DAVID BLANKENHORN: Charlottesville, Trump, And Our Bitter Politics.
Like so many, I’m saddened and deeply troubled by what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend, and its aftermath. And I also worry that more argument about it at this point is unlikely to do much good and may even do harm. Yet silence, somehow, feels cowardly.
Let’s review the basic story to date. An innocent woman lies dead, murdered. Far-right hate groups, for decades essentially exiled from anything but the most marginal participation in our public life, are now being discussed around the world (whether accurately or not) as a viable and perhaps growing presence among us. And the polarization of our society, much of it stoked by our market-share obsessed media—the rancor, the bitterness, the frantic hyperbole, the relentless either/or framing of issues, our fear of and anger at each other—appears only to have been increased by Charlottesville and its aftermath.
I agree with, or at least can understand with some sympathy, many things President Trump said. Left-wing provocateurs do exist; and they, too, use telegenic violence to recruit new members and raise money. Labels such as “alt-right” or “neo-Nazi” probably don’t describe everyone who showed up for the rally. There is more than one side to the issue of the Confederate statues and monuments; indeed there are at least three sides, since some African-American members of a Charlottesville city commission formed by the Mayor to consider the issue favored keeping the statues partly as “teaching moments” for the future.
The President also said yesterday that neo-Nazis and white nationalists “should be condemned totally,” a sentiment for which I’m grateful and with which I fully agree—but which also seems both forced and late.
But here’s the heart of the matter, for me. The great majority of Americans on both sides of the political aisle recognize that, in this land we all love and want to make better, racism exists. It’s deep and it’s serious. It dishonors us, and we need to do everything we can to erase it and put it behind us.
In that light consider: The rally in Charlottesville was planned and carried out by openly racist groups in pursuit of openly racist objectives. These facts should and do cause the great majority of Americans to feel distress, embarrassment, regret, shame, remorse, anger, and a renewed determination to do all that we can to minimize this terrible thing that crawled out of the fever swamps this past weekend to highjack our attention. Almost all of us—liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats—know this and feel this in our bones.
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