Wednesday, August 16, 2017
It's gone too far
I don't think I have to explain much of anything about what happened this past weekend in Charlottesville, VA. By now just about everyone knows at least the basic facts: that an event calling itself Unite the Right obtained a permit for a march on Saturday, ostensibly to protest the removal and relocating of some local statues to the Confederacy. That the Friday night before, various groups there for the march held a pre-march march through the campus of the University of Virginia, chanting slogans like "You will not replace us," "Jews will not replace us," and "Blood and soil." That this encouraged more counter-protesters to appear the next morning; that the rally was declared an illegal assembly after there were violent outbreaks that included beatings of counter-protesters by Unite marchers, in one infamous instance using poles (warning: not only a brutal scene but very annoying ads to get through for the video). That in one related instance a helicopter crashed a few miles from the rally, for as-yet-unknown reasons, killing the two VA State Troopers inside; but not before, tragically, a car driven by a rally attendee rammed into several groups of counter-protesters, injuring nearly twenty and killing one.
At least it used to be that just about everyone would know that back when we had three channels with nightly news. With innumerable sources claiming to be collectors and disseminaters of what they call "news," some of it legitimate, most of it conjecture if not outright wishing, a reasonable commentator can't assume everyone is up to speed in the same way. Trump, famously, is primarily a consumer of a single network that provides news entertainment and a few websites, most of which present him in as positive a light as possible. Most recently, we have learned that he may be given a twice-daily set of memos detailing nothing other than "screenshots of positive cable news chyrons..., admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful."
Which may be why Trump reported in his initial statement on the violent events as the deaths and injuries were something that could be blamed on "many sides," a statement that defies analysis. We don't say that a mugger or an arsonist has "a side." Beyond his version of events, he doesn't have a side for having done what he did that we need to pay attention to. Barring exceptional circumstances, robbery and arson are bad acts unto themselves, not to be addressed as if they have a "side." Similarly, assault and intimidation by self-identified Nazis and KKK members against unarmed protesters don't have a side.
If we had thought Trump had reached his nadir, then we weren't prepared for what was to come. Having made a further statement on Monday making more explicit his condemnation of racism, naming "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups," on Tuesday night he made what one supposes he hoped would be a final word on the subject. Naturally, being Trump, it will not be. At least not by commentators and, one hopes, by Republican lawmakers.
His comments were nothing less than offensive and accusatory. “I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane,” he began, before going on to do exactly that. In the ensuing days somehow the counter-protesters had become armed attackers. “You had a group on one side and group on the other and they came at each other with clubs – there is another side, you can call them the left, that came violently attacking the other group." That defies verified videos of the events, although Trump explained to reporters he had watched videos "closer than you did."
He made the further argument, "You had people that were very fine people on both sides...Not all those people were neo-Nazis, not all those people were white supremacists. Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee." There is an argument to be made that not everyone who joined the National Socialists believed in their policies or their actions. That argument can be made for members in the 1930s and 1940s. Not for members in 2017. There is no parallel argument to be made, by the way, for members of the Ku Klux Klan at any period of history. Both groups and their auxilliaries have, by their words and actions , put themselves beyond the scope of society, and while their right to exist and to present their "side" is protected by the Constitution, it is only so long as it is done peacefully, not with guns, poles, and torches, and certainly not with hurtling cars. So far as the comment about people there to protest the statues' removal, yes, they are probably "fine people," but it isn't their argument about the statue that's at contest here, it's their actions of rushing the counter-demonstrators, hitting them, and intimidating them with guns and ersatz riot gear intended to make them look like official police.
We are at an important moment in history. Trump and the thirty-five percent of Americans who somehow continue to think he is doing a job worth approving are at the end of their influence on the important policies of American governance. I've often pointed out that more people believe in ghosts than believe in Trump and we don't allow them to run the country.
Trump has reached his sell-by date; in fact, in the fact that it's cost at least three Americans their lives, he's passed it. The sooner he resigns (preferable because we don't want the martyrdom that might come with impeachment), the sooner the reconstruction of American political life can begin. I don't like Mike Pence as the president, I think in some ways he'll be worse than Trump. But he'll be consistent, he'll play by the rules. And he'll know not to confuse self-proclaimed neo-Nazis and members of the KKK with voters whose endorsement he wants.