ONE of the most poignant banners in the Charlottesville anti-fascist protests last weekend read: “I can’t believe I am still protesting Nazis.” The tragedy of the fatal clashes in Virginia over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee is not, as some believe, that the prejudices behind segregation persist, but that they return. It is a lesson that Brexiteers would do well to remember as they contemplate new borders in Ireland, where only a thin layer of topsoil covers the violent divisions of two decades ago. Or centrist politicians in Europe who dismiss the rise of the New Right, mistakenly believing, still, that a general economic prosperity somehow benefits all, against all the evidence.
A combination of bad history and bigotted narrow-casting on social media is creating a new generation of fascists, not only ignorant of the progress made towards racial integration but hostile to it. The white supremacists on the aborted Unite the Right march were largely young men. No doubt many learnt their repugnant beliefs from infancy, but not all. One father, Pearce Tefft, has written an open letter after seeing his son, Peter, interviewed at the rally: “We do not know specifically where he learned these beliefs. He did not learn them at home. I have taught all of my children that all men and women are created equal. That we must love each other all the same. Evidently Peter has chosen to unlearn these lessons, much to my and his family’s heartbreak and distress. . .” An industrial depression, feelings of abandonment, distance from the political decision-makers, and a misguided hankering for a fabled past have all contributed to this collective unlearning.
There is a real danger that elements in the black community will be prompted to respond in kind. We have been impressed by the weight that many church leaders, Episcopalians among them, have thrown into the protests against the alt-Right; but, of course, there is another brand of Christianity that supported Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency, and this has been largely silent in recent days — or worse.
THE £200-million project to build a garden bridge over the Thames was finally shelved this week, when the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, declined to underwrite it. Supporters of the project, notably George Osborne, the former Chancellor, spoke of the £69 million pledged by the private sector and the £37 million of state money spent on developing the plans that would not be recoverable, but not of the further £90 million-odd that still needed to be found. The project was always ridiculous, encouraged by politicians whose austerity programme has bitten deep into many essential aspects of British life. If new gardens are needed, let them be away from the centre of the capital, in places where people are deprived of the lovesomeness of God’s creation. Entrants in our Green Church Awards have a better grasp of things than the garden-bridge supporters.