The cultural imperative for us to hate everyone and everything is damaging. Photo: Getty
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Westminster might be nerdy, but we should stop pouring juvenile scorn on people trying to make a difference

Defend the mouthbreathers!

“Well, there’s the goofy bastard, the posh bastard, the treacherous bastard and the racist bastard. And they’re all the same,” goes pretty much any given twentysomething’s analysis of the lead-up to this godforsaken election happening in weeks.

I’d know because, for at least the past month, most conversations with my friends have involved me trying to persuade them not to draw dicks all over their ballots. Whenever politics happen, the pressure on my generation to hate builds and builds. And the more political the politics, the more pressure there is to hate. And a general election is about as political as politics get.

So, in a strange contraption that defies the laws of physics, we spur each other on to be as jaded as possible. It isn’t hard to understand why we do this. We’re just about creeping out of a recession that’s left so many of us fearing for our futures and Ed Miliband is hardly The Answer.

But he’s also not not the answer. And that’s so hard for us to admit because of this post-adolescent cultural imperative for us to hate everyone and everything. I’ve been obedient to that imperative for too long. Hating is just so easy. “Haters gonna hate,” says Taylor Swift (and about a billion rappers well before she made that a thing that white people say). Scroll through your Twitter feed right now and count the number of positive sentiments. Especially if you follow a lot of people in their twenties, I can almost guarantee that they’ll be rare. And I’m not talking about inspirational quotes superimposed on a picture of a lake. Those don’t count. That’s just stolen positivity regurgitated by people who’ve been dead inside since Gordon Brown’s premiership at the latest.

Similarly, I’m not talking about hype. It seems that the only things we’re allowed to like publicly are those that have been deemed worthy by Guardian reading Twitter. Last year it was Serial and Kate Bush and ramen. Those were the only things we were permitted to endorse. And they’re all perfectly nice things, but they’re apolitical. For me, and so many others around my age, the fear attached to having anything other than “Ugh” to say about politics is huge. The problem is that showing anything other than the utmost disdain for Westminster is just so nerdy. And not the good kind of “I like graphic novels and David Attenborough” nerdy. I mean, straight-up mouthbreather nerdy.

In the realm of millennial Twitter, you’d be hard-pressed to find a good solid, “You know what? Labour aren’t perfect but they have some legitimately good ideas and Ed is an OK guy. And it’s not his fault he seems like he probably has a lot of allergies.” I mean, that would make a shit tweet and posting Vines of Miliband being a thundering dork is way more fun. But in an electoral race that’s consisted almost entirely of negging the other guy, I wish that more people could be brave enough to talk about the positives. I’m definitely not one of those brave people. I’m just as addicted to hating as nearly everyone I know. It’s a disease. I can barely look at a tree without being all, “nice branches, fuckhead. Where did you get them, Rubbish Branches ‘R’ Us?”

Just for once, I wish we could channel all of our angst into hating something that truly deserves to be hated. Like Sambuca or George Galloway. Only then can we begin to admit that some stuff is actually, sort of, slightly a little bit OK. And only then can we stop pouring juvenile scorn on people who are actually trying to make a difference.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Charlottesville: a town haunted by the far right

Locals fear a bitter far right will return.

On 12 August, a car ploughed down pedestrians in the street where I used to buy my pecan pies. I had recently returned to London from Charlottesville, Virginia – the scene of what appears to have been an act of white supremacist terrorism – having worked and taught at the university there for four years. While I unpacked boxes of books, the streets I knew so well were full of hate and fire.

The horror began on the evening of Friday 11 August, when thugs with torches marched across the “Lawn”. Running through the heart of the university, this is where, each Halloween, children don ghoulish costumes and trick-or-treat delighted and generous fourth-year undergraduates.

But there were true monsters there that night. They took their stand on the steps of the neoclassical Rotunda – the site of graduation – to face down a congregation about to spill out of St Paul’s Episcopal opposite.

Then, on Saturday morning, a teeming mass of different groups gathered in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), where my toddler ran through splash pads in the summer.

We knew it was coming. Some of the groups were at previous events in Charlottesville’s “summer of hate”. Ever since a permit was granted for the “Unite the Right” march, we feared that this would be a tipping point. I am unsure whether I should have been there, or whether I was wise to stay away.

The truth is that this had nothing to do with Charlottesville – and everything to do with it. From one perspective, our small, sleepy university town near the Blue Ridge Mountains was the victim of a showdown between out-of-towners. The fighting was largely not between local neo-Nazis and African Americans, or their white neighbours, for that matter. It was between neo-Nazis from far afield – James Alex Fields, Jr, accused of being the driver of the lethal Dodge Challenger, was born in Kentucky and lives in Ohio – and outside groups such as “Antifa” (anti-fascist). It was a foreign culture that was foisted upon the city.

Charlottesville is to the American east coast what Berkeley is to the west: a bastion of liberalism and political correctness, supportive of the kind of social change that the alt-right despises. Just off camera in the national newsfeeds was a banner hung from the public  library at the entrance of Emancipation Park, reading: “Proud of diversity”.

I heard more snippets of information as events unfolded. The counter-protesters began the day by drawing on the strength of the black church. A 6am prayer meeting at our local church, First Baptist on Main (the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together before the Civil War), set the tone for the non-violent opposition.

The preacher told the congregation: “We can’t hate these brothers. They have a twisted ideology and they are deeply mistaken in their claim to follow Christ, but they are still our brothers.” Then he introduced the hymns. “The resistance of black people to oppression has only been kept alive through music.”

The congregation exited on to Main Street, opposite my old butcher JM Stock Provisions, and walked down to the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – the early 19th-century Bear Grylls types who explored the west. They went past Feast! – the delicacy market where we used to spend our Saturday mornings – and on to the dreamy downtown mall where my wife and I strolled on summer evenings and ate southern-fried chicken at the Whiskey Jar.

The permit for the “protest” was noon to 5pm but violence erupted earlier. Between 10.30am and 12pm, the white supremacists, protected by a paramilitary guard, attacked their opponents. As the skirmishes intensified, police were forced to encircle the clashing groups and created, in effect, a bizarre zone of “acceptable” violence. Until the governor declared a state of emergency, grown men threw bottles of piss at each other.

At noon, the crowd was dispersed and the protesters spilled out into the side streets. This was when the riot climaxed with the horrific death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, the far-right groups marauded the suburbs while residents locked their doors and closed their blinds.

I sat in London late into the night as information and prayer requests trickled through. “There are roughly 1,000 Nazis/KKK/alt-right/southern nationalists still around – in a city of 50,000 residents. If you’re the praying type, keep it up.”

No one in Charlottesville is in any doubt as to how this atrocity became possible. Donald Trump has brought these sects to group consciousness. They have risen above their infighting to articulate a common ground, transcending the bickering that mercifully held them back in the past.

In the immediate aftermath, there is clarity as well as fury. My colleague Charles Mathewes, a theologian and historian, remarked: “I still cannot believe we have to fight Nazis – real, actual, swastika-flag-waving, be-uniformed, gun-toting Nazis, along with armed, explicit racists, white supremacists and KKK members. I mean, was the 20th century simply forgotten?”

There is also a sense of foreboding, because the overwhelming feeling with which the enemy left was not triumph but bitterness. Their permit had been to protest from noon to 5pm. They terrorised a town with their chants of “Blood and soil!” but their free speech was apparently not heard. Their safe space, they claim, was not protected.

The next day, the organiser of the march, Jason Kessler, held a press conference to air his grievances. The fear is that the indignant white supremacists will be back in greater force to press their rights.

If that happens, there is one certainty. At one point during the dawn service at First Baptist, a black woman took the stand. “Our people have been oppressed for 400 years,” she said. “What we have learned is that the only weapon which wins the war is love.”

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear