. Within the first week of his presidency, Trump has kept good on promises to begin rolling the ball on his “America First” agenda, where he is attempting to shrink the federal workforce and separate the United States from its international relationships. This circumstance is troubling because many international schemes that have persisted into today have served the primary function of combatting the policy failures that lead to great-power wars and the power-grab efforts of political radicals. Every failsafe established by greater liberalism that is eroded — such as the flourishing free and independent press, unifying trade deals and other international unions, and established human rights watches — readies the opening of the hatch that has protected us against the all-devouring fires of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Thus, recognizing these troubling times and the potential for mass disunity, the US’s political radicals now seem inspired to sow more division and chaos in order to accomplish their goals. Slowly, each person that disagrees with us is becoming an enemy, somebody not to be engaged or trusted — and this line of thinking is dangerous. This is not to counter my own point and say that radical movements and their proponents shouldn’t be recognized as dangerous, but that it is imperative we not let common political divisions force a wedge between us that shifts the mainstream to the radical fringes.

Milo Yiannopolous rides into a speech on a throne. (shantrising; Breitbart)
Milan Black Bloc May Day Riots, 2015. (Reuters)

The telltale signs of political radicalism’s ascent can be found within the 24 hour news cycle, where reports on great political tension and dramatic political trends have been on an uptick. One seemingly innocuous trend, the rise of blocking, muting, and un-friending people on social media after the election, is a sign that the current political divide is shifting people from hovering around the “center” to hovering further left or right on the ideological spectrum. In compliment to this, witnessing Breitbart articles and hateful blog posts be shared and relished by the right, as well as Milo Yiannopoulos’s events selling out, seems to be showing a greater acceptance of the alt-right’s ideological standpoints — those standpoints being ethnic cleansing on the most extreme end, and the championing of racially, sexually, and religiously discriminatory practices on the least. Sadly, most on the right do not realize that they’re jumping into a pool that warms them up from mocking social justice movements to a boiling over with hatred of “others,” a trend that is typical extremist recruiting strategies.

Black Bloc Propaganda Poster. (GuerillaNews)

On the left, various pages shoveling ludicrous memes and less than thoughtful articles are being championed by almost as many people as the promoters of Russian propaganda on the right, something that can only serve as a catalyst to more ignorance and less-willingness to compromise. As well, the sudden attention given to the Black Bloc after their destruction of Northwest DC streets only serves to boost their recruiting efforts while social progressives are in a state of desperation and disarray. A movement whose members punch neo-Nazis in the face has appeared, and their actors and actions are being celebrated without people realizing that these people can be just as dangerous as neo-Nazis, even if they don’t hate the same way. The potential for members of the left to join such efforts in response to the rise of Fascism, as was such in the early 20th century, increases the more that the radical right establishes its foothold. While it is hard, if not impossible, to gain sympathy for a man that advocates for ethnic cleansing getting punched in the face, in these dire times we must be cautious not to get roped into the radical movements that tell us they will operate as our fist. It is high time that progressives stop turning the other cheek, but anybody and everybody is capable of undermining democracy — even if the left is yet to be its greatest threat.

Black Bock rioters tag and set ablaze a limo in NW DC on J20. (AP, John Minchillo)

Ultimately, the tactics of the Bolsheviks in the 1905 revolution (a la #DisruptJ20 riots), and the tactics of the Nazis in their 1920s theatrical performances (a la Milo Yiannopoulos), are not relics of the past any longer. They are the movements of today. The only factor missing that enables either of their ascents is the factor of true desperation and chaos, things that the Trump administration’s efforts only serve to bring to the fore if they are not careful. As well, mainstream conservative support for these efforts is just as dangerous now as it was in the Weimar Republic, even if our situations are not nearly the same — because one day they can be — and the true Fascists do not control the White House yet — because one day they might. Truly, we must combat such, but we must also resist the temptations of radicalism and the ease of alienation. If we do not, then the political radicals rise, and we all lose — “…doomed to repeat it” is not an option.

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