“Cassandra failed to pay [Apollo] for the gift of prophecy; in [her] case, however, the result was not that she lost the gift, but that no one believed her.”
– Robert Graves, The Greek Myths
The curse of Cassandra – the woman who told the truth but couldn’t get anyone to listen to her – was on my mind this weekend when the alt-right finally blossomed into full-on Nazism at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Many expressed surprise that such a horrifying display of pure hate could happen in the United States, as these earnest responses indicated:
— Niki Tsongas (@nikiinthehouse) August 13, 2017
— Mahesh Patil (@polynorph) August 12, 2017
The problem is, mere shock is an inadequate reaction to the horrifying events in Charlottesville. Those of us who vigorously went to bat for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in 2016 knew that if Trump were elected, it would lead to things like this. No one was more Cassandra-like about this than Clinton herself, who warned us a year ago this month about the sinister forces behind Trump’s rise, who had already been dubbed the “alt-right” by the commentariat, but whose presence became national after she called them out, saying:
“This is not conservatism as we have known it. This is not Republicanism as we have known it. These are race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman – all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.’ Now Alt-Right is short for ‘alternative right.’ The Wall Street Journal describes it as a loose but organized movement, mostly online, that ‘rejects mainstream conservatism, promotes nationalism and views immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white identity.'”
The speech, which ran thirty-one minutes, rings just as true now as it did last year. I had spent a great deal of time paying attention to what was happening on the fringes, as the alt-right attacked Clinton and the so-called “SJWs” who they saw as their enemy when all they wanted was for them to treat the disadvantaged like human beings. The rise and fall and rise of Milo Yiannopoulos was a sign that they were deifying their own; Trump’s increasingly apocalyptic rhetoric proof that he was doubling down in his appeal to the worst of the worst to win. Clinton’s speech not only served to motivate young liberals like myself to defeat these hate-mongers where they lived, it also served as a plea for Republicans who felt increasingly alienated by Trump to join her and stand against evil.
Clinton also made connections in the speech that are being confirmed by the ongoing investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 campaign, including a thorough indictment of Brexit mastermind Nigel Farage, who had campaigned with Donald Trump in Mississippi the day before, and appeared on Russian propaganda programs. Given Farage’s newfound status as a “person of interest,” it’s an act of immense foresight on Clinton’s part to exploit the links between the two seismic events of 2016 politics – Trump’s election and Brexit – and indicate the role Russian propaganda was playing in people’s perceptions of both. She also called Vladimir Putin “the grand godfather of this global brand of extreme nationalism,” something which only the most hard-line fringers will dispute at this point.
And surprisingly, this speech was well-received after it was given. While the MSM has yet to truly dissect its failure in covering her campaign, this was one of the few moments when they showered her with the praise she deserved. The Washington Post called it “designed to get the media to shine a very harsh light on the very traits about [Trump] that continue to alienate [the never-Trumpers.]” The Atlantic described it as “a fierce barrage…if Trump’s odds in November already look long, she sought to knock him entirely out of contention.” And The New York Times, responsible for some of the most unhinged Clinton coverage during the campaign, said the speech was “a blistering denunciation…remarkable for its exhaustive accounting of Mr. Trump’s controversial racial history in business and in his presidential campaign.”
So what happened? If the speech was so lauded at the time, why did its message go unheeded?
Simply, the media, who could not handle an election between a candidate with all the right qualifications for the highest office in the land and one who was not only completely unqualified, but whom I’ve argued is in the midst of a serious neurological disease, shifted back to their pattern of creating a false equivalency between the two candidates, in order to keep up the perception that this was a horse race. The day Clinton gave the speech, she had cracked 50% in this Quinnipiac poll; by August 31st, hotel residents all over America had woken up to this USA Today article: “Clinton, Trump Most Unfavorable Candidates Ever.” On September 1st, Business Insider claimed Trump had begun eating into that lead.
Given this need for a horserace, the media took every single flaw they could find with Clinton and blew it up to maximum proportions. Within the two weeks following the speech, The New York Times published its editorial claiming Clinton should shut down her foundation, she had a disastrous interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, who drilled into her while letting her opponent get away with lying, and she fainted from walking pneumonia during a 9/11 tribute. All this allowed everyone’s perceptions to shift back to the narrative that she was “untrustworthy,” and also allowed the alt-right to continue its barrage of hateful memes against her, including the infamous “Deplorables” meme, broken down on her campaign’s website.
That speech, in which she referred to many of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” was a sign of how her message about the alt-right was going unheeded. Although many were eager to compare it to Mitt Romney’s infamous 47% speech, there was a crucial difference: Romney’s speech stated that all Obama voters were freeloaders, whereas Clinton only stated that some of Trump’s voters were that awful. But those who had already been critical of her sought any excuse they could to sink their claws into her, even as videos online of Trump supporters yelling “MAKE MY BURRITO!” at Latinos circulated, proving her remarks correct.
Over and over again during Trump’s campaign, they showed us who they were, using code words like “Lugenpresse” or just screaming “Sig Heil!” We didn’t need proof that these people were Nazis, but the fact that they don’t even have to wear hoods to protect their identities shows just how their hatred has been normalized by a government that will not acknowledge their bigotry. This is the Republican Party now. This is what Trump wants America to look like. And this is exactly what Hillary Clinton warned us would happen if we didn’t take these threats seriously.
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Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.