I have struggled all weekend to comprehend what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. So far, I’m written a draft of a poem in response to a vigil for love that took place at Scranton’s Courthouse Square last night, but the figurative language in that poem isn’t enough to comprehend this moment in American history. I am stuck by two images from this past weekend: the parade of torch-wielding Nazis that seized Charlottesville on Friday night and circled anti-fascist protestors, and the image of the car bulldozing the crowd on Saturday, specifically the sight of bodies flung mid-air from impact or rolling off of the car’s windshield and roof. These images are now part of American history, specifically its ugly racial history.
I spend a lot of time in the classroom talking about race and class, especially when I teach African American Lit or American Lit, and though I know the history, it is still difficult to comprehend that the neo-Nazi movement is this empowered in 2017. Enough criticism has already been made about Trump’s response to the violence, namely that he failed to condemn white supremacists and instead insisted that this is an issue on “all sides.” However, anyone who has been following U.S. politics or the Trump campaign over the last year knew we were headed for this moment. For decades, at least since Nixon’s Southern Strategy, one political party has used dog whistles and race-baiting to seize the votes of the white working-class by constantly creating a boogeyman and other. Trump was a lot more upfront about this, with all of the talk about building a wall and encouraging his supporters to rough up Black Lives Matters protestors at his rallies. Then came the appointments of people like Bannon and Miller to his administration.
At this moment, white supremacists are promising to return to Charlottesville. What happens next is unknown. At the very least, the country is having a serious conversation about the deep racial and class divides that exist. Some GOP senators, including Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Orrin Hatch, have called out the president for not labeling the groups as white supremacists. Cruz even urged the Justice Department to open an investigation. Those words are good, but the GOP needs to more forcefully stand up to the president and demand that Bannon, Miller, and Gorka all be removed from this administration, due to their ties to white supremacists and their public statements. They also need to end the anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-Islamic rhetoric. Furthermore, they should seriously consider urging any sane administration officials that exist to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Trump from office. This country’s divide is deepening to the point that his pussyfooting with white supremacist groups and refusal to condemn them could very well lead to incidents worse than Charlottesville. The ugly racial history is not new, but Trump’s campaign and now his administration have created enough space for white supremacists to feel emboldened.