It is important to look beyond the riot.
Yes, last week’s violent demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, made for a carnival of obscenity as sickening as it was riveting. But the thing is, it did not spring from nowhere.
And while your first instinct – unlike the moral imbecile in the White House – is condemnation, that’s the easy part. What you have to remember is that this is said to have been the largest public gathering of white supremacists in many years. There is, it seems, an unmistakable new energy on the extreme right. So you might want to ask yourself: Why?
It’s easy to blame the aforementioned moral imbecile, but truth is, he didn’t create this energy. It created him. The election of the first African-American president surely had something to do with it. By simply existing, Barack Obama embodied a reminder that the days until white people become a racial minority are ticking down fast. Some handle this pending demographic demotion better than others.
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Right-wing radio and Fox “News” have also played a role. For years, they’ve pushed a drumbeat narrative of white normalcy under siege from job-grasping Mexicans, terrorist Muslims, degenerate gays, and criminal blacks. Small wonder some white people retreat into bunkers of unreason and fear.
But without question, the most repugnant contribution to this new dawn of white supremacy comes from the Republican Party. It has called to these people, invited these people, for decades. It has done so overtly, with laws and statements demonizing LGBTQ people, Muslims, and immigrants. Republicans have also employed so-called “dog whistle” politics, coded words, policies and imagery that preserve deniability while speaking with implicit clarity to white racial and cultural fears.
From the Willie Horton ad that helped George H.W. Bush become president to the suggestive white woman ad that helped sink a black candidate’s Senate bid in Tennessee, from photo ID voter suppression to birther conspiracies, from Newt Gingrich condemning a “food stamp president” to Paul Ryan’s complaining about “a tailspin of culture in our inner cities,” the GOP has seldom missed a chance to lay out the welcome mat for white supremacists.
Maybe it was just political strategy. Maybe it was true belief. Doesn’t really matter. Its machinations have delivered to the GOP the presidency and both houses of Congress. Yet seldom has a party controlled so much and looked so bad doing it.
Republicans find themselves saddled with an incompetent president elected on an implicit promise to make America white again. Under him, they are able to accomplish exactly nothing. They cringe as he suggests moral equivalence between bigots and those who protest them.
As if all that were not bad enough, a newly revived hate movement now arrives, looking to cash in its chits.
You think it’s unfair to lay all this on the “party of Lincoln?” How many Hillary Clinton voters do you really think were out there rallying for racism? Indeed, whose name did those bigots chant?
“Hail Trump!” they cried. “Hail Trump!”
No, Republicans may denounce what happened in Charlottesville to their heart’s content. This mess is on them. And while they may rush to condemn this ugliness, the more moral thing would be to own their role in creating the environment for it and repent thereof. There is no wiggle room here. They’ve sent invitations for years. They can’t be surprised to see guests arrive.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.