Let Cooler Heads, and Truth, Prevail

by Heather Robinson


The issues surrounding the tragedy that took place last week in Charlottesville are a minefield, so I hesitate to write anything more about them. But because I also believe honest examination of facts and issues is important, I do want to share a few thoughts.

First, though, I wanted to extend prayers and love to the people of Barcelona, a beautiful city I visited recently (Architect Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona, which investigators are now saying was originally intended to be a target of the terrorists who struck on Las Ramblas, is pictured above). Las Ramblas, the bustling thoroughfare where terrorists struck this week, killing 13 people and wounding more than 100, is usually a joyful place, filled with families and young travelers from all over the world. My heart is heavy when I think about the colorful, eclectic city I visited this summer and the injustice of evil that has just taken place there. Please note: as is the more common pattern, it was an Islamist extremist (not a neo-Nazi) who indiscriminately targeted civilians for death. On Friday, two people died and six were hurt in a stabbing attack in Turku, Finland that also appears to have been Islamist terrorism.

These attacks occurred in the wake of the car ramming attack by a suspected white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia that killed an American woman, Heather Heyer, 32. In addition, two Virginia state troopers, whose helicopter crashed while keeping watch on the rally and counter protest, were laid to rest this week.

The aftermath of the Charlottesville attack has left the country reeling, with liberals and conservatives quick to point fingers, especially in reaction to an explosive press conference in which President Trump took the media to task for failing to acknowledge that activists on “both sides” of the controversy engaged in violence. In that presser, the President stated a harsh truth, one that was widely reported in the early hours following the tragedy by numerous primary sources on the ground in Charlottesville. National Review’s Deroy Murdoch carefully reconstructs early media coverage from those sources, including Reuters, the AP, and the ACLU. Indeed, as these mostly left-of-center primary sources attest, there were people on both sides who came armed, and who fought, in Charlottesville.

At this moment in U.S. history, some on both sides of the political divide would rather be “right” and see this President fail, than see him, and our country, succeed. But whatever is in their hearts and minds, journalists should have respect for the facts. Kudos and respect for Murdoch, who is one of the only commentators to take a stand for truth and accuracy in an atmosphere that has arguably become hysterical.

The atmosphere around the subject of the President has become so toxic in America that some, including many in the media, will deny facts in order to support their biases, or to avoid being labeled “racist.” The week’s events augmented this fear, making it risky to write or say anything to inject nuance into a discussion, or try to foster cross-cultural understanding, for dread of being lumped in with white supremacists, or “white nationalists,” whatever exactly that term means.

The irony is, the more people throw around labels like “racist” and the more insidious “white nationalist” and “alt right” (because the meanings of these terms are nebulous, they can be easily applied to almost anyone as a smear, with no repercussions for the accuser), the less real dialogue is taking place. And as people hunker down in their respective ideological ghettoes, the greater their biases become.

I do not want to see hatred grow in this country, and I also believe in the value of expression, speech, and real dialogue. That is why I’m writing this post; not to align myself with anyone who embraces hatred of any group. I simply decline to censor my thoughts and observations. So here goes.

During the Salem witch trials, neighbor turned on neighbor and friend turned on friend in what turned out to be mass hysteria that took deadly a turn. In order to prove one was not a witch, people pointed fingers at others within their own communities, thereby protecting themselves from the dread suspicion of being a “witch,” and from the fury of the mob.

Some of what I have seen and heard this past week  – and really this entire year – calls to mind that history, in which reasonable discussion became impossible, and many otherwise reasonable people gave in to groupthink.

In a post last week I wrote that “never have so many been so outraged about so little,” and on reflection, while I stand by my observation that most of us have it pretty good here in the U.S., I can see that that might have sounded callous in the wake of this tragedy. What I meant was more along the lines of, never have I seen Americans so divided, and so unreasonable.

I understand why the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville is important to people on both sides of the political schism. I can understand how a black American might feel deeply offended to have to see such a statue. I wouldn’t want to have to walk past a statue of someone who had acted in defense of a system that subjugated and killed and humiliated my people. I can also imagine the mindset of a student of U.S. history who believes that such a statue should be preserved for any number of reasons, including to teach future Americans that those who do not learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them. On a hopeful note, Richmond’s Mayor Levar Stoney this week shared his thoughts with The Wall Street Journal on preserving the monuments with historical context and erecting new monuments to African-American heroes and heroines. Personally, I love the idea of honoring the great abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and author Sojourner Truth.

As the President said, the decision of what to do with and about Civil War monuments should rest with local municipalities, which should act based on the will of their residents. If a statue or memorial exists on federal property, the federal government should decide the matter. It is worth noting that many of the Antifa activists who turned up in Charlottesville and injected themselves into the controversy were from elsewhere.

A few words about President Trump’s remarks this week and the ensuing controversy. I watched the video of his press conference several times. He repeatedly condemned white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK. I don’t know exactly who attended the “Unite the Right” rally and whether anyone there was a “very fine” person. (Nor do I believe pundits who were 350 miles away from the spot where this scrap took place  can know that with any authority). Finally, as a Jew and a human being, I have no wish to defend any white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or KKK, and no illusion about what such groups think of me.

At the same time, I dislike hysteria, and prejudiced thinking, no matter where it’s directed.

As mentioned, I watched the tape of Trump’s press conference about Charlottesville over and over because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. Despite the claims of numerous television pundits, at no time did President Trump defend the KKK, neo-Nazis, or white supremacists. While he did say there were some “very fine people” at the “Unite the Right” protest, he made clear that he believed there were two distinct groups, the first being a law abiding group who were gathered strictly to protest removal of the statue. He repeated several times that in saying there were “very fine people,” he was NOT talking about the other group that he said showed up the “next day” – white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK.

I don’t know whether Trump’s information about who comprised the “Unite the Right” rally in total is accurate. If there was indeed more than one group/type of person at the protest, the first being decent people who care about history and do not have hate in their hearts, I can understand the President not wanting to be forced to lump the two groups together.

Despite Trump’s clear and repeated explanation, I was distressed to hear and witness pundits across the political spectrum saying things like “I can’t believe I’m witnessing this. The President of the United States just defended Nazis!”

Anyone with a kindergarten education can understand that one large group can contain two smaller, separate groups.  At any rate, two plus two does not equal five, and Trump did not defend neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or the KKK. No matter how many times media pundits say he did.

I can understand how the President’s press conference may have rubbed liberals the wrong way, however. He stated an unpopular, politically incorrect truth –  political violence is coming from both sides in this country.

It definitely is.

But maybe, given the week’s tragic events, in which a young woman on the left side of the divide had just been killed, it was not prudent for him to get angry and deliver that harsh truth in that way, at that time.

Though I will not fault him for speaking the truth, perhaps there was also a missed opportunity for showing he embraces another truth: that Americans on both sides are hurting and in need of comfort and reassurance that we are one people.

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