Trying to make sense of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday is a fool’s errand because things like that don’t — or shouldn’t — make sense in the true meaning of the term. The people who organized the march to “unite the right” knew they would provoke a strong reaction from other people; they were counting on it. And they got it, and I’m probably not alone in thinking that the bloodier it got, the more they liked it.
The organizers called it a march to “Unite the Right,” but it’s not as if the right really wants to “unite.” The right-wing Establishment controls all three branches of the federal government, but to the folks who paraded through the streets with Nazi and Confederate flag, they don’t think of themselves as the same kind of right wingers that have been elected to Congress and state houses. The marchers consider the Establishment to be weak and ineffective, and the fact that Nazis and Confederates felt compelled to come up with this demonstration, aside from provoking the outrage, was to register their opinion that the Republicans who dog-whistled and winked and nudged their way into office by exploiting the far-right base have not delivered what the Nazis and gun nuts demanded. They want to see the immigrants loaded onto boxcars, they want to see the gays and lesbians marginalized and Muslims terrorized; they want to see whatever it is they think will make America great again, and if it takes killing a few freaks and coloreds to do it, well, that’s how they do it. The Establishment wants basically the same thing but without the violence and echoes of Nuremberg.
Despite a tweet or two to the contrary, the far right was probably just as disappointed in Trump’s limp statement of condemnation as the rest of us were. They expected him to stand up for them — after all, what about all those rallies where he said he would? — and now he comes out with this P.C. line about “many sides”? To them, a true patriot would have stood with them and given them the “fire and fury” support that they saw in the campaign. This is the one who said to “knock the crap out of them,” and cheered when demonstrators got roughed up. Where is he now? they wonder.
The shock and the horror will fade, but now comes the reckoning. There will be investigations, there will be the funerals, there will be the TV interviews with the neighbors, and the delving into what drove the kid from Maumee, Ohio, to step on the gas. But if past is any guide, it will be the same kind of short-term navel-gazing until the next distraction comes along, the same way we deal with mass shootings and similar fits of madness.
It’s common practice for pundits and TV shrinks to say things like “we are all to blame” for whatever is the incident of the moment, whether its a mass shooting or a bridge collapse. It’s an easy way to get out of offending anyone and letting us move on. But in this case, that’s not the case.
Every person who voted for Trump owns this. It doesn’t matter why; whether they hated Hillary Clinton and her e-mails or her laugh or her wardrobe collection; whether they were an aggrieved white person who had harbored resentment against Barack Obama for being the first black president and who was able to pull off two terms without so much as a whisper of scandal and thereby disproving all of their crackpot theories about the inferiority of the African-American race; or if they just voted for Trump because that’s the way to show the rest of America that they too think the way to run the country is through tantrums and bullying. In the end it doesn’t matter why; they just did. And now they see what they have wrought.
We heard a lot of Republican elected officials express outrage and put forth a lot of “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, and they felt safe joining the chorus who said Trump’s Saturday statement was less than enough. But they have been enabling him since the election — some of them long before — and now they’re shocked and saddened as if this was completely unexpected. All that proves is that they are either too stupid to recognize what was going on or they were willfully ignorant of the shouts and banners that came along with the marchers who goose-stepped through Charlottesville. They have been to these rallies before. They have heard the chants. They were there. They did nothing. Now they have to answer for it.
So what do we do? First, we do not accept that there are two sides to this. In their worst day of whatever demonstrations the left has held in the last forty years, they never came close to the vitriol and aggravated hatred that has been seen at the average Trump rally, let alone last weekend. There is simply no comparison, and anyone who says there is is full of shit. Second, we must stand up to this kind of bullying and hatred and not allow it to be bellowed unanswered. There must be a firm stand against this kind of hatred and bigotry. That they have the right to say it is not in dispute. But that doesn’t give them the license to go unanswered or not be held responsible for the consequences. If people get fired from their jobs for spouting hate, that’s not a violation of the First Amendment; it’s an enforcement of a code of civil and responsible behavior as a citizen.
Most importantly, we need to recognize that this is who we are. There are people in this country who would do it harm by trying to remake it in a perverted interpretation of laws and genetics. It’s not a matter of “both sides are equally responsible.” It’s a matter of seeing those among us whose values and objectives are dangerous to the country we have become over the last 240 years and who believe the only way to get it to where they want it is through violence and tyranny. There are more of us who believe in stable government, the rule of law, equality for all, and peace in our streets than those who don’t. It is well beyond the time to stand up. That is what we do.