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Donald Trump

America has no reason to fear the rise of neo-Nazis, as CEOs take a united stand

Robert Delaney says the exit of several company chiefs shows corporate America remains the backstop for minority rights in the country, but warns against complacency as the alt-right tries to gather momentum

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 12:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 7:06pm

If there was any silver lining to the recent violence in Charlottesville and the events that followed, it was that more Americans woke up to the reality that neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other extreme, “alt-right” elements are numerous and mobilised in the US.

The unrest also informed many political moderates – those willing to give President Donald Trump a pass for his missteps so far on trying to push through legislation – about their leader’s allegiance to ideologies that the United States has fought against domestically and internationally for decades.

A majority of Americans were surprised, if not dismayed, to hear Trump assign blame for the violence in Charlottesville – which took one life and left scores more injured – to those who stood up against swastikas.

The reaction from corporate leaders, military officials and members of Trump’s own party was swift.

This helped allay fears that the US is transforming into a country more closely resembling the dystopian world depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale, a miniseries that has received popular and critical acclaim in the US, at least partly because of its prescience.

Watch: ‘What about the alt-left that came charging?’

Based on the 1985 book by Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, the story is set in a world where women have lost all rights because fertility rates have plummeted. Women able to bear children are enslaved and ritualistically raped by the country’s most politically powerful leaders, under the pretext of a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of scripture.

Just months before the show began streaming in the US – during the American presidential campaign – footage surfaced showing Trump bragging about how his powerful status allowed him to sexually molest women.

Many thought the revelation would end Trump’s candidacy. It didn’t. And with Trump’s continued strength in the polls came a sense among the political left and centre that women and other marginalised groups weren’t as safe as they thought. Atwood’s tale suddenly seemed more prophecy than fiction.

Which brings us back to Charlottesville. Many on the extreme right hope the clash would be just the beginning of an alt-right movement in the US that will continue to gain momentum. Chances of this are slim.

After Steve Bannon’s sacking, the backlash on the far-right is immediate

Following a week of unending criticism, Trump and his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, a right-wing firebrand, parted ways. Counter-protesters in Boston at the weekend overwhelmed a “free speech”rally planned in support of the white supremacist cause.

Watch: Charlottesville victim’s mother to white nationalists – ‘You just magnified her’

The non-white, non-Hispanic or Latino portion of the US population stands at more than one third. Racial and ethnic minority groups make up more than 40 per cent of active-duty US military, up from 25 per cent in 1990. While these figures are robust and climbing, they still don’t guarantee continued protection for the rights of women and minorities.

The backstop for these rights is provided by corporate America, the institution that has throughout history guided the country’s political direction.

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There’s a reason CEOs have distanced themselves from Trump. It’s the same reason banks and other large companies sponsor LGBT pride marches and fund tech incubators for women-led start-ups: it’s good for business. They know a politicised economy that disenfranchises large groups undercuts aggregate demand.

It may be cynical to imply that corporate America supports minority rights because this position creates wealth, but when neo-Nazis take to the streets with guns and clubs, this deeply entrenched inclination works in everyone’s favour.

This is not to say that every facet of corporate influence on American society is positive. Nor should anyone suggest that Americans should ignore the alt-right and not stand up to them when they take to the streets carrying weapons and swastikas.

Provided the willingness to speak up, and act up, against these groups remains strong, the rest of America doesn’t need to worry about the alt-right agenda going mainstream.

Robert Delaney is a US correspondent for the Post based in New York