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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher


I've been rolling the Charlottesville riots this past Saturday around in my otherwise-empty head for the past couple of days. A few things seemed obvious from my reading, listening and viewing from the safety and solitude of my home:

  1. Hurt people hurt people - this is a truth I learned listening to Rick Warren over the past few years. As we are all God's children, even the neo-Nazi haters who instigated the confrontation that resulted in directly in the death of a young woman, we have to stop vilifying them as one-dimensional objects of ridicule and scorn, and try, as unpopular as this idea is, to understand what is hurting them. It is something, and it's not as simple as 'they hate blacks or Jews or gays or liberals or democrats or Obama' or whatever the long list is. The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi says, in part, 'O master grant that I may never seek so be understood as to understand...' People don't come out of the womb with the dream of being a neo-Nazi hater. They learn it and follow the wrong path. Let us seek to understand why and in so doing, create conditions to redirect this energy toward something productive.

  2. Politics is a miserable business - with all of the suffering and violence and anxiety coming out of Saturday, most politicians were sitting in safe places wetting their fingers and testing the wind, trying to figure out how best to benefit from the tragedy, or at least, not to be splashed with the sewage emanating from it. The president, commenting on the first true, domestic crisis of his term, predictably whiffed on the key points, his lack of either style or substance leading to universal condemnation by other politicians, who calculated more successfully the most advantageous posture to assume. Leadership, in times like these, is critically important, and politicians should be providing it, but instead of sounding the appropriate tone, the president covered up, and in so doing, cemented his place among the cowards and the posers and locked himself out of the room where the real leaders sit.

  3. The media was of little help - The quest for ratings and the dumbing down of the facts so that casual viewers won't switch to reruns of The Apprentice resulted in the same binary thinking, with opposite results, as the so-called 'white nationalists.' To listen to the commentary, you'd think there were only angels and devils on Saturday, and the angels were all on the same side, homogeneously virtuous, while those on the other side were homogeneously evil and bent on destruction. They don't trust the audience to understand and appreciate the complexity that led to this, so instead they turned it into a Roadrunner cartoon. As with the politicians, they reported these views after watching the same video as I did, from a safe place far from the facts of the situation. This dichotomous thinking enabled them to rip the president for suggesting that, in a rare bit of insight from him, that there were others who were complicit in the rioting, who may not have started it, but certainly contributed to the violence with their mode of confrontation. His failure to 'call it what it is,' and 'call them what 'they' are' assumes that we all knew (duh, obviously), even as the trouble was still ongoing, what 'it' actually was and who 'they' actually were. Because it's simple. But when you scratch beyond the surface, it's not simple and to solve it demands greater understanding, not pointless simplifications just so disengaged viewers can grasp it.

  4. The white supremacist/neo-Nazi/white nationalists got exactly and precisely what they wanted. They got a fight, they got discord among their opposition, they got ambivalence, and thus, air cover from the president and they will get a martyr once the 20-year-old knucklehead who drove the car into the crowd gets the death penalty for his civil rights violations. From their perspective, they won the day and they won big. And with their criteria for success, they're right.

  5. There were real leaders. Governor McAuliffe of Virginia, Senator Hatch of Utah and others attacked the instigators, who clearly came to Charlottesville to cause trouble, dressed as they were in riot gear and carrying their beloved guns. The real leaders clearly and correctly said that this type of hate, and the behavior that accompanies it, have no place in America. They pointed out that the U.S. literally fought a world war to defeat the Nazis, and has battled with considerable success the domestic terrorists of the Ku Klux Klan. The real leaders were calm, but resolute and showed no inclination to allow these poison ideologies to take root again after beating it decades ago. Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

So what happens now? Well, given that they will deem their efforts on Saturday to have been a success, the instigators will likely continue to pick fights, daring the decent people, as well as the radicals on the opposite side, to stand up to them. The finger pointing macho woofing will continue, the outpouring of self-serving rhetoric will intensify and the majority of people who are not directly affected by these phenomena will continue to watch on TV, at least until it gets boring, at which point they're search for reruns of The Apprentice.

I pray that I am wrong about this. I pray that leaders, especially those in a position to make a difference, step up and move things in the right direction. I pray that justice and peace and love - all of these - will prevail. I pray that those of us who decry violence - which is most of us - will demand that it stop. I pray that we have the courage and stamina to stand up to the bullies and the constitutional opportunists and the political windbags, who perpetuate generations of hate in the name of family and community tradition, too ignorant to think beyond and understand that there is most assuredly a better way.

I pray that these prayers are answered soon, before more innocent blood is spilled, generating more calls for revenge and hate and division, as this disease spreads and claims more and more of God's creation.

In Jesus's name I pray, AMEN.

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