We saw history happen last weekend in Charlottesville. History as significant as the shots fired at Fort Sumter. Just as with the Civil War, this is the beginning of a significant battle brought to the surface by, you guessed it, the election of Donald J. Trump. It is a battle that might leave our country in disarray, weakened for another power to come in, if we aren’t careful. And remember, there is one big difference between now and Civil War days: Russia is awake.
This musing was prompted by a piece in the LA Times that indicated how, after Charlottesville, cities were rushing to take down any Civil War statues before White Supremacists could rally around them. These Supremacists, awakened by the election of Barack Obama, called out of the dank recesses by the dog whistles of the Trump campaign, and emboldened by the subsequent non-discouragement of said administration, feel empowered in a way that hasn’t been seen for almost 80 years. As the LA Times has written:
To the white supremacists who gathered from across the country, the havoc in the Virginia college town and the international attention it earned them marked a win. To the counter-protesters, widespread acknowledgment of the threat posed by racism — evident in television images of Nazi symbols and other blatant bigotry — was proof they had prevailed.
It remains unclear what will happen to the racist movement that has been energized by the election of President Trump and was laid out for all to see in Charlottesville. But one thing seems certain: The fighting is not over. Both sides are gearing up for more.
White nationalists and pro-Confederate groups quickly announced rallies and speaking events in Virginia, Texas and beyond, gaining throngs of online supporters while the people who live in those places are already taking to the streets to warn them to stay away.
When Trump had his surprise victory, I felt that this was the final rally of the “White Privilege” folk — a final exercise in protest of the coming shift in America — a shift where the overall non-white or non-Christian population becomes the majority in this country, a shift heralded by the election of Barack Obama to a leadership that looks a lot more like our diverse nation than does the homogeneous complex we see these days. And Mr. Trump has been true to form: selecting individuals as leaders that reflect the White Christian view set, that work to undo advances that helped the minorities, to quick-cement in place privilege and power to those that have long held it — the upper white class.
Charlottesville has brought this to the fore. What could have been a simple exercise of free speech like the marches in Skokie turned — as the organizers likely intended — into violence. When the President did not immediately and swiftly condemn the specific cause of that violence, they were further empowered. His specific condemnation yesterday, read from a teleprompter, was “too little, too late”, especially when he followed it quickly with tweets complaining about how the media had blown this situation all out of proportion. Those who oppose the White Supremacists saw it as an insincere message written by the staff and not really felt by the President; the Supremacists saw it as a further insult by the leadership of the nation and wanted to fight more.
And so we have it now: The battle for the future of this nation. Does it move, as the President and Stephen Bannon’s factions want, to a more White and more Christian nation — a nation much like the United States of the period from 1860 to 1950? Or does it move to a Nation of the 1990s and 2000s: a nation that celebrates both the strength that comes from its diversity and the strength that comes from the unity of that diversity. Does it move to a nation that truly stands for the words in the Pledge of Allegiance: not specifically “under God”, but “with liberty and justice for all”? Does the influence of God in this great nation present itself in enforcement of the punitive restrictions of the Bible — hatred of gays, hatred of other nations, women as a distinct and hidden second class, punishment for abortion, or does God’s influence present itself in the compassionate aspects of the Bible: remembering that it is we too who were slaves and foreigners, that it is our job to help the captive, heal the sick, pick up the downfallen, aid the poor and show mercy (just as, as this non-Christian understands it, Christ showed mercy to Mary Magdelaine)? I know who I want to win.