On Friday night, a steady voice of reason in D.C. took to social media and shared his thoughts on what has happened in the past week.
The nation has been in an uproar since the tragedy in Charlottesville on August 12. Clarity is sorely needed. We are certainly not getting that from most of those in the mainstream media, focused on their own, flame-stoking agenda. Nor do we see much painful honesty coming from politicians, many of whom are only interested in playing the partisan game.
We certainly are not hearing what we should from thin-skinned President Trump, who has quite obviously made discussion of the situation worse with his generalities and “fine people” comments.
Thankfully, we have Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. He is often the source of a much-needed perspective. This was again the case as he shared his thoughts on Facebook in an honest, searing, and sobering post entitled ‘The Next Charlottesville.’ In it, he is unafraid to call out the alt-right, racism, white supremacy, the president, the weak understanding about our own American past, and the lack of love for one another.
THE NEXT CHARLOTTESVILLE
Over the last week, many Nebraskans have told me some version of this: “There are lots of us here who are scared about where the country is headed. I think more violence is inevitable.” That much seems obvious. Less expected was where some of them went next. One of my constituents, a fairly energetic Trump supporter and a middle-aged man, told me:
**”To be clear, I think the alt-Right are a bunch of a**holes.”
**”And we should admit that the President has done a bad job getting us through this.”
**But “when the next rounds of violence come, I’ll bet you most of it will come from the left.”
**”And then some folks I know will respond in kind. It’s gonna be a powder-keg.”
My wife and I work hard to have chunks of family time that are “politics-free” in our home, but we haven’t been very successful this week. A few observations from our family tabletalk:
1. We have neglected the American Idea for a very long time. We haven’t done civics well in this country for decades, and we are reaping the consequences. We are a hollow people. We have “a whole lot of pluribus and very little unum,” to quote Ken Burns.
2. America is first and foremost an Idea – that all people are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights. This universal human dignity is because God made us; it’s not because of our race, or our wealth, or even our religious beliefs, as important as disagreements about theology are.
3. White supremacy and racism are un-American, period.
4. The heartbreak in Charlottesville was the fault of the white supremacists. Heather Heyer was murdered by an act of terrorism. The driver used his car to target public marchers.
5. Sadly, I think that the pessimistic Nebraskans I’ve been with this week are right that there will be more violence toward public assemblies in the future.
6. I expect that violence will come when white supremacists and the alt-right fight anarchist groups aligned with the extreme left.
7. What will happen next? I doubt that Donald Trump will be able to calm and comfort the nation in that moment. He (and lots of others) will probably tell an awful combination of partial truths and outright falsehoods. On top of the trust deficits that are already baked so deeply in, unity will be very hard to come by.
8. Besides ability and temperament, I also worry that national unity will be unlikely because there are some whispering in the President’s ear that racial division could be good politics for them.
9. I worry that some on the left are also going to salivate over these divisions. Like the President’s ear-whisperers, they see a divided nation as good for their political objectives.
10. Bizarrely, many on the center-left seem not to see that there is little that some on the President’s team would love more than to transform this into a fight about historical monuments.
11. I wish more folks understood how many of the monuments now being debated are not really from the post-Civil War period as a way to remember war dead. Rather, contrary to popular understanding, many of these statues were explicitly erected as Segregation Monuments in the twentieth century, during Jim Crow, as a way of shouting – against the American Idea – that public spaces were to be whites-only spaces. Tragically, many of these monuments were erected exactly when lynchings of black Americans were being celebrated in those communities – and the timing overlap here was not accidental. (It’s also worth noting that Gen. Robert E. Lee had opposed erecting Confederate Memorials because he worried, wisely, that they would become scabs of bitterness to be endlessly picked at.)
12. But I’m also against mobs tearing down the statues, or city governments removing them in the middle of the night. That doesn’t advance the civics discussion and debates we need; it just exacerbates the unhelpful “on both sides” grievance culture. Rather, we need an orderly debate about such monuments.
13. Every single place I’ve been this week, I’ve gotten a question like this:
**”Washington and Jefferson owned slaves; do we have to tear down their statues too?”
**”Explorer X didn’t treat native Americans the way he should have; do we abandon states west of the Appalachian Trail?”
**”Even Tom Osborne isn’t a saint; must we tear down the statute outside Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium?”
The people asking these questions (over and over and over) are not racist. Rather they’re perplexed by the elite indifference to their fair questions – about the “unnaming” movement now unfolding at Yale, for example. Most of these folks voted for Trump, to be sure, but many quietly admit to being dissatisfied with his leadership. But they have ZERO uncertainty about a choice between a Trump who would defend statues of Washington and Jefferson, and a national media elite who they assume would not defend monuments to Washington and Jefferson. That’s the divide many here are seeing and hearing.
14. The white supremacists from Charlottesville now feel emboldened. They’re headed to another city sometime soon – with the express purpose of spreading their hateful rhetoric and inciting violence. This is the most attention they’ve received in years.
15. Tragically, there are some who want violence. Most Americans see the images from Charlottesville and our hearts break. We yearn for leaders, who raise high the exceptional American Idea of universal human dignity. But there are others who want to see these divisions exacerbated — not only the extremists on the ground but also some cable news executives who jump at division and know that what’s bad for America is good for ratings.
16. There is so much more nuance and texture inside local communities than broad-brush national “Crossfire”-like journalism usually distinguishes. One example from Nebraska right now: There seems to be a major gap on race issues between two types of generally Trump-supporting Republicans. Among more frequent church-goers, there is a lot more sadness and worry right now, whereas among more secular conservatives there seems to be a lot more “let’s fight.” I could be wrong, but that’s been my repeated experience this week.
BEFORE THE NEXT OUTBREAK OF VIOLENCE COMES
We have a glorious heritage in the American Idea, but we have neglected it at our kids’ peril.
This is the right time for each of us – parents and grandparents, neighbors and patriots – to pause and teach our kids again about universal human dignity and about love of neighbor. This is a time for discussion and education and humility, not intimidation and mobs and midnight wrecking balls.
Let’s teach our kids why our First Amendment Society fights with debate, not violence. Let’s teach them that those standing in threatening mobs don’t stand with America. Let’s teach them that white supremacy is a cancer to our union. Let’s teach them to reject identity politics. Let’s teach them that all of us are created equal, with infinite dignity and limitless potential. Let’s teach them that what makes us Americans is not our skin, our wealth, or our religion but our shared creed.
That creed, ironically, was put to paper most profoundly by a very fallen slave-holder, who spoke for the long-term future of America in writing that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights…” We eventually went to war to preserve a creedal “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” And that creed eventually perfected our union from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, with the proclamation that “the goal of America is freedom.”
It feels like violence is coming. I’m not sure if this moment is like the summer of ’67 or not. But it might be. Before that violence strikes again, it’s up to us to reaffirm that exceptional American Creed again today, with our neighbors, and in our kids’ hearts.
It’s quite obvious that Senator Sasse feels a deep sense of responsibility, not only to his own children, but as an elected official, an American, and of course, a human being.
Naturally, those who are only interested in advancing their own narrative will reject his assessment of the situation. Sasse understands that it’s not if, it’s when in relation to occurrences of violence similar to what happened in Virginia.
That is where we are at as a divided, hurting nation.
I appreciate Sasse’s perspective concerning the explosive post-Charlottesville reality we’re staring in the face. It’s certainly the best I’ve seen yet. He warns us that if we don’t begin learning any lessons and truly loving our neighbor in the process, the tragedy in Virginia will just be the beginning.