I walked through the deserted streets of Charlottesville Saturday afternoon thinking of Baltimore and Ferguson in the aftermath of riots there as well as the empty streets of Kuwait City in the aftermath of its liberation during the Gulf War.
Chaos, then a nervous calm and finally reflection followed each experience.
Lost in the chaos in the aftermath of the riot in Charlottesville was the news that North Korea had decided to step back from the brink.
It is perhaps the greatest victory of the Trump era and no one was talking about it – including the President of the United States – who in a raucous exchange with the press at Trump Tower Tuesday seemingly defended Alt-Right demonstrators and other white supremacists who sparked violence Saturday near the campus of the University of Virginia.
Trump tried desperately to use facts to back up his attempt at even-handedness. He said both sides engaged in violence. True. He said one side had a permit to march. True. He said those who engaged in murder should be punished. True. He said Washington and Jefferson were slave owners. True.
But how he weaved together disparate facts to paint a picture of “both sides” being guilty is disingenuous and telling as to our president’s mindset. While the president is correct everyone is entitled to an opinion – and we will defend to death anyone’s right to espouse an opinion contrary to our own – no one has the right to encourage and incite violence.
That is precisely what the leaders of the alt-right movement did Saturday and have done for years. They came spoiling for a fight, got what they wanted and delivered a death blow to 32-year-old Heather Heyer – a paralegal who marched in counter protest to their hate. David Duke, Richard Spencer, Matthew Heimbach and others on the far right, through blogs, emails and social media continue to stoke the fires of hatred and division – encouraging violence and welcoming it.
The president had nothing specifically to do with this brand of dangerous lunacy, but whatever your particular political affiliation, most people will agree we’ve never been more divided as a nation. The president has some responsibility for this - as do we all.
So President Trump’s press interaction at Trump Tower Tuesday was important. That several of the nation’s CEOs and his own party have backed away from him as a result is more than telling. It is condemning.
Trump cannot blame “Fake News” on this one and call us the enemy of the people. He had the pulpit. His words and his actions are there for everyone to see. Trump again decided to give cover to those who want to watch it all burn and who took Trump’s talk as words of encouragement.
Walking through the crowd of participants after the riot on Saturday, there were people who were for the president and those who were against him. None of them were moved by the violence to give up the violence. None of them were swayed by the president to either give up or put down their swords. Quite the contrary. Many of the combatants on both sides looked to the president as a reason to carry on their particular struggle. Those who love him see him as a figure unjustly reviled. Those who revile him see him as the instigator of the mess. None of them we spoke with had hope – on either side of the fracas - for peaceful solutions in the future.
President Trump’s weak admonishments Saturday against white supremacists encouraged David Duke. Trump’s words on Sunday and Monday – meant to strengthen his resolve against white supremacists were met with veiled threats by Duke who encouraged the President to remember who put him in office.
Tuesday, a president who has never had a problem tweeting out his thoughts without checking the facts (remember he once accused Obama of tapping his phones) told us he had to have the facts at his disposal before he made a statement to the media regarding the events in Charlottesville – hence his 48-hour delay in issuing a strong condemnation.
Then he again said both sides were guilty in the violence that took Heyer’s life. David Duke appreciated it – and whether or not Trump meant to do it – he once again gave the Nazis, the anti-Semitists, and every other white supremacist cover and encouragement.
And he missed the point by a mile: If standing up to oppression makes you guilty of the sins of the oppressor, then we shouldn't have fought the Revolution and WWII for starters.
It is precisely because of this the country must find a different path to peace. If you cannot condemn white supremacy, the Nazis and those who preach “Jews won’t replace us” without qualification then you cannot hold the highest office in our country. Those groups stand directly opposed to the spirit of our nation.
Whether or not you meant to do it - you have to take responsibility for encouraging hate and violence mongers and discouraging - well everyone else in the country who is capable of cogent thought. There is no middle ground in this and no neutral ground in which to hide. It is simple - those whose endgame is the destruction of anyone who doesn't think as they do remain the most serious and dangerous challenge to our nation. They don't hide their intentions. They are emboldened and preach openly of tearing down the country.
In so much as these people look to Trump for inspiration and chant his name at rallies and since he has been unable in his seven months in office to do anything more than widen the gap between all Americans and now is even unable to enjoy the fruits of his own labor on the international scene – he should resign.
I take no joy in writing that. I fear it will further tear us asunder, but I cannot see this experiment continuing for another three and a half years without the Republic being irreparably harmed. I pray I am wrong. I pray our president quits tweeting, quits dividing us and brings us together. I don't want to see it another way. But if he really cares about this country he should walk away because I don't think a sizable portion of this country's population will ever accept him - particularly after his actions regarding the riot in Charlottesville. It is the breaking point for many - including many who once supported him.
Those who still support him will be further inflamed by this. It is understandable if you are supporting him I understand you want to give him a chance. I did too. But his actions have put us on the brink. Chaos and bedlam are all about – and while the president has proved he thrives on such things – the nation needs something far different. The nation needs cool headed, calm thinking – and that is one thing most everyone will agree President Trump is incapable of doing. He is the storm.