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Three Americans lost their lives and more than 30 were injured in connection to a violent white nationalist and neo-Nazi rally held on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, hometown of the third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson and a famous college town in the U.S. state of Virginia.
Right-wing nationalists even chanted Nazi slogans as they marched through the University of Virginia. “We are determined to take our country back,” said former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader David Duke at the rally. Just like what he said, if we carefully comb the trail of the United States after World War II, we can realize that the country’s ideology is retreating step by step and going back from “West First” to “America First” and then to “White Supremacy.”
After World War II, with “West First” as its ideology, the United States has established and led the Bretton Woods System since 1944 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 1949. The word “West” here includes not only America itself, but also its allied countries in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Oceania, Asia and other parts of the world. Supported by such an ideology, the reputation of the United States reached its climax in 1991 when the country successfully disintegrated its antagonistic archrival the Soviet Union and the Soviet-led Warsaw Treaty Organization, which was composed of many socialist countries in Eastern Europe at that time. To pave the way for those socialist countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America to transform from socialist to capitalist systems, the U.S. authorities invited all parties concerned to meet in Washington in 1990, which resulted in the Washington Consensus.
With the robust development of China and other Asian countries during the past decades, it is obvious that the focus of the world has changed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, the global economic engine has also shifted from North America and Western Europe to East Asia. Due to the decline of its comprehensive strength and international influence, the United States is more divided, more sensitive and more suspicious, less united, less confident and less humorous than before. That is the reason why U.S. President Donald Trump scaled back by advocating “America First” when he took office in January this year. With “America First” as its ideology, the United States turned out to be more self-protective and ambiguous in economic and foreign policies. Under these circumstances, its allies all over the world are now excluded out of the primary group and their interests are subordinate to those of the United States.
The rally and violent clash in Virginia last week had further pushed back the country’s ideology from “America First” to “White Supremacy.” White supremacists and neo-Nazis, most of them young men in their 20s and 30s, gathered in Charlottesville to protest against the city’s decision to remove a statue of pro-slavery Confederate General Robert Lee (1807-1870) in Emancipation Park. During the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, General Lee represented the interests of the wealthy white plantation owners from the South. The Civil War was a watershed event in U.S. politics. Lee was later defeated by the North army led by President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), who was in favor of the abolishment of the country’s slavery system and the liberation of black people.
Since its independence from Britain in 1776, the United States has been famous for its openness and inclusiveness. People in the United States are proud of this belief as it is designed to encourage principled disagreements and reasoned debate. The country’s excellence is also greatly supported by successfully attracting talented people from all over the world. However, its cornerstone of freedom and democracy during the past centuries is greatly challenged and wavers today.
President Trump’s ambiguous, fence-sitting stance on the Charlottesville clashes has drawn wide criticism. After evoking a storm of protest when the president put the blame “on many sides” in his initial statement on Aug. 12, he condemned white supremacists as criminals and rioters in his second statement on Aug. 14. However, he addressed the issue again a day later and re-ignited the firestorm by blaming “both sides.”
On the contrary, a tweet by former U.S. President Barack Obama had gained 2.8 million “likes” in several days. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion,” Obama said.
The Virginia violence is only one symptom of American society that is afflicted with racism and other social problems. Although the violence was triggered by the planned removal of a historic statue, the deep-rooted cause of the incident is the ever-increasing demographic changes in the United States, which have gradually increased the sense of crisis and identity confusion among traditional white Americans.
In 1964, Digby Baltzell summarized the definition of a pure American to be “WASP,” which is an abbreviation for “White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.” Can you imagine a United States with only white and protestant people with Anglo-Saxon descent? No matter if we want it or not, it seems that the United States is really on the way to becoming such a country.
1964年迪格比·波茨尔在他的著作《新教当权者：美国的贵族和社会等级》一书中给纯正的美国人下了一个定义是“WASP” (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant的首位字母缩写)，意为安格鲁-撒克逊裔的白人清教徒才是美国当权的精英群体。不管我们是否认同这一定义，今日的美国好像确实正在这条道路上行进。
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)