I’m tired. Not sleepy or overworked or aching from physical strain, but tired. I’m tired on the inside — overwhelmed, drained, worn down. And it’s not “life.” Certainly life has its challenges lately, changes and doubts and setbacks, but things are mostly good. No, it’s not life that’s tearing me down, it’s a dark and abiding fear about the near future of our country. It’s a daily onslaught of troublesome news and a nonstop assault on kindness and civility. It’s worry—no, grave concern—that millions of otherwise good people in America have been hoodwinked, and that they may not realize it before it’s too late and blood is shed.
For months, I’ve worked to convince myself that my political fears are overblown. I’ve rationalized my dread, attributed my paranoia to my own partisan point-of-view, and challenged myself to accept that, in the end, this is all just a matter of policy differences. Like everyone else, I’m bubble-wrapped in a safe social setting with people who mostly feel like I feel and who believe what I believe. So, I’ve bitched and commiserated and donated. I’ve read hot take after hot take and re-tweeted my way to some semblance of sanity. But I’m not sure that’s enough any more.
Photo Credit: Edu Bayer, New York Times
After what happened last weekend, after the events that history will collectively know as “Charlottesville,” I feel different.
After hearing with my own ears and seeing with my own eyes, the President of the United States attempt to rationalize a murder committed in the name of hatred, I feel different. After the President of the United States placed blame for that abhorrent and cowardly crime on “many sides,” I feel different.
Still, isn’t it all politics? The usual game of bloviating one-upmanship, social media rants, and battling news networks? Isn’t this just an excruciatingly painful way of turning Washington on its head and saying we’ve had enough of the status quo? Don’t we all just want to focus on jobs and taxes (and lest we forget, healthcare)? At the core, isn’t this still all about policy? No. It’s not.
Exiting the Paris Climate Agreement is a policy decision—a foolish and shortsighted choice, but still, a policy decision. But when the President of the United States, after observing hundreds of armed and violent white supremacists and neo-Nazis, groups of angry men whose unifying principle is the extermination of those they deem as “other,” when the President of the United States says that among these hateful individuals there are indeed some “very fine people,” well, I feel different.
Whether you agree or not with my assessment thus far, I’d ask you to watch this behind-the-scenes video compiled by Vice News. The video features the leaders of last weekend's "Unite the Right" protest, and it allows them to espouse their goals and beliefs. Listen to the words of those who planned and promoted the event, and take a look at the hundreds of marching participants, armed to the hilt and sporting Nazi regalia. Listen to their unified chants of “Jews will not replace us” and “Fuck you, faggots.” Watch and listen to those who led and those who participated in the Charlottesville rally, and let me know when you find some “very fine people.”
Despite our gut reactions to dig in and defend our positions, we must not let the events in Charlottesville further divide us. God knows, we can’t afford that. Instead, we must work to ensure that the nauseating hatred all of us witnessed becomes our unifier. Surely, regardless of party affiliation, we can all agree that a man willfully driving a car into a crowd of people, killing one and injuring dozens, is evil under any circumstance. And just as surely, we can agree that a movement that inspires and feeds this hate must be unequivocally denounced. There are not “many sides,” there are two — those who are driven to act on their hatred and bigotry, and those who oppose them. If enough of us can’t agree that what we saw in Charlottesville is not the future we want for America, then we’ve all lost already.
The President of the United States has divided us. So be it. The President of the United States is reckless. So be it. The President of the United States has attempted to justify, rationalize, or otherwise excuse the events that led to a horrific incidence of violence and an act of domestic terror. Not acceptable.
There are those on the left who will say, “We told you so.” To them, I say, climb off your high horse. This is not about being right, it’s about doing right. If you care about America, if you want a country that truly serves us all, if liberty and justice matter to you, cut out the righteous bullshit and let’s find a way forward, together.
There are those on the right who will say, “He’s condemned them all.” To them, I say, he did not. If he had truly denounced the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, David Duke and company would not be thanking him. If you care about America, if you want a country that truly serves us all, if liberty and justice matter to you, set your bruised egos aside and let’s find a way forward, together.
The President has shown us the true darkness in his heart, what he is willing to say and whom he is willing to court in order to stay in power. His unwillingness to condemn, without reservation, the evil we witnessed in Charlottesville encourages more of the same, and no amount of disgust with the Washington status quo or economic anxiety justifies that outcome. Our refusal to see and accept that essential truth is harmful to our nation and potentially deadly for our friends, families, and neighbors.
For all of us, even those who must do so reluctantly, it’s time—time to recognize the very real and undeniably dangerous consequences of a continuing Trump presidency. Unstable and nuclear-capable foreign adversaries are frightening, but the most ominous challenge to our democracy, and the greatest threat to our individual safety and collective security, is the slow stinking rot of divisiveness and fear our President has chosen to cultivate from within. We must tell our elected officials, both Republican and Democrat, that we’ve had enough, and we must show the rest of the world that we still believe in fundamental goodness and decency, that we oppose hatred and bigotry in all its forms, and that the true promise of America lives on.