Charlottesville: What comes next?
First, let me state clearly that I do not share the views of the alt-right, nor do I subscribe to their actions. Nevertheless, what I am about to say might sound like I am an apologist for them.
Although the Governor of Virginia stated that the protest in Charlottesville was completely non-violent until counter-protesters arrived, the events of last weekend confirm the deep divide in our society, in all of us really — the divide between Caucasians and people of color, rich and poor, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats — the list goes on. This division seems to be built into our DNA, and pre-dates the Revolutionary War.
The current issue of removing Confederate statues is just one more symptom of this. Having lived in both Georgia and Virginia, I believe that the history of the Confederacy is inbred into many Southerners – not so much the issues that led to the Civil War, but rather a need to preserve their heritage, the fact that the North destroyed their homes, their way of life, and their economy. Those of us in the North share a similar fundamental inbreeding — a belief in an indivisible, strong Federal government (a government which in fact is not as unified and strong and dominant as we would like to think), and a lack of understanding of why Confederate symbols are so important to many in the South still today. Removing Confederate flags and taking down statues of prominent Confederate soldiers will not solve our differences, but only exacerbate them. It takes a strong Southern leader, like the Mayor of New Orleans, to do so.
Perhaps Mr. Trump had it right when he initially condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. We are all Americans first,” he said, “and must love each other and cherish our history.” Instead, he buckled under the pressure from all of us and from politicians of each party to clearly name the alt-right groups that we wanted him to “call out.” This may be necessary in order to move forward, but it pits one group of us against another, and simply perpetuates our centuries old divide. That is, unless we follow up with a way to reconcile our differences. The President might have seized the opportunity to nudge us toward a greater understanding and acceptance of each other and our shared heritage. A President with strong moral values, a clear sense of his own personal beliefs, and a positive popularity rating might have been able to do this. Alas, we do not have such a person in the White House.
Perhaps we need our own “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” If prominent religious leaders and political figures like Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein, and Jerry Brown all came together to jointly call upon our clergy and our elected officials to form such a commission, we might be able to move forward in mitigating, if not resolving, our historical differences.
However, we do not have our own Desmond Tutu to lead such a commission. And I’m not sure that we have any one person who enjoys the admiration and esteem of enough of us to be able to do so. I wonder if a co-chair approach might work, with two people leading such a commission, each working closely in unity with the other — let’s say Barak Obama and Jerry Falwell, Jr.
What do you think?