Is Charlottesville, Virginia the new bellwether for racial and socioeconomic relations in the US? No. Does the constantly Blue-Red flipping state of Virginia now own the title of battleground for the hearts, minds and souls of the nation? Probably not. Virginia, and its little known city of Charlottesville, is, if nothing else, where we have seen long accumulating right-wing, white nationalist angst, stirred through one of the most seething presidential seasons since the Goldwater era, finally reach its crescendo: in eruptions of racially-motivated hate and violence. In one of the original birthplaces of American slavery, we are witnessing KKK and Nazi-inspired loons reproducing a veritable Best Hits of racist rhetoric and incendiary behavior–indeed enough to make 18th Century Virginian plantation owners blush.
In the past 24 hours, white nationalists (read: supremacists) in Virginia have engaged in ferocious acts of antagonism with a counter-protesting contingent over, among other things, the removal of a statue commemorating Confederate general Robert E Lee. But let’s be honest–this gathering was also built in lock-step with the white nationalists’ feeling of encouragement–and empowerment–from the Trump administration’s recent decision to target colleges, such as the nearby University of Virginia, which have historically supported Affirmative Action policies.
And what said the POTUS on the monster that he has so masterfully created? Well, he wasn’t the first we heard from. Strangely, Melania Trump, who likely had not encountered a historically disadvantaged person until her 40’s, was the first member of Trump’s inner-circle, if such a thing exists, to speak out, offering this uninspired tripe:
Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) August 12, 2017
Shortly after this, Trump delivered a brief speech about the events in Charlottesville, piggybacked on a longer tirade about the oft-beseiged Veteran’s Affairs, which included the line that we ought to “Ideally, love each other.” This milquetoast request will fall on deaf ears. The lack of insight and sentiment for the gravity of what is happening in Virginia bespeaks a president who is laughably out of his element and thoroughly removed from the racially-volatile temperature that he has helped both stoke and accelerate. The Republican responses have been nothing short of diffident and flat, while the Democratic responses have been predictably rote and safe. No kidding, Bill:
Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and white supremacy. #Charlottesville
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) August 12, 2017
One person has been reported deceased, and dozens more seriously injured, following a particularly odious episode in the Charlottesville protests: a Dodge Charger careening down the street, back-ending another car into a throng of counter protesters. How do we make sense of this escalation? An egregious act of free speech, eroded into riot and fisticuffs, ending in an act of violence straight out of the ISIS playbook. Normalization of hate, and, even more odious (and novel), domestic terrorism. And Trump voters must own it.