I still don’t know how to process, much less fully articulate, my feelings about Charlottesville.
What do you say when you’re confronted with an evil you can’t dismiss as an isolated incident or the act of a deranged loner, but is the product of a hive mind running on pure, unreasoning hatred and self-righteous stupidity?
Last weekend, a large group of white men wielding tiki torches and identifying as white nationalists, some chanting “Jews will not replace us!,” gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, a symbol of a society built on the enslavement and abuse of millions of human beings.
Clashes with counter-protesters turned violent. Then, on Saturday afternoon, a Hitler admirer drove his car into another vehicle, killing a young woman and injuring several other counter-protesters. Two Virginia state troopers also died in a helicopter that crashed while monitoring the riot.
On Sunday night, a vigil organized by Indivisible North Coast Oregon took place at Eighth and Commercial streets. Roughly 100 people turned out, sang loving protest songs and observed a moment of silence for the fallen.
Notably, the speakers named the source of the problem. White nationalism. White supremacy. The euphemistically labeled “alt-right.” Fascism.
This starkly contrasted with President Donald Trump’s mealy-mouthed speech the day before that condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides” — let that stunning false equivalence sink in — but didn’t call out the noxious ideology that fueled “Unite the Right.” (This from the guy who harped on President Barack Obama’s refusal to associate ISIS with Islam.)
Trump’s inability to condemn white nationalism specifically for two days — an elision that neo-Nazi groups gleefully interpreted as a tacit endorsement — and only because he finally buckled under pressure, offered yet another window into the moral cowardice of the man. Which is more pathetic: marching in a white supremacist rally, or being unable to condemn the marchers because you need their votes and feel compelled to reward their support?
Trump may pretend not to understand what really took place in Charlottesville — and what his own racist demagoguery, from bitherism onward, contributed to it — but cities across the U.S. held vigils similar to Astoria’s. And they, too, understood what happened and named the problem.
Sometimes, even when your voice cracks and all you can muster is a feeble “This is wrong” because stronger and more eloquent words escape you, it’s important to say it anyway.
And, if you look around, you’ll find people who are struggling to process their feelings as well but who can still recognize evil and can name it when they see it. There’s some comfort to be found in that.