charlottesville nazi rally Zach D. Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The West’s Race Problem

Status anxiety is gripping white people throughout the West, and it is probably exacerbated by the rise of Chinese power and the sense that Europe and the United States are losing their global preeminence. And now the most powerful person in the Western world is inciting mob violence of the type seen in Charlottesville and Chemnitz.

NEW YORK – For obvious reasons, the sight of a German mob chasing foreigners through the streets and throwing up their arms in Hitler salutes is particularly disturbing. This is what happened recently in Chemnitz, a bleak industrial city in Saxony that was touted in the former German Democratic Republic as a model socialist city (it was named Karl-Marx-Stadt between 1953 and 1990). The police appeared to be powerless to stop the rampage, which was sparked by the death of a Cuban German in a knife fight with two men from the Middle East.

But this is not a specifically German problem. Tens of thousands of Germans later gathered for a rock concert in Chemnitz to protest against the anti-immigrant violence. And the mobs in Chemnitz had a lot in common with the neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan followers, and other extremists, who caused mayhem a year ago in Charlottesville, Virginia. Both cities are tainted by history: Nazi and Communist dictatorships in Chemnitz, slavery in Charlottesville. And though the reasons for violent extremism in both places were manifold, racism was certainly one of them.

Many white Americans, especially in the rural south, have hard lives – poor schools, bad jobs, relative poverty. But the one anchor they could cling to was their sense of racial superiority over blacks. That is why the presidency of Barack Obama was a blow to their self-esteem. They felt their status slipping. Donald Trump exploited their feelings of anxiety and resentment.