Being an agnostic (and a skeptic, and a centrist), I’m often accused of fence-sitting or playing the field. “Because you are lukewarm,” as the writer of Revelations puts it, “I will spit you out of my mouth”.
To be honest, it’s a fair concern. Walking the line I’m walking is a very narrow path, and it’s often easier to stop and wait for more information than to act. That’s a position of some privilege, and that’s important to acknowledge: picture, for example, staring at your neighbor’s house while it’s burning down, and debating the best possible way to put out the fire. You don’t have anything to lose by delaying action, and that often makes it easier to wait. But in general, when a fire is raging, you really need to put it out.
In this case, the white, torch-bearing fascism celebrated in Virginia this weekend must be unilaterally, unequivocally, condemned. That doesn’t mean we have to restrict free speech or the right to protest. That doesn’t mean we have to play the field, as our president did, and suggest “many sides” are responsible for the fascist hatred. Again, that’s like saying “many houses can be on fire” in front of a house on fire: it’s weak, pandering, and absolutely spineless.
The only nuanced aspect of issuing such a statement of condemnation here is the issue of free speech. Fascists love to speak loudly in a democracy, because it forces their listeners into an odd gambit: “just how great can your democracy be, if it allows for monsters like us to be heard?“. Suppress them and reject their right to speech, and bam — just like that, you’ve admitted that fascist policies can be helpful. They are aware of this, and this is what makes them such insufferable trolls.
As an American, you must allow free speech — even hate speech — and the right to protest. But you can allow an asshole to speak AND simultaneously condemn their fascist, anti-democratic ideals. You can — and should — condemn their stance, remind them of ramifications of history, and loudly stand up for the people they are attacking. And you should do so without the fear of partisan reaction, or the fear of rejecting the principles of free speech when it matters most.
Since the president couldn’t bring himself to make the unilateral dismissal required to put out this flame — and because, like many centrists, I can abuse my privilege by standing on the sidelines — I’ve decided to issue my own statement of condemnation, all the while keeping the democratic ideal of free speech in tact:
“It is with unprecedented irony that a group founded on suppression and hate is allowed to march only by the freedoms granted to them in our constitution — freedoms granted to all citizens, each created equal, each with a vote and each with a voice.
The fascist’s freedom to march undermines the very nature of their cause, reducing the entirety of their politics of hate to one utterly nonsensical proposition: that, somehow, one could reject the ideal of democracy by taking part in it. For the power of equality that allows them to act is granted to us all.
We must never forget, however, that democratic freedoms are not invincible: they can be dismantled when we, the people, choose to empower those who despise them. We must never forget that Hitler himself rose to power from within a liberal democracy. We must never forget that any one torch-bearer in Virginia could be elected president, should we, the people, choose to empower them.
But we must champion our freedoms, even — and especially — speech. Especially when our enemies attempt to use it against us. Whatever heinous ideals are spoken may be spoken freely; they cannot be silenced, but they must be condemned.
For there is no greater antidote to fascism than the freedoms of our democracy. And by the very nature of us partaking in its process, whatever we may say, we are defending it.”
I understand that many of us who left fundamentalism have a hard time stating or believing anything firmly. But in this case, it really couldn’t be any easier.