Saturday will live in American history as Charlottesville ’17. Historians will write books about it. I’m not sure if in its final analysis it will be a dark moment that turned a tide for some good like Selma or for evil like Kristallnacht. This much I do know: our President missed an opportunity! Let’s explore.
The alt-right managed to unite at least twelve hate groups into a single unit and descended on the city of Charlottesville, Virginia Saturday. Before we go on let’s not lose sight of the fact that began the preceding sentence! The day started out as a significant victory for the alt-right! Bringing together twelve major hate groups into a united force is no small accomplishment. These people are by nature losers and loners. They all want to be big fish in their own small, polluted ponds.
The supposed catalyst for the invasion of a peaceful, liberal, cerebral college town by a bunch of armed thugs was the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park. The duly elected city council had approved the removal by a majority vote. I know this is a dirty word to the radical right but the process is called democracy; and America is a representative democracy.
As you can imagine violence ensued and as of this writing as a direct or indirect result three people (including two members of the Virginia State Police) died with 35 people requiring hospitalization; several in critical condition. I’m not going to get into the police response at this point. That is better left to a “professional post mortem”. There will be plenty of time to critique the police performance after that review and with the benefit of the information it reveals.
What I want to talk about today is primarily the response from President Trump, the pattern of behavior it is part of and the effect that is having on America. This collection of neo-Nazis, racists, bigots, anti-Semites, Ku Klux Klansmen and various other white supremacists marched on Charlottesville because they feel emboldened and legitimized by Trump’s repeated dog whistles and non-verbal shout outs of support! It started in 1989 with Trump taking out a full page ad in the New York Times, (I guess it wasn’t failing then), against the Central Park Five. He followed it up with being the poster boy for the birther movement. His 2016 campaign announcement got its most coverage for his comments on Mexicans. All those points dovetail with white supremacists talking points and right wing mythology. None other than David Duke reminded Trump that it was white supremacist support, not that of white liberals, that put him in the White House. Duke also stated that the alt-right was taking America back and fulfilling Trump’s agenda. The one thing I remember from my college Communications course is that perception is really the only thing that matters in communications.
Trump was “late to the party” with a tweet (his favorite form of communication) after the event. He was even beaten by his wife. It was his statement later in the day that deservedly got the most attention. During an event on an unrelated subject he said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.” Then he broke into an “infomercial” about how great a President he has been.
Who the hell is this “we”? Stand up an act like a President of the United States!
As he first said, “On many sides,” he looked up, raised his voice and gestured with his right hand. Then for more emphasis he, in typical Trumpian fashion, repeated those three words. This was neither an ab lib nor a minor phrase; it was a loud message to the alt-right that “I’ve got your back”.
A few hours later Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe spoke and clearly called out white supremacists. Lest you think I’m simply being partisan let me remind you that I didn’t endorse McAuliffe in 2013. That was not an oversight. Had I been a Virginia resident I would have voted for McAuliffe, but my support for him did not rise to the endorsement level. McAuliffe did something Saturday that Trump failed to do – display leadership.
This is not a partisan issue. My thoughts went back to the courage and wisdom Republican Dwight Eisenhower displayed in Alabama to suppress racism on his watch. Eisenhower, a patriot and qualified President courageously acted in the interest of America. Eisenhower was an accomplished leader.
We should have learned two things from Saturday. First, the time has long past for honoring people that rebelled against America in public places; all such monuments and the like need to be removed as soon as practically possible. That is not an assault on anyone’s heritage; it is patriotism. We don’t honor traitors in this country.
Second, we need to review and seriously amend our open carry laws. The sight of people carrying long arms in the open in the midst of two hostile crowds was insane, frightening and we are simply lucky that we didn’t have a shootout. How many times can we continue to get lucky?
The theme of the demonstration was “Unite the Right”. I fear what we witnessed was a successful uniting of the far right’s hate groups into a single, more powerful force. President Trump missed a golden opportunity to declare a domestic doctrine because he knows he needs the alt-right politically.
There are not many sides; when judged by American values there are only two sides: the right side and the wrong side. Trump is siding with those who are wrong.
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