A National Embarrassment
President Donald Trump’s slogan of “Making America Great Again,” could not be further from the truth since he took office in January. In fact, the only thing that has been positive are the historical highs in the stock market, and even then it is questionable if he should be given credit. The White House is in a state of chaos, the US is preparing for a potential nuclear war with North Korea, the President himself is under investigation for close ties with its greatest traditional enemy, Russia, and many Americans no longer feel welcomed or safe at home. The reality is that instead of uniting the nation, it has become increasingly divided, a perfect example of this is the rally that took place this past Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. “Unite the Right,” alt-rights groups called the march, was met by strong opposition, which culminated in the death of a young woman and 19 injured after a car angrily plowed through a group of counter protesters. White men from groups including the neo-Confederate League of the South, National Socialist Movement, Traditionalist Workers Party, members of the KKK, neo-Nazis, militia groups, and even some women, gathered at the University of Virginia, around the deeply symbolic statue of a historical slave-owner and Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, with torches, weapons, Confederate flags, and Nazi emblems. The march had been organized by Jason Kessler, a white supremacist and member of the nationalist group, “Proud Boys,” to protest the removal of a confederate Robert E Lee statue.
In 2014, the killing of young Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, led to the creation of a major protest movement in the US famously known as “Black Lives Matter.” It is the unfortunate reality that in today’s day and age, African Americans continue to face discrimination and inequality in comparison to the average white American. Unemployment for African Americans is nearly double than it is for whites, their wages are still significantly lower than the typical white American male, and in recent years, black males have dealt with a 2.7% higher likelihood of being killed by a police officer. Thus, the movement that has emerged, advocates for dignity, justice, and respect for all African Americans in the US. However, a countermovement, “White Lives Matter,” as many of the participators in Saturday’s march could be heard shouting, has also surfaced. Two other similar events have recently taken place in Charlottesville, and many others are likely to occur. A “White Lives Matter,” event is scheduled to take place on September 11th at Texas A&M University.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced a state of emergency in response to the violence, and the Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously for a city-wide curfew. The rally is one example of the recent acts of violence that have taken place. The vehicle running through the crowds, killing a young woman and injuring others, has been compared to an ISIS method of using vehicles to injure civilians. Since Saturday, 20 year old James Alex Fields, Jr., the driver of the vehicle, has been charged with second-degree murder and is facing trial. The victim, Heather D. Heyer, a young lawyer and justice activist, was the only woman killed during the incident.
Perhaps the most upsetting thing, even more so than the violence itself, was that the White House refused to condemn the far right for their actions, initially blaming both the nationalists and the counter groups for the event, “We condemn in strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence — on many sides.” Both Democrats and Republicans criticized him for his initial lack of response. Colorado’s Republican Senator, Cory Gardner, tweeted at the President, “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home,” and Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina tweeting, “Trump missed an opportunity to be very explicit here. These groups seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House.” On Monday morning, the CEO of Merck Pharma, Ken Frazier, resigned from the President’s American Manufacturing Council. Frazier, an African American, told the BBC that he felt a personal responsibility to take a stand against extremism, "America's leaders must honour our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal."
It is a leader’s job to unite the nation in a time of need, and yet again, Mr. Trump failed to do so by dividing it even further, waiting until Monday afternoon, only after significant pressure, to specifically denounce white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis. And even after that, Trump traveled to his home state of New York where he held a press conference that was supposed to be on industry and innovation, but instead said that both sides were to blame, essentially placing the "alt-left" on the same level as neo-Nazis. Mr. Trump hasn’t kept his promise. As I log onto Facebook, I notice that Mr. Frazier is not alone. The families of the victims have decided to stand together, people around the country are talking, creating petitions like this one to ask for justice, and organizing events like the March for Racial Justice, set to take place in the nation’s capital next month. Groups such as IANSA and Moms Demand Action, are tweeting about the terror that these groups create by possessing and openly displaying semiautomatic rifles during public at rallies which, even if they are not fired, escalate tensions. White supremacists are a minority, and we must not succumb to these distasteful acts when our leaders choose to remain silent and defend them; we must act against racism for it has no place in this country.