In the aftermath of the horrendous events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in recent days; we as a nation and as a collection of shared humanity; must begin to open our eyes to the hate and frustration that surrounds us.
No longer can we look the other way and excuse actions of hate as isolated incidents that happen in other places. Criminal acts against humanity are now almost daily news; and most people simply wonder where it will happen next.
The fear in all of this is that these groups that are filled with hate are suddenly getting a national stage to express their opinions; and that may spark other groups to also work to get their message out, even if it means the death and disfigurement of innocent people.
What these groups fail to see is that the marchers in Charlottesville and in other cities and towns across this country are exercising the same right of free speech and assembly that these hate groups demand. Are we at a point where, “I demand to have my opinion heard; but you can keep yours to yourself,” is the norm?
It doesn’t only happen in the streets of cities, either.
Social media is filled with people and groups who are more than willing to express their opinions and their motives; and then sit back and viciously attack those who choose to share a different opinion. News feeds are filled today with accounts of people being bullied into suicide as well as committing crimes and other acts by people on the Internet who seek to gain leverage over that person.
As we stand and shout down “hate groups”, the true erosion of our daily life is happening one person at a time; one incident at a time. Calm, daily discourse has disappeared. No longer can two people have different opinions, and then express them in an open way without fear of retribution.
The phrase, “We can disagree without being disagreeable” apparently no longer exists. In today’s world, disagreement is met with hate and rhetoric and in some cases, harm.
We, regretfully, are no longer a society of ‘Americans’, instead, we continuously align ourselves with groups and political parties and philosophies; choosing to band together with those who agree with us, and lashing out against those who don’t.
When Barack Obama was elected to his first term in 2008, I remember the discussion about how the White House and the Secret Service were going to handle his use of his Blackberry (remember those?). For the next eight years, like him or not, Obama became the first President to preside over a country dominated by social media. People, who for years had no avenue to voice their opinions – however biased in one way or the other that those opinions were – suddenly had an outlet; and along with the outlet, came the ability to connect with other people who shared those same thoughts.
Our country spent eight years on two sides of a political fence: If you supported the President, then you supported him blindly, because there was fire and brimstone coming from the other side. You didn’t have time to educate yourself on the issue of the day, you simply found out whether or not the White House supported it, and you joined in.
Likewise, on the other side, there was never a gray area, either. If Obama supported it, then you were against it. There was never a moment when you said, “I don’t share many of the President’s views, but in this case, I think he’s on the right track.”
The result? One side of the fence fumed for eight years, waiting for the opportunity to be “in charge” – and when they were in charge, to make the other side suffer and see how it’s felt for the last two terms.
And then it happened.
A new President and a new philosophy and a new political structure. The game was about to change.
And that fence? It’s still there, it’s just that everybody moved over to the other side. Supporters were now the opposition; and the opposition were now supporters. Same groups, different sides.
Those who were “in charge” and supportive of the past President are now hyper critical of each and every syllable that comes from the mouth of the new President or his staff. Nothing is going right; everything is going wrong. There is no room for consensus.
And those who fought for eight years? Well, our guy’s in charge now, and we’re going to show everyone how to run this country. Every tweet and every speech and every policy is supported without question, because there is weakness in admitting that some things may not be going as planned.
And each and every day; the fence grows taller and more impenetrable. The aisle that used to separate Republicans and Democrats in Congress is now a mine field. Our country now finds itself focused on things like three-person run off primary elections in Alabama; because even one shift in votes in Congress could completely change the direction of policy and our country.
Sadly, our obsession now is not to support our country; but to support our cause.
And, because of that, as horrible as they are, truthfully we shouldn’t be surprised when these Alt-Right Wing groups like the ones in Charlottesville choose to express their opinions and act out in ways that we find repulsive.
The events of the past few days need to be met with one, collective voice – we will not tolerate actions of hate and ignorance; not because we lean one way or the other politically, but because we are all Americans.
In our differences, it is time to unite behind those things we agree on. We have a Constitution that allows us to freely express our opinions without the fear of imprisonment or discrimination; but we as citizens also have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – and when the expression of individual rights infringes on the rights of others to pursue life; then the law of our land needs to deal with it swiftly and consistently.
The danger from Charlottesville and other places where violence has broken out is that we see our nation by what side we’re on; not as a collective group of citizens who share this great country.
Is it perfect? No, but I have to believe that it’s getting better. Maybe progress isn’t happening as fast as others would like it to; but I believe that we are moving forward.
But we continue to move forward when we speak with the collective voice of “Americans”, and leave the rhetoric and bias to the minority. Above all, we need to be willing to truly listen to those who feel disenfranchised in our country, and not just dismiss their feelings and views. Violence cannot be tolerated; but voices should be able to be heard.
We need to take the ideological fence down that separates us, and realize that we’re all standing in the same field.