Lang Waters: Equivocation of hate crime indefensible
In Charlottesville, a woman died at the hands of a white supremacist, and 19 more were hospitalized by the same vehicular act of violence.
Reports mention and video shows that supremacists wore body armor, came with shields, and many carried guns. Far-right sources say that antifa (anti-fascist) protesters rushed into the midst of the peaceful Nazis and started swinging with bats, using mace and pepper spray and generally beating up poor white supremacists. It’s a ridiculous “they started it” narrative.
Far left sources point out what the far right sources say and show video of supremacists marching into peaceful antifa where violence immediately breaks out, ostensibly as evidence that the Nazis were to blame. What’s lacking on the left narrative is the fact that the “peaceful” antifa are blocking the supremacists from reaching the destination to which they were permitted to march. It’s not clear who threw the first punch, but violence erupts as inevitably as an explosion follows a lit fuse. Counterprotesters believe it is supremely courageous to stand in the way of armed racists. The reality is that the racists were exercising their civil rights, and blocking them from their destination was many different kinds of stupid.
But the stupidity of obstructing and fighting with racists is not morally equivalent to driving a car into a crowd and killing and injuring people. It’s not remotely the same thing, and saying that there is “blame on many sides” is an abdication of moral leadership. Many Republicans have tried to fill the vacuum of moral leadership with statements of their own. There are quite a few statements to choose from, but Mitt Romney’s is one of the most forceful:
“[The president] should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize. State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100 percent to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis — who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat — and the counterprotesters who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute.”
Two different business advisory bodies made up of CEOs of some of the largest companies in America (Dow, Dell, Whirlpool, Ford, Merck — it’s a long list) disbanded in protest of Trump’s equivocation. The “Business President” has alienated the leaders of the business community. In an unusual step, leaders of all five branches of the armed forces issued unequivocal statements.
Trump’s “whataboutism” obscures the fact that a white supremacist has killed and injured in the name of hate. He is devoid of any sense of proportion. He has confused and politicized an issue that should be among the easiest statements a president can make — unequivocal condemnation of a hate crime. Most egregiously, he has provided cover for and emboldened one of the most radical segments of society in the U.S. This is the opposite of uniting a nation. This is the opposite of moral leadership. This is why the president’s equivocation matters.
Don Rogers, in his opinion piece, made several good points, but his conclusion is a bad one — the idea that the best course of action is to ignore the fools and their swastikas. He says, in essence, “What if the Nazis throw a party and nobody shows up?” As tempting as that may seem, the assumption that racists will be starved to death from lack of attention is wrong. These groups are emboldened and growing in a way that hasn’t been seen in many decades. To ignore is to risk normalization. The silence of good people has throughout history allowed cancers to grow until they are fatal. That’s why Republican repudiation of extremism is so important, and why the failure of the president to lead in this regard is a failure that can’t be overlooked.
Civil society is not static; it’s an ongoing process. Our values are our guideposts, and our institutions, which embody these values, provide the bulwark of our moral safety net. We look to our leaders to embody and articulate our shared values. That’s why we call them leaders. This president is not civil, and other leaders have had to provide the moral leadership that he lacks.
Equivocation on the hate crime in Charlottesville is morally indefensible. None of us, regardless of party, can afford to normalize this president’s moral failings.
Lang Waters lives in Nevada City.
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“There is a cult of ignorance in this country … nurtured by the false notion that ‘my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov, 1980.