Despite being a little over two weeks ago, I can’t stop thinking about the events of Charlottesville and its aftermath.
I’m deeply troubled by a Washington Post-ABC News Poll conducted within the past week, wherein 9 percent of Americans said holding neo-Nazi or white supremacist views is acceptable. That’s 9 percent too many. It’s equivalent to about 22 million Americans. That’s a lot of people. And while 83 percent called holding neo-Nazi or white supremacist views as “unacceptable,” that left 8 percent with no opinion.
In that same poll, 28 percent of those surveyed approved of Trump’s response to Charlottesville, while 56 percent disapproved. I know it’s just one poll, but that disapproval number still seems rather low. The lack of leadership from President Trump is something of a new low point in his presidency, which is saying something. It’s something that bears repeating, in my opinion; it’s not something people should shrug off or normalize.
Like many Americans, seeing the carnage of racists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Klan members march in the streets of an American city – openly chanting slogans from Nazi Germany (“Blood and Soil!”) and yelling “Jews will not replace us” – was beyond horrifying. The death of Heather Heyer was a terrible tragedy. The scores of injured people were awful and Trump’s response, simply astonishing. A Washington Post article showed a timeline of Trump’s wavering comments and a laundry list of how members of Congress responded to Charlottesville: the contrast was striking.
The failure of Trump to vehemently and unequivocally condemn the white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members, and neo-Nazis immediately after the events has only further emboldened people who hold these abhorrent views. Whether he wants to admit it or not, Trump’s comments, in effect, legitimize white supremacists and Klan members and anyone else who was holding a tiki torch. That’s how they’re going to interpret those initial weak comments from him.
In a USA Today article days after the event, Richard Spencer, alt-right poster boy and one of the organizers of the Unite the Right rally, called Trump’s “many sides” comments “fair and down to earth.” The same article references a David Duke tweet thanking President Trump for “your honesty and courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville.” When David Duke – the former Imperial Wizard of the KKK – applauds your comments, you’re doing something incredibly wrong.
I think Trump’s impotent response to the violence is part of the larger problem here. Yes, he finally did say “racism is evil,” but his prepared remarks were ultimately perfunctory. Trump should’ve been explicit in his condemnation of neo-Nazis and white supremacists from the beginning.
At a rally in Phoenix last Tuesday, Trump decried the media backlash over his Charlottesville remarks. He doesn’t seem to comprehend why people were upset with him in the first place. Citizens can’t rely on their president in moments like this to unify a fractured nation.
With the lack of leadership from the top, people have to rely on each other to combat the scourge of hatred that exists. Though Spencer and company have promised more rallies in the future, they’re most definitely going to be met by counter-protesters at every turn.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is an invaluable resource for fighting extremism and hate. For instance, they have a “Hate Map” that tracks the number of hate groups in the country by state. Studying and researching extremist groups is their bread and butter.
There was a recent New York Times article that presented another way to combat hate. It talked about how residents of a German town responded to neo-Nazis that would march through every year. For every meter the neo-Nazis marched, locals pledged to donate the equivalent of $12.50 to a program that helps people leave extremist groups and anti-racist organizations. They raised nearly $12,000. That’s an idea we could adopt here in the states, too.