Since the events of last Friday evening in Charlottesville I’ve done a few short posts on our alarming national situation. But until yesterday I had some difficulty coming up with a longer statement that didn’t feel like a hackneyed rehash of what others have been saying. Outrage after outrage after outrage also made it hard to focus on a single topic. But three things happened yesterday that sharpened my focus enough for the words to come.
First—Yesterday a memorial service was held for Heather Heyer, the young woman who was run down by the white supremacist domestic terrorist.
Second—I heard a wonderful interview on NPR yesterday evening with Ilya Somin, a professor of George Mason University, about President Trump’s warning that pulling down Confederate statues may lead to a slippery slope in which monuments to the founding fathers are torn down. Somin’s main point, paraphrasing, is that this is the worst kind of horse shit. Washington, Jefferson, and the other founding fathers had statues erected to them for their roles in founding the nation. They happened to own slaves, but that’s not why we remember them or honor them. On the other hand, statues to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and their peers, were erected solely for their role in defending the South and perpetuating slavery. There is absolutely no equivalence or slippery slope. (Interview available here)
Third—I only see Faux News at the gym or other public places that have the bad taste to have their TVs set to it. Yesterday evening while on the treadmill I saw part of the show hosted by Tucker Carlson, the human embodiment of a decomposing rodent you might happen upon at the back of your storage shed. At one point during Mr. Dead Rat’s show, the banner on the bottom of the screen read something along the lines of “Left using controversy over Confederate Statues to dishonor Founding Fathers.” Having just heard the interview on NPR, I confess that my first thought was “what a &^&$*^ whore for Trump!” But on further reflection, considering that Faux News is our new state television network, it finally really sunk in for me what is actually going on right now. We are in the midst of a new, full-blown culture war. The battle lines have been drawn. The sides are forming up. We are being attacked. Now, I know some of you are probably going to recoil a bit at the martial analogy, but you don’t win wars by trying to ignore their unpleasantness, like you ignore someone farting in an elevator. We must recognize and name it for what it is or prepare to lose.
This isn’t just the old culture war of the 80s and 90s with quacks like Jerry Falwell bemoaning women in the workplace, “the homosexual agenda,” and abortion. That rhetoric still exists among reactionaries who want to turn the clock back, but this is much more dire. Our current culture war is about dangerous sociopaths who still, in the twenty-first century, believe that people who are different from them or who have different opinions or religious beliefs from them are not worthy of being treated as human. On the side I share with so many others, we are in a war with neo-NAZIs, the KKK, and other white supremacists. We are in a war with those who, abandoning the core teachings of their holy book, want to impose their backward vision of society on everyone else. We are in a war with those who care more about profit than justice. We are in a war with those who want to tear apart government and leave us all at the mercy of the rich and powerful. We are in a war with those who believe in the “righteousness” of their cause more than they believe in democracy. We are in a war with those who have no concern for basic, common decency. We are in a war of love versus hate. We are in a new war for the very soul of what America is.
And it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. A multitude of us saw what Trump stood for and feared that his words and conduct gave permission for the slimy underbelly of society to come out into the open. It gives us absolutely no satisfaction to see that we were right. That it has happened has now forced every American to make a choice: either rise and fight against this madness, or be complicit in your silence. There is no in-between, no comfortable seat on the sidelines as you hope someone else will stand. There can be no avoiding getting involved in politics because you don’t like the division or histrionics, no avoiding speaking out with your family, neighbors, or coworkers because you don’t like the conflict. It’s time to get active, to start changing hearts and minds by challenging them, to start working now to vote out the enablers of this madman and all that he stands for.
There have been very few times in this nation’s history when such a stark, moral choice was forced on society, when we found ourselves at such a significant crossroads. What side are you on? Are you going to rise up, or are you going to be part of the problem? What kind of America do you want to live in? The choice you make will shape this nation for the next few generations. I hope you will join us on the right side of history.
Mike Rawlins, County Chair