EDITORIAL: Stoking flames of intolerance
To all of those Obama administration critics who complained for years that they wanted to “take their country back”: Tell us Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend is not what you had in mind.
Because the white supremacists that turned out with their torches and vile views — the skinheads, neo-Nazis, Klansmen, alt-right agitators — they believe this is exactly what was intended.
“We are determined to take our country back,” said former KKK leader David Duke. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. … That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”
Their vision was on full display: flame-stoked marches reminiscent of cross-burning rallies of the past, hate-filled demonstrations filled with racist taunts and threats, and cowardly violence.
One young woman was killed when a man described as a neo-Nazi sympathizer rammed a vehicle into a crowd of peaceful protesters. Nineteen others were injured. Two law enforcement officials were also killed when their helicopter crashed near the demonstrations — cause unknown.
In response to the atrocities, peaceful gatherings were held Sunday night in cities like York, where support for the victims and mourners of Virginia was mixed with uncomfortable assessments of local attitudes: “(Charlottesville) doesn’t feel far away to me,” said local activist Carla Christopher, citing flagrant local displays of Confederate regalia.
The weekend’s events demonstrated that the long march toward racial equality and justice in the United States remains an uphill climb. Now more than ever, given the vacuum of moral leadership in the White House.
The only thing more sickening than the vile actions on vulgar display this weekend was President Trump’s tepid initial response.
After first calling on Americans to “come together as one” in the wake of violence at the demonstrations, the president decried “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides.”
Was the president truly suggesting that women, minorities and right-thinking Americans of all stripes ought to lock arms with white nationalists and “come together as one”? Was he likewise offering the false equivalency that counter-protesters pushing back against the hatred, vulgarity and sheer idiocy of white nationalists are on par with neo-Nazis and the KKK?
Of course not, argued the White House, which sent the usual cleanup crew out on the Sunday talk-show circuit to de- and reconstruct the meaning of the president’s statements.
It wasn’t necessary. Honest Americans — and they include men and women of all nationalities, religions, orientations and political parties — know exactly what he was saying.
And guess what? So do the racists. Consider this response to Trump’s comments this weekend from a leading White Supremacist publication:
“Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. … He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides! … No condemnation at all.”
Not much condemnation from Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, either, who sent out a brief message on Twitter: “We must all be united against bigotry and hate.” At least Sen. Pat Toomey’s Twitter message cited “racism” in Charlottesville, and called it “vile and unacceptable.”
In response to mounting pressure from both sides of the aisle — and the American public — the president on Monday finally made a more forceful statement against racism, calling neo-Nazis and white supremacists "criminals and thugs."
However, Trump’s dog-whistle pandering to the white nationalist movement was among the darkest pillars of one of the most loathsome presidential campaigns in modern history. It didn’t evaporate with his ascendance to the White House — the elevation of alt-right poster boy Steve Bannon to a top administration post being just one glaring example.
In equivocating in his initial response — and, frankly, subsequent responses — to the brazen display of bigotry this weekend, the president emboldens such messages … and their messengers.
The prejudices and hate that fueled the darker chapters of our nation’s history have not been extinguished, but lie dormant. Given ample encouragement and political cover, they can flare anew — like torches in the Charlottesville night.
It is bad enough the president has thus far shown he is either uninterested or unable in dousing these flames. At the very least, he must refrain from stoking them.