Moments after President Trump’s historic inauguration last Friday, Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer was speaking to CBS News in a live interview when Suddenly a masked man — likely affiliated with the leftist terrorist group, ANTIFA — ran in front of the camera and sucker-punched Spencer, knocking him to the ground.
This attack, and its implications, inspired jubilation across the left wing blogosphere. The New York Times, for instance, published an article titled “Attack on Alt-Right Leader Has Internet Asking: Is it O.K. to Punch a Nazi?” The answer, unsurprisingly, from most of those interviewed was an unequivocal yes. One woman, who publishes a Tumblr blog called “Unequivocally Hilarious” wrote that “If you’re having a conversation about whether or not it’s okay to punch a Nazi, you’re having the wrong conversation.” Another interviewee, Twitter personality Kara Calavera, tweeted that “punching Nazis is the most [American] thing to do.”
The most noteworthy thing about this Spencer fiasco, however, was what was left largely unmentioned in this fountain of ink — on the other side of Washington, Republican commentator and pollster Frank Luntz was also attacked in a similar fashion, likely by members of the same group that attacked Spencer. Interestingly enough, Luntz and Spencer come from opposite ends of the right-wing spectrum — during the primaries, Luntz was a denizen of the “Never Trump” movement, and to my knowledge, didn’t vote for Donald Trump in the general election either.
Moreover, in counter-protests to the leftist demonstrations across the country, Trump supporters were met with similar violence. Live footage from Washington on the day of the inauguration shows counter-protesters being shouted at, threatened with sexual assault, beaten up, and one woman even being set on fire.
To ANTIFA and groups like it, there is no difference between moderates like Luntz and open white nationalists like Spencer, nor between the thousands of counter-protesters of every ideology in between. To the Left, the vast and diverse people of the Trump coalition are merely obstacles standing in the way of their political goals, and for that reason — in the eyes of many — violence against the Right is justified.
Even more emblematic of the current political climate is the counter-protesters’ response to this disturbing turn of events. As is not uncommon in any Republican gathering, you could find in the crowds of counter protesters at least one person proudly waving the Gadsden flag — a yellow banner with a snake printed above the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” If movements are defined by their symbols, then “Don’t Tread on Me” paints these conservatives as effete reactionaries.
Leftists agitators and groups like ANTIFA have figuratively declared war on the Right. To them, anyone on the Right is fair game, an enemy, and worthy of getting beaten up. The Right’s response is not to fight back or, God forbid, use the heavy hand of the government against these anarchists; but rather to just stand there, taking it, begging for mercy, waving their flag. “Please, please, please don’t step on the snake.”
This underscores a problem that has challenged the Right throughout all of American history, and has been particularly debilitating towards modern conservatives. A conservative, by definition, abides by their ideology, values and traditions that are perpetually on the path towards decline. If they were not declining, then the terms conservative — which derives from the operative “to conserve” — and liberal would not arise.
The Left, on the other hand, represents new, revolutionary forces which overthrow established (usually conservative) social and political orders — as such, the new invariably defeats the old, giving rise to new establishments. History belongs to those who change it, never to those battling to rewind it. This is why the (then) Leftist Puritans overthrew the Royal House of Stuart in 17th century Britain, why the Jacobins overthrew Louis XVI, why the Bolsheviks overthrew the Romanovs.
Of course, none of these examples work as an analogy for today’s ANTIFA because — without a modicum of doubt — the Left is the establishment in 21st century America. The entire culture is Leftist. The entire media (including ostensibly conservative networks like Fox) operates on liberal premises. Almost every Hollywood star is a liberal. All of the country’s largest corporations are Leftist and controlled by Leftist directors. The university system functions in a way that does not allow students to graduate as conservatives unless they entered as conservatives.
Absurdly, the masked men waving black banners of anarchy who attacked Richard Spencer and Frank Luntz could recite their ideology before a gathering of Fortune 500 CEOs and the managing partners of all their law firms, and their speech would offend literally not one person in the room. In fact, almost all would actually agree with them!
Indeed, it is the Right — particularly Trump supporters — who are the true heirs to the revolutionary mantle and the underground, punk aesthetic that would guide them towards a more compelling narrative. Yet they choose to reject it. They wave flags that beg for mercy. Their slogans can be summarized by the phrase “please leave us alone.” They behave like reactionaries losing their country, when they should act like revolutionaries taking it back.
Is there anything Trump supporters can do to make sure they don’t repeat the mistakes of past conservative movements? They can start by permanently excising the words “we just want to be left alone” from their parlance, and tearing up those accursed yellow banners of passive reaction. If they were to do this sincerely, their movement would cease to be “conservative” in its essence, and would evolve into a force capable of shaping history.