The recent turmoil in Charlottesville, Virginia, was a reminder of the darkest, most immoral periods in American history. It reminds us that in spite of the progress America has made away from two centuries of slavery and one century of Jim Crow laws, the ugliness of racial hatred still exists in America.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports a tripling of American hate groups in this brief century. I find it is ironic that the conflict erupted in the city that hosts the University of Virginia, whose campus was designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson wrote the five most historically and morally important words offered up by someone other than Jesus. “All men are created equal” is the very cornerstone of our great American experiment.
These words made the entire world take notice. Its expanded definition to include women and non-whites is the very fabric of the American ideal that is so admired throughout the world. It is our striving to fulfill our commitment to those five words that places the United States above every great nation that preceded it.
The white supremacists, self-proclaimed fascists and Neo-Nazis did not gather in Charlottesville just to protest the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee. Their anti-Semitic chanting the following night in Charlottesville is evidence of that fact.
No, these individuals gathered there to refute the words of Jefferson. This largest gathering of hate-mongers on American soil in my lifetime was there to denigrate this American ideal. To them I say, “If you hate this ideal, then move to Russia where you will feel more at home.”
The president was widely criticized for his initial response to Charlottesville, in which he placed equal blame on both sides (the protesters and their counter-protesters) — a response he doubled down on later.
Mr. President, it is morally offensive to equate the hate-mongers with those who protest hate. I am certain there were counter-protestors who overstepped the line of civil protest. But the white nationalist hate-mongers were there to incite violence. If you don’t believe that, you did not witness their post-riot interviews.
One cannot blame President Trump for the increased number of hate groups in America, though his birther nonsense likely played a small part. However, their increased visibility and the rising volume of their inflammatory speech can be attributed in large part to Donald Trump, whose obvious reluctance to criticize this small deplorable portion of his base has ennobled them, at least in their own minds.
Following the rioting, many of them were even on the record as saying so. Noted journalist Cokie Roberts best summarized the Trump effect on the rise of racism in America. Throughout his campaign, she said, he uttered dog whistles that anyone who was raised in the Jim Crow South — as she was — could easily recognize.
Such language attracted voters to you, Mr. President, but at what cost to our nation?
Mr. Trump completely misinterprets the meaning of what Theodore Roosevelt called the bully pulpit. Bully had a much different meaning 100 years ago, and Roosevelt’s emphasis was upon the word pulpit.
The pulpit you have attained, Mr. President, needs to be used to further the ideals of our great nation, not return us to a stained and shameful past.
The American ideal, rooted in the perfect words of Thomas Jefferson, has been imperfectly applied in our history. But most presidents endeavored to live up to the Jeffersonian principles stated in those five time-honored words.
It is time, Mr. Trump, for you to do the same.
Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield.