As 2017 draws to a close it is appropriate to reflect on this year’s events. There have been some important developments this year; the snap election, Grenfell tower, the Brexit negotiations, President Trump’s tiff with North Korea to name a few.
But none of these are my ‘political moment of the year’. For my money, I am going to go with the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Rarely does an event so perfectly capture the tensions that create the political climate of our times. Furthermore, it is not very often that a news story causes to revaluate my worldview so comprehensively.
As the mid-2010s rolled around this began to change. The first episode of this story that I saw was the shooting of Treyvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012. The accepted narrative I had grown up with about race had been called into question.
There didn’t seem to be a comfortable middle ground between the protestors calling for retribution from George Zimmerman and the people (the term Alt-Right was not in wide circulation then) saying that this Black teenager got what he deserved.
All the while on social media, radio and in the press the debate about racism in the UK was brought to the surface. But Ferguson was different, all of a sudden these Alt-Right nutters were wandering around American streets with clubs and shields. One drove his car into a crowd of protesters killing somebody.
It is clear that this issue is not going away. The election of Donald Trump had exposed fault lines in American society but not to the extent that Charlottesville had. Voting for president Trump can be explained by industrial decline and lack of enthusiasm for Hilary Clinton. Which side people supported in Ferguson seemed to be a much clearer indication of one’s ideology.
I am going to resists the temptation to call our current situation a ‘culture war’. But it does appear that we are entering a new chapter in the way we engage with Race, Ethnicity, identity and history. Whether this is for the better or for the worse I will leave up to you. For me, Charlottesville represented the tension about what western civilisation stands for in the twenty-first century.
Radical political movements rarely gain enough public support to enforce their ideas fully. They tend to generate a certain amount of heat before dissipating. The ideas that the public find palatable are taken on board before and the most extreme ideas fall away- in other words, radical movements need to be digested by the general population.
It may strike some as premature, but I think that Charlottesville is our ‘digestion’ moment for identity politics in the USA and here in Britain. Going forward, Charlottesville will be in the back of our minds because it is uncomfortable, and more importantly, it forces us to think about the serious issues that are the agents of change in our culture.
It would be interesting to hear what other people’s ‘moments of the year’ are.