A few words about Charlottesville…

We mourn Charlottesville because Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States, made clear in no uncertain terms that in his mind there was little distinction between those in Charlottesville who pursued the un-American "values" of soil, blood, and racial dominance and those who pursued the ideals of the American Constitution.

 

Confederate Statue And Flag

My hometown of Rome, Georgia has an organization called “Turn Your Back on Hate” which is committed to confronting  anger, bigotry, ignorance, and violence, but peacefully and in solidarity with all persons of good will, drawing on the message of love and justice.   I was honored to be invited to speak, along with several other members of my little city, at a community-wide candlelight Vigil for Charlottesville.  Here is what I said:

 
“Our nation, like every nation, is defined both by ideals and by lived experiences.

Our ideals can shape who we are today by allowing us to envision who we can be tomorrow. But our ideals only have power when we commit ourselves to them.

Therefore the question before us tonight is whether we are willing to recognize our shortcomings and to continue the slow hard work with other good-hearted persons of fashioning ourselves more fully, if imperfectly, into the people we wish to be.

At our best we really can work together to close the gap between our experiences and our most noble ideals.

Consider the Civil Rights Movement.

In the 1960s, inspiring leaders, exemplified in the person of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., persuaded a majority of whites that the contrast between America’s ideals–as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the amended Constitution, and, to many, the Bible–and the reality of life as experienced by our nation’s minority citizens was shameful and indefensible.

The reality of segregation made a mockery of our ideals.

Our civil rights leaders held up a mirror to white Americans and asked them whether their actions and laws and attitudes were consistent with their own self-proclaimed ideals. In effect, what they asked white Americans was this: are you a hypocrites…or are you a liar?

The crucial insight of the Civil Rights movement was that one can either love the Declaration of Independence or one can love segregation–one or the other, not both.

Segregation existed either because White Americans did not actually love the principles they claimed to hold, or because they loved them in theory but failed them in practice.

Thankfully, the Civil Rights movement nudged white Americans to take the nation’s ideals more seriously and to recognize how the nation had fallen woefully short of the mark for millions of Americans.

That decision to honor our ideals was not inevitable. White majorities could have rejected the ideals articulated in our Founding documents. They had done so before. One such time was the 1860s, and one such place was the Confederacy. At that time Confederate leaders decided that men are not created equal and that slavery was not an evil to be eliminated but a positive good to be defended, protected, nourished and celebrated.

That decision ranks among our nation’s most shameful moments.

Now fast forward to 2017.

Fast forward to Charlottesville.

Tonight we gather together to mourn Charlottesville.

We mourn Charlottesville:
–because an innocent life was lost and dozens of others were injured by an act of bigoted rage.

We mourn Charlottesville:
–because hundreds of overly delicate and triggered young men whose feelings had apparently been hurt real bad by social progress came to Charlottesville to lash out at all those who would dare threaten their assumptions of natural superiority.

And lastly we mourn Charlottesville:
–because Charlottesville reminds us yet again that our journey as a people almost always entails a step back for every two steps forward.

How do we respond tonight?

It is time once again to acknowledge the gap between our ideals and our lived experiences, and to reaffirm the ideals of Love and Justice that bind us together regardless of our race, gender, sexual orientation, or origin of birth.

The lust for power and privilege is intoxicating and therefore Love and Justice will always stand opposed.

I pray this evening that our nation is not entering into a moral eclipse in which the light of love and justice is obscured by the shadow of hatred and prejudice.

I pray we remember that whether our days going forward will remain illuminated by the universal ideals of love and justice fought for–and died for–by Martin Luther King, Jr., is a decision finally left up to ourselves.

Lastly, I pray that we allow the memory of Charlottesville–like Orlando before it, and New York City, and Oklahoma City, and Selma, and like so many other places touched by evil at war with right–to stir us to live up to our best ideals, to the better angels of our nature.

FILED UNDER: General, US Politics, ,
Michael Bailey
About Michael Bailey
Michael is Associate Professor of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, GA. His academic publications address the American Founding, the American presidency, religion and politics, and governance in liberal democracies. He also writes on popular culture, and his articles on, among other topics, patriotism, Church and State, and Kurt Vonnegut, have been published in Prism and Touchstone. He earned his PhD from the University of Texas in Austin, where he also earned his BA. He’s married and has three children. He joined OTB in November 2016.

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    Our civil rights leaders held up a mirror to white Americans and asked them whether their actions and laws and attitudes were consistent with their own self-proclaimed ideals. In effect, what they asked white Americans was this: are you a hypocrites…or are you a liar?

    And now it’s happening again.

    You Christians who supported Trump: now that you see what he really stands for, do you stand with him, or with Christ?

    You Libertarians who supported Trump: now that you see what he really stands for, do you stand with him, or with freedom?

    You “principled Conservatives” who supported Trump: now that you are forced to admit that you knew all along what he really stands for, do you continue to insist that America is better off when led by an infantile sociopath who spits on your values and your ethos, than when led by a mediocre Liberal?

    History is watching.

  2. Guarneri says:

    @DrDaveT:

    It of course is a stupid conclusion that racism is what he stands for. But Lord knows there are plenty around this blog.

    And as for the criticism of the “all sides comments.” –>

    Despite the fact that it is always Islamists responsible for Islamist terrorism (see the name; just what it says on the tin), President Obama proclaimed that many sides were in fact responsible for the rivers of blood spilled by Islamists, including, most notoriously, the Christians.

    His latest challenge came Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast. At a time of global anxiety over Islamist terrorism, Obama noted pointedly that his fellow Christians, who make up a vast majority of Americans, should perhaps not be the ones who cast the first stone.
    “Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he told the group, speaking of the tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

    And as usual the media slurp, slurp, slurped over the all sides argument.

    They aren’t the brightest bulbs either….

  3. An Interested Party says:

    History is watching.

    Sadly, such sentiments matter very little to those who crave power over following the principles they supposedly claim to stand for…people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell make mealy-mouthed declarations and innuendos about the leader of their party, but have yet to turn against him…if not now, when…

  4. michilines says:

    @Guarneri: copying and pasting from a website that is more juvenile than protein wisdom is not the best way to advance your point of view. However, I’m pretty sure you have been called out on this type of behavior before.

    What might be more interesting than other old ideas is what you really think about our current predicament. Leaving out whataboutism, could you tell us all what the point of your comment was? Do you think Trump or the Unite the Right People met their goals? Or are they on to the next new grievance?

  5. Lit3Bolt says:

    The problem here is bigoted young white douchebags are conflating their right to act like assholes on internet forums to their right to act like assholes in public spaces for all to see.

    Now the new national test will be, does KKK membership and neo-Naziism guarantee free speech rights?

    Not when both groups are associated with terrorism, organized crime, and prison gangs.

    Oh that’s right, nobody hears about white on white violence, do they?

  6. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    Professor Bailey: Ya done good! Thank you!

  7. James in Bremerton says:

    The nightmare would continue if more statues were going up, instead of accelerated removal.

    The nightmare would go on if ordinary citizens hadn’t used the magnificent information handling tools of our age to do what Europeans in the 1930s could not possibly have done: cost nazis their jobs before they ever got a toe-hold.

    The nightmare would be inescapable but not for the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

    The nightmare persists until the widening criminal disaster in the white house is eliminated.There is no coming back from nazi. Never in a million years would I expect to see Americans engaged in nazi rallies and torch light parades. The shame is far deeper than any of those scared little pasty-faced little boys can possibly imagine.

    And we’re just not going to have any more of that. Never again.

  8. CSK says:

    @James in Bremerton:

    Unfortunately, you may see some of it in Boston today, when the Klan and the Nazis show up for the free speech rally on the Common.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Well said Professor Bailey.

    Further reading along these lines: Ferguson, Charlottesville show America’s true colors

    This is not St. Louis, I said.

    It was August 2014, and I was driving to work. For a few days, images of militarized lines of police backed by armored vehicles staring down black protesters on the streets of Ferguson had been burned into the national psyche. Gov. Jay Nixon was slow to respond. Peaceful, black protesters faced cops with semi-automatic weapons and dogs. It was the 1960s, and yet it was today, in the post-racial America envisioned by the nation’s first black president.

    I turned on my audio recorder on my phone as I made my daily drive from West County to downtown. I was angry and self-righteous. This is not St. Louis, I said, imagining we were better than that. This is not America, I pleaded. The words would later be paired with the Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of the Post-Dispatch staff for a video editorial that I thought imagined a better St. Louis. A better America.

    Three years later, I realize I got it wrong.

    It started with a tweet. As Nazi-wearing white supremacists took to the streets of Charlottesville, Va., armed to the hilt like the full-bore terrorists they are, I sought once again to condemn such actions from my comfortable position of white privilege. “The ugly racism and hate being displayed by white supremacists in #Charlottesville is pure evil,” I wrote on the social media platform Twitter. “This cannot be the new normal in America.”

    Almost immediately I felt some backlash from my black followers, many of whom I came to know — either personally or through social media — through reporting and writing on Ferguson and the changed racial landscape in St. Louis since then.

    “This is not the new normal,” wrote one person. “This is the U.S. Don’t try to change the historical narrative.”

    “New normal?” wrote another. “Ain’t nothing new here!”

    It was Washington University associate professor Jason Purnell who really opened my eyes.

    “America isn’t better than this,” Purnell wrote. “America is this. America CAN be better than this if we finally face that fact.”

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Also from Russ Feingold: How the Republican party quietly does the bidding of white supremacists

    It takes approximately 30 seconds to send a tweet. A half hour to draft and release a statement. And the shelf life of both is only marginally longer. We should not commend Republican party elected officials who claim outrage on social media at Trump’s remarks, often without daring to mention his name. The phony claimed outrage becomes dangerous if it convinces anyone that there is a distinction between Trump’s abhorrent comments and the Republican Party agenda.

    The lesson from Charlottesville is not how dangerous the neo-Nazis are. It is the unmasking of the Republican party leadership. In the wake of last weekend’s horror and tragedy, let us finally, finally rip off the veneer that Trump’s affinity for white supremacy is distinct from the Republican agenda of voter suppression, renewed mass incarceration and the expulsion of immigrants.

    There is a direct link between Trump’s comments this week and those policies, so where is the outrage about the latter? Where are the Republican leaders denouncing voter suppression as racist, un-American, and dangerous? Where are the Republican leaders who are willing to call out the wink (and the direct endorsement) from President Trump to the white supremacists and acknowledge their own party’s record and stance on issues important to people of color as the real problem for our country?

    Words mean nothing if the Republican agenda doesn’t change. If governors and state legislatures don’t stand up for the people they were so quick to embrace in order to avoid the impression, they too share Trump’s supreme affinity for the white race. They are not indirectly, but directly enabling the agenda of those same racists that Republican members were so quick to condemn via Twitter.

    Gerrymandering, strict voter ID laws, felon disenfranchisement are all aimed at one outcome: a voting class that is predominantly white, and in turn majority Republican.

    The supremacist’s chant of, “you will not replace us,” could easily and accurately be the slogan for these Republican politicians. Their policies will achieve the same racial outcome as Jim Crow – the disenfranchisement and marginalization of people of color.

    It is a sad day when more CEOs take action by leaving and shutting down Trump’s Strategy and Policy Forum, and Manufacturing Council, than elected officials take action leaving Trump’s “election integrity” commission.

  11. Kari Q says:

    @Guarneri:

    That’s not even good “whataboutism.” Seriously, step it up a bit.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @Guarneri:

    The actual text of the prayer breakfast:

    As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife. We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done. We see faith driving us to do right.

    But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

    We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

    So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

    Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

    So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

    And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

    Show me where Trump used language as specific as that bolded above in condemning Nazi and Klan marchers in Charlottesville. You object to Obama’s lack of bigotry, his refusal to blame 1.5 billion people for the actions of a few hundred thousand at most. Your very choice of text shows you up as a bigot.

    Look at you, Drew, reduced to pathetic, dishonest cut-and-paste jobs. What happened to breezy, cocky Drew who’d pop in and demand to know why our panties are all in a twist. Has it slowly penetrated your thick skull that Trump is really in trouble? Has it begun to dawn on you that your fantasy triumph was turning to dust?

  13. Cal American says:

    The republicans have become the party of Neville Chamberlain’s. Thinking they can control the nazi sympathizer-in-chief. Negotiating with nazis is death by a thousand cuts.

    History is repeating itself. Facism rises when good men do nothing.

    Are there any good men left in the republican party?

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Guarneri:

    It of course is a stupid conclusion that racism is what he stands for.

    For perhaps the first time, you have said something true. That would be a stupid conclusion. Trump doesn’t “stand for” anything at all. Trump is for Trump; he has no other ‘values’.

    …But you knew that, and defend him anyway. For your sake, I hope you really are just the troll you seem to be. Actually believing your own crap would be far more debilitating.

  15. teve tory says:

    @James in Bremerton:

    And we’re just not going to have any more of that. Never again.

    When I hear Never Again about anything, my brain translates it to, “Again, soon, and regularly”.

  16. Bookdragon says:

    Amen, Prof. Bailey. Amen.

  17. James in Bremerton says:

    @CSK: Turns out the nazis were outnumbered at least 10 to one. Very gratifying to see.

  18. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And, first, we should start with some basic humility.

    Well that explains why Drew doesn’t get it. Eh?

  19. Tyrell says:

    @CSK: First of all, the Nazi and Klan groups should not be allowed to demonstrate anywhere except Iran or North Korea: period !

    There are are reports of people stomping on and desecrating American flags. What is going on with that ? I thought the issue was the Confederate flag. Anyone who stomps on or burns the US flag is stomping on every US citizen – black, white, Hispanic, Asian, women, men. They are stomping on Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln.

    To anyone traveling near the eclipse pathway in the Southeast on Monday: the highway officials and police are saying to be ready for heavy traffic and huge jams on the interstates and by – passes; all the way to the South Carolina coast.

  20. teve tory says:
  21. teve tory says:

    Methinks this idiot doesn’t know what ‘token’ means.

  22. teve tory says:

    A friend who’s watching tv coverage of boston says this:

    In every crowd shot on MSNBC, Boston looks like a happy, multicultural city where everyone is fit and smiling. Every crowd shot on Fox shows fat women, sweaty folks, and black people with low riding pants. If you picked your nose on boston common today, you’re on Fox news tonight

  23. grumpy realist says:

    @James in Bremerton: HuffPost has a collection of the best signs seen hoisted by the counter-protesters. The one I like the best is the one stating “The only hate Boston has is for the Yankees”.

    There’s also another article written by someone in Seattle (too lazy to link) which pointed out the way to really frost the neo-Nazis’ shorts is not violence, but by making fun of them. A local neo-Nazi rally was confronted by goose-stepping clowns in full make-up and Nazi uniform.