One sentence stands out as a unifying principle in the aftermath of a bleak weekend in Charlottesville. After that, everything devolves into the pandering and posturing which are the daily din of the current age. So here’s that statement, and a Q and A flowing therefrom:
The intentional vehicular murder of protesters Saturday was an act of domestic terrorism, seemingly motivated by supremacist hate. Such acts need to be identified as such by every American, starting with the President of the United States.
There. Now the complexities:
Q: If that’s so obvious, why didn’t President Trump dwell at length on the racist/supremacist/Nazi flavor of that violence? Is it because he secretly harbors those views, or basks in the welcome support of those who do?
A: No. It is because he knows his haters stood ready to beat his brains in if he didn’t exude precisely the right flavor of revulsion, not just toward violent racists, but toward the ill-defined “alt-right,” or portions of his own staff who have been conflated into supremacist, even Nazi status by the left. His calculation was to deliver broad criticisms of bigotry and hate, which could be criticized by no one, thus driving his most inflamed critics crazy.
Q: How did that work out?
A: Not well, due to one problem: Basic human decency, as well as proper presidential decorum, required a calling-out, by name, of precisely the ideology that led to the murder of Heather Heyer. This was a particularly glaring omission from a President who spends a lot of time (rightfully) busting the chops of anyone reticent to identify radical Islamic terrorism by name. Other Republicans did it effortlessly; they should have been led by the President of their party.
Q: So did critics go after him with skill and precision?
A: Of course not. Democrats in particular overplayed their hand exponentially, suggesting Trump has a Klan base he wishes to satisfy, and a racist heart he wishes to conceal.
Q: But isn’t it problematic that a portion of the Trump base harbors those poisonous views?
A: Of course. Every politician would love to be supported by nothing but virtuous souls. But Republican voter rolls will contain the occasional racist, just as Democrat voter rolls will contain the occasional Communist and a bevy of violent radicals they rarely distance from at all.
Q: So is Charlottesville evidence of a growing wave of active racism rearing its head, energized by Trump?
A: Hardly. Most of the protests taking place at confederate monuments around America are not foremost about race. They are a response to the voices who seek to erase every vestige of the Confederacy as if failure to do so equates to wistful nostalgia for slavery. If a black man walked into a crowd at a Robert E. Lee statue and said, “I’m no fan of this guy, but I don’t think we should erase every Southern monument,” he’d be met with handshakes.
Q: So are there non-racist reasons to support leaving the monuments alone?
A: Of course there are. Most of the people arguing against their removal do not wish the South had won the Civil War.
Q: But if the monuments are becoming a rallying point for actual Nazis and supremacists, isn’t that a reason to dismantle them?
A: This was a point made by National Review’s Rich Lowry and others, and it is highly regrettable. You don’t let a sliver of idiots determine public policy on monuments, or anything else. If a broad and thoughtful debate leads to the removal or relocation of some statue or another, that’s one thing; knee-jerk haste is another.
Q: “A sliver?” How widespread are the people who embody the actual racism and virulence on display in Charlottesville?
A: A tiny minority, and it continues to shrink. An unfortunate by-product of the Trump ascendancy is that the micro-culture of ugliness within his base feels a spark of energy of late, bringing them out of the caves into which they had been chased in recent decades. This is how you get idiots like David Duke on video talking about the Charlottesville protests as “fulfilling the promise of Donald Trump.” (After the President’s Saturday condemnation of bigotry, Duke lashed out at Trump for “attacking” the original protesters.)
Q: So what’s the best thing President Trump can do now?
A: Show up a little late with what he should have shown up with at the outset—a specific rebuke to racists, and a clear statement that while some of them may support him, it does not mean he supports them.
Q: And what’s the best lesson for the nation?
A: That while our society’s racial enlightenment has been a remarkable journey, not everyone has traveled that path. When real hate is discovered, there should be no delay in identifying it and denouncing it by name.
But we should also be aware that the vast majority of Americans have long displayed exactly that behavior, and there are Trump-haters afoot, trying to paint him (and thus his millions of voters) as partners in that vile intolerance. This cheap political opportunism must also be resisted at every turn.