Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
In the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign — back when Iowa was the fresh news story and pundits were predicting the ceiling of Donald Trump's support — I not only thought his campaign would fizzle out, but also that his ideas would disappear entirely from the political discourse. I thought his brand of white identity politics would be little more than a footnote in the history textbooks. After all, I reasoned, Trump was campaigning on a fringe platform. While he might rally up some of the Republican base, surely the moderates wouldn't bite. Clearly, I was in denial regarding the state of American politics. A lot of liberals were — along with many moderates and moderate conservatives. Unfortunately, many still are today.
The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the subsequent fallout has been in equal measures disturbing and baffling. The standout example of this week's mystifying horror has been, of course, the president of the United States' bizarre refusal to fully (and permanently) denounce Nazis, instead choosing to tacitly defend them through a tenuous series of false equivalences.
Rightfully, outrage has been directed primarily at Trump. But I can't help but feel the emerging media narrative is missing something. Liberals and conservatives alike are acting as though these hate groups are attacking from outside American politics. As though a strong condemnation from Trump — or impeachment, for that matter — could make everything right. But the unsettling reality is that the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville are at the edges of a sickness that is growing from the heart of the nation's political body. It's not as simple as Trump galvanizing racist groups, who, in turn, helped him gain power and are helping him hold onto it. Both Trump and the tumorous growth of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups he consistently defends are natural extensions of America's deeper problem: the attitudes that lead toward far-right extremism have become both politically correct and socially acceptable.
According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll, 43 percent of Republicans believe there is "a lot" of discrimination against whites, whereas only 27 percent of Republicans believe the same about discrimination against blacks. The discrepancy means a significant portion of the American population believes whites face a large share of prejudice and blacks don't, despite all evidence of the contrary. The "oppressed white people" narrative is emblematic not only of the alt-right, but also of mainstream conservatism.
This isn't to say that conservatism is inherently racist, or that all modern conservatives are racists, or even that those who believe the conservative narrative are extremists. But it does speak to the nation's festering racial tension. When the narrative of so-called white oppression is considered alongside the president's popularity among conservatives and his comments on Charlottesville, the growing acceptance of xenophobia and bigotry of all stripes in American politics is clear. What was once extremism now simply passes as right-wing.
Liberals need to stop insisting the ouster of the president will solve the nation's problems. This is not a problem that Vice President Pence could fix if he were to take over. Accepting that the politics of extremism are now mainstream is the first step in banishing the ideas of the self-proclaimed alt-right from our political system. We need to be unafraid to engage with and challenge views we disagree with — even if those views are bigoted or irrational or "fringe." Because "fringe" doesn't mean what it used to, and "fringe" is certainly not un-American. To make the ideology of the far right truly un-American, we first must take an honest view of what the word "American" now means. Then maybe, we can continue working toward the ideal that America should represent.
Nate Rogers is a freshman computer science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.