President Donald Trump does not have a history of racial bigotry, yet his comments after the ill-fated Charlottesville, Virginia, protest have flamed emotions nearly as diverse and erratic as his daily Twitter outbursts.
The president was soundly criticized for not rushing to the podium to condemn hate groups after the Charlottesville rally turned violent. When he did make more-detailed comments, he was again criticized for being too slow to take a stand. That’s when Trump launched into a barrage against critics.
As often is the case with Trump, he didn’t measure his opinions. He said there were two sides to the contention over removing a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. With hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nation on one side of the confrontation, the nation rocketed into a furious debate over his words and the issue of Confederate and other monuments.
Trump, however, was not defending Neo-Nazis or Klan members. He was speaking for the base of people who, for historical purposes, would like to protect the monuments. That point has been lost in the frenzy.
The usual wrath toward the media for reporting on the controversy is where Trump first turned his attention. But the truth is that ranking Republicans were a prominent part of the chorus chiding the president for not choosing his words more carefully. The ugly riot at Charlottesville and the words spoken afterwards were not an invention of the media.
As the days moved forward, Trump stopped dueling over comments and gave a speech encouraging peace, love and understanding among Americans. For a moment, the wailing over monuments, hate groups and historical perspectives was tempered.
Hanging on to the president’s love and Americanism speech is a good place to stop and consider some points beyond emotion.
The outrage and national debate following Charlottesville can be healthy for the nation, if the majority of Americans want to reach a resolution. The harsh feelings over monuments, the history of slavery and the degradation of people have long cut a deep wound through America. And that’s not because it doesn’t in most countries. The difference is the United States formed through the vision of people who saw the value of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have scars from our past, but as a nation, we have an avenue to better days.
History in the South is complex. Relationships are sometimes great and other times strained. Isn’t that true everywhere?
The fate of monuments to Civil War figures should occur between people who have genuine passion, yet reasonable minds and a respect for being American citizens. The radicalized hate groups have no place in this debate. Those who are looking at this issue from a historical standpoint should not allow the Klan, Neo-Nazis and other hate groups to infringe on the discussion.
There are reasonable voices across this country – some of the best decisions and discussions about issues occur at the local level, where people know and trust each other.
Trump cannot solve the debate about monuments, but he has an opportunity to use the power of his office to bring people together for reasonable discussions.
We are in full support of peaceful protests and the right to free speech. However, in an effort to avoid another Charlottesville-like tragedy in communities across the nation where these monumental discussions are taking place, extremists must not be leading the debate.