Don't play the fool, my friends, don't play the fool.
I was going to write a freestanding essay on the issues similar to those raised by Peter Beinart's Atlantic post, I realized that Beinart's essay provides an excellent (and brief) text upon which I can riff.
How might people opposed to violent white supremacists and their ilk become fools? By taking the bait of violence.
Of course, persons who value freedom and equality--fundamental American values--are shocked and appalled at the events in Charlottesville and the dismaying response of 45. And of course, those who cherish the American heritage of human rights don't want to cede the public space to violent thugs and bullies. But neither should we play their game, the game of violence. In the game of violence, the most violent, the most radical, win, whether they be on the right or the left.
Yes, while as Beinart points out, violent actors on the left have not come anywhere near to matching the violence and intimidation of the violent right, they still exist and pose a threat. Students of history will note that street fights marked much of the turmoil in post-WWI Germany, with communists and Nazis battling in the streets. When such battles erupt, who wins? In the parade of 20th-century horrors, whom can we say perpetrated the worst evils? The right of Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler, or the left of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others? Political divisions aren't accurately captured on a line running from left to right (or vice versa if you prefer), but seemingly opposed movements intersect in a circular configuration--in some cases, they meet in the sector marked by violence. (Others meet in the sector of order, law, and reason, which can include American liberals and conservatives, Democrats and traditional Republicans.) The comparative body count of the totalitarian left and the totalitarian right leaves little basis to prefer one to the other. The same can be said lesser, contemporary movements that adhere to one set of extremes or the other. Many have given the benefit of the doubt to the left based on the messianic and utopian elements of Marxist thought that draw upon those elements of Judaism and Christianity. But Marx had no political theory (despite some keen political insights), and the vacuum was filled by Lenin, Stalin, and others in ways that created states no less odious than those of Nazi Germany. The left is not pristine, and it must guard against those who would happily push progressives toward violence.
So what is to be done? This is a question of the highest moral, practical, and political significance (one problem viewed through three overlapping perspectives). The American Civil Rights movement led by Dr. King and the SCLC was able to pursue its successful campaign based on an extraordinary commitment to principles of non-violent resistance. But that was against the unconstitutional actions of state and local governments and was undertaken by a tight-knit community. I doubt such a community can be replicated today. But serious consideration must be given about how to combat the violent right without resorting to counter violence, which is pure oxygen to fuel the hatred of those who marched as 21st-century successors to Nazis and secessionists defending slavery. Anarchy is not the answer. Left-wing thuggery is not the answer. Right now there is no clear picture about how to respond with something more than words. We need to appear in the public space in support of American values. While I don't have a definitive answer about how to do this, I do know that we should eliminate one option: violence.