One year ago I was living in Virginia, about an hour from Charlottesville. I often boarded Amtrak there when I traveled north to New York or Connecticut on business. And on more than one occasion I walked through the very intersection where a bunch of people were mowed down on Saturday when a 20-year-old white supremict from Ohio purposely sped his car into a crowd of people who had gathered to protest the presence of white nationalists and neo-Nazis.
A woman died. Thirty-four were injured. Later, a Virginia State Police helicopter that was assisting with the situation crashed and burst into flames, killing the two pilots. It was a bloody chaotic end to a weekend of violence that started on Friday night when white supremacists staged a rally promoted as “Unite the Right” on the University of Virginia campus. They had come from all over the country to, among other things, protest the city’s recent decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.
But other than the absence of the Halloween costumes, this group looked and acted a lot like the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi youth, marching through campus at night with lit torches, chanting: “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”
It’s time to stop pretending that this madness has nothing to do with the election of Donald Trump. David Duke, the former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, attended the Charlottesville rally. “We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump,” Duke said on Saturday, to “take our country back.”
Trump never hesitates to bluntly criticize those who don’t behave the way he wants them to. Even leaders in his own party and members of his cabinet are not immune. Just ask John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and Mitch McConnell. But Trump was anything but blunt over the weekend, failing to identify by name, much less condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who had gone to Charlottesville to spread their message of hate. Instead, from a podium at his New Jersey golf resort, Trump blamed “many sides” for the violence.
Many sides? People were marching on American soil with Nazi flags!
Utah’s Orrin Hatch, the most senior Republican in the Senate, got it right. “We should call evil by its name,” Hatch said. “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
No one who knows or has interacted with Trump in the past can be surprised by anything he has done since he has occupied the White House, not even his latest (until tomorrow) threat of “fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen.” Unfortunately, a new address – not even 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – can’t turn a petulant bully into an inspiring leader. Unlike reality TV, being leader of the free world is for real.
In an attempt to get my mind off of the events in Charlottesville, I went with my wife and eleven-year-old daughter to see “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” an inspiring documentary that humanizes climate change.
I was pleasantly surprised that Paramount Pictures distributed this important film. I was also encouraged by the crowd size in the theater on a Saturday night in mid-August. As the credits rolled and everyone started filing out, I told my daughter to take a good look at everyone. “I’m the only kid here,” she observed.
That was precisely what I was hoping she’d see.
Since Trump has been elected, I’ve been much more focused on what my children see. We are spending a lot more time reading books and articles, and a lot less time listening to what’s on-line or watching social media. There is no depth in 140 characters.
My wife and I spent last week watching Ken Burns’ masterful seven-part documentary “The Roosevelts.” Our eleven-year-old watched all fourteen hours with us. I wanted her to see a president who knew how to replace fear with determination during the Great Depression; who worked with Winston Churchill to fight the Nazi war machine in World War II. I wanted her to see a First Lady who literally wore out her life working on behalf of the poor.
It’s time for good people on both sides of the aisle to come together for the betterment of the country. It’s time to stop rationalizing behavior that is anathema to what you believe. Our children and grandchildren are watching. We teach them a lot by what we condone.
The classic film “Mississippi Burning” tells the story of two FBI agents dispatched to Mississippi to investigate the killing of three civil rights workers in 1964. The murders were carried out by the KKK and covered up by a corrupt local police force. At the end, the mayor commits suicide, prompting one FBI agent to say: “I don’t understand why he did it. He wasn’t in on it. He wasn’t even Klan.”
His superior responded: “Anyone’s guilty who lets these things happen and pretend like it isn’t. No, he was guilty all right. Just as guilty as the fanatics who pulled the trigger. Maybe we all are.”