My husband and I spent the better part of this week paddling our kayaks across several Colorado mountain lakes. It was blissful. We spent hours disconnected from the world, but we couldn’t completely tune out. When we came back to our rental unit in the evenings, we were stunned by the reports and images of the neo-nazis and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. Seeing those angry tiki-toting men chanting racist slurs was horrifying, but more horrifying was the image of an American president who seemed unwilling to call the violent bigots out by name.
In Isaiah, the Bible says: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
I am not religious, but I believe this to be true. To defeat an enemy, you have to call him out by name. You have to be specific. You cannot conflate the people who show up to speak out against evil with evil itself. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the president did. He refused to admit that one side was wrong and the other side right. His refusal to call out evil puts him squarely on the side of darkness.
This is a man who didn’t hesitate to coin insulting nicknames for his opponents on the campaign trail. Lying Ted. Little Marco. Nasty woman. If Donald Trump has any talent at all, it’s the ability to hurl vicious insults on the fly. So why was it such a chore for him to directly condemn a crowd of swastika-wearing, Hitler-praising, Confederate flag-waving racists? Trump had no trouble belittling John McCain’s POW status (I like people who weren’t captured.), but he struggled to find the words to call the KKK evil. And what’s with this “many sides” nonsense? This is not a man who takes time to consider “many sides” of anything. In fact, he prides himself on dividing the world into winners and losers. If ever there were a time to embrace his black-and-white, knee-jerk view of the world, Charlottesville was it. The people shouting racial epithets and wearing nazi regalia? Losers. The murderer who used his car to mow down a group of counter-protestors and kill a woman? Loser.
These people were not marching to preserve a statue. They were marching to preserve a dangerous worldview and an antiquated way of life. And, yes, they have the right to march and to speak. Our First Amendment guarantees their freedom to speak as much as it guarantees yours and mine. They don’t have the right to incite violence or to commit violent acts. They aren’t free from condemnation or consequences. None of us are. But their views are abhorrent to any person with a shred of moral decency and we can and should drown out their voices with our own.
I was heartened to see some of the voices raised against these hateful views. Military leaders spoke out against racism and bigotry. Members of the president’s economic council quit and made statements about inclusivity. Republican leaders tweeted or released statements condemning racism and hate groups. A few of the president’s closest advisors looked visibly tortured by the whole mess. I’m still waiting for the strong condemnation from people like Jerry Falwell Jr., Pat Robertson, Kenneth Copeland, and other prominent evangelicals who claim to speak for God. To stay silent or to remain neutral is to align with evil. But hand-wringing and statement-spewing is not enough.
In calling out racism and hate-mongering, the military leaders, business owners, and politicians have made a start in naming the evil that infests this country. But they must do more. They must also denounce by name the person who emboldens these lowlifes to pull off their hoods and crawl up from their basements. If Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and other Republican leaders want to call out evil, they must start by calling out the man at the top. Donald Trump is not part of the problem, he is the problem. He has legitimized people like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. He elevated Jeff Sessions, an Old South segregationist, to the highest law enforcement position in America. To condemn the events in Charlottesville without condemning Trump for his role in making it possible, is shouting into darkness.
Woe unto them.