Proof of our division as a country isn’t found in Charlottesville, but in how we reacted to it.
How we turned a riot and a murder into a political club to beat each other in the head with.
There was no mourning, no shock, no shared sorrow, only the reflexive pouncing of people, parties and philosophies who genuinely hate one another.
There was an immediate and complete effort to hang the event around the neck of the opposition – whoever that is, and whoever we are. Some blamed Trump and talk-show hosts and Republicans in general. Others lashed out at Black Lives Matter and progressive intolerance.
It was tit for tat, and the fight was on.
The division is that complete, and the self-awareness is that absent. Neither side can recognize or admit the slightest bit of fault, for Charlottesville or the widening gulf of animosity. Each is certain of the moral and intellectual inferiority of the other.
And they see Charlottesville as proof of their view.
So, without the overlay of a political agenda, let’s review what happened.
One group, with a permit, held a demonstration. Another group, without a permit, sought to disrupt that demonstration. Then, a partisan of the first group committed murder and attempted murder against the partisans of the second group.
Let’s take those in turn.
The first group – a consortium of self-styled white nationalists and Nazi fetishists – was completely within its rights. That’s how free speech works. Neither the governor of Virginia nor the man in the moon can ban political speech based on the content of that speech – no matter how offensive the average person might find it. The second group was rude and provocative as it sought to silence the speech of others and to break up their gathering. But, in America, rude and provocative speech are also protected free speech, and if the disruption doesn’t draw disorderly conduct charges from the police, then that’s OK, too.
Speaking of the police, it is unfortunate the authorities lost control of this situation and allowed for the angry intermingling of competing protestors. It is probably wise to keep free speech from devolving into a running brawl. People beating on one another are all wrong, no matter who they voted for in the last election.
Then, the act of murder.
While a large number of Americans stood engaged in peaceful assembly and free speech, someone who held a contrary political view attempted to run them down with his car. It is a morally and criminally reprehensible act about which there can be no disagreement.
Was it terrorism, as one side insisted on calling it?
Well, if a 20-year-old running down people because they don’t believe in Allah is terrorism, then a 20-year-old running down people because they don’t believe in Trump is terrorism, too.
Yes, calling it terrorism plays into the left’s efforts to define conservatism as terrorism, and to lessen the social odium of Islamic terrorism. Yes, it’s all a word game about positioning the other side to look bad.
But to argue semantics when an American woman was killed because of her political values is to miss the point, at best, and to prostitute tragedy, at worst.
Unfortunately, mostly we’ve done the latter.
We’ve played this to our political advantage. The editorials and social media prove that. A lawful assembly is broken up and protesting Americans are run down, and all we’ve done is gotten more pissed at one another.
The drum bangers just bang louder and faster. On their Twitter accounts, at their press conferences, in their talk-show appearances. Conservatives are Nazis, progressives are traitors. Accusations are thrown like Molotov cocktails, and for the same purpose. One side is racist and the other side is anti-American, and both sides fight like it’s better than sex. We are a nation divided, and the vultures shouting into the cameras are eager to pick the bones.
And they will, if we turn loose of America’s core principles.
Like freedom of speech and assembly, even for people with whom we and our values disagree. Like equality of persons – as proclaimed in the Declaration and Constitution – regardless of race or anything else.
Like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – for the other guy, as well as ourselves.
We also must hold onto the most important social principles of our Judeo-Christian heritage: To love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and to treat others the way we want to be treated.
We didn’t see those things Saturday, and we haven’t seen them since. Truth be told, we haven’t seen them in a long time.
And that is because of our failing, not the other guy’s. Not that he is without flaw, but that we are powerless to correct his flaws. And like the fellow in the Bible fishing something out of his neighbor’s eye while he himself had something in his own, we are blind to our own piece of this mess, and hypersensitive to what we believe is the other fellow’s piece. Neither side can see its own flaws, neither side can see its opponents’ strengths.
But we all have blood on our hands.
The blood of the woman murdered in Charlottesville, and the blood of patriots who died to make this “one nation … indivisible.”
If we want to change the country, we must first change ourselves.