If life were as simple as the mainstream media makes it out to be, then we would have the luxury of never having to think about anything.
We could all march in lockstep from birth to death, never disagreeing, never finding nuance, never having to worry about the other side — because there wouldn’t be another side.
Of course, there are such simple societies, but come to think of it, they are simply horrible. I’m talking about the nations, cultures and religions that don’t tolerate diversity of opinion, ethnicity or religion. I’m talking about Germany under Hitler, China under Mao, Russia under Stalin, Cambodia under Pol Pot, the Islamic State under al-Baghdadi, Korea under the Kims.
In each of those cases, the people have been told what to think — and variance from those instructions often has meant a death sentence. Millions died under Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot, and untold thousands under al-Baghdadi and the Kim regimes.
But, we are told, that can’t happen here.
Why not? Why should we be immune? Remember that this is a country that 150 years ago found slavery to be an acceptable practice. Remember that a Democratic president locked up thousands of Japanese and Italians during World War II. How can you say that another president won’t lock up his enemies and kill them?
Human progress? The perfection of the species? Don’t kid yourself.
Stalin and Hitler slaughtered millions in the 1930s and ’40s. Mao’s reign of terror was in the 1950s and ’60s. Pol Pot killed an estimated 2 million people in the 1970s. The Islamic State and Kim Jong-un are killing on a daily basis today. This is not ancient history, and unless we plan to make a completely unsubstantiated assertion that America is somehow immune from the forces of human psychology and sin that led to these other murderous tyrannies, then we have to face the fact that our democracy is precious, fragile and all that stands between us and barbarism.
That’s why it is absolutely vital to recognize the threat of white supremacists, anti-Semites and all other race or religion haters. When people see the world as “us against them,” it never ends well for either us or them. In Rwanda, in the span of less than half a year, the majority Hutu tribe slaughtered as estimated 800,000 of the rival Tutsis — fully 70 percent of them in the country. That is what happens when you look at a fellow human being and fail to see humanity.
It can’t happen here? Can we really afford to take a superior attitude as if we were somehow better than Hutus? Do we think that somehow only Africans are subject to the insanity of tribalism? Or that somehow the scant few decades separating us from Mao and Hitler have inoculated us from the poison of hatred? Remember that Germany of the 1920s and ’30s was the most cultured, most educated, most cosmopolitan of the European nations, yet it fell prey to the scourge of Nazism.
Watching dozens of young white men marching on the streets of Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” was a terrifying reminder that occluded thinking is not extinct.
But Earth to neo-Nazis: Jews do not want to replace you; they just want to be left alone to live their own lives, to raise their families without fear and to worship God (if they so choose) any way they want to. JUST LIKE YOU!
I believe Donald Trump knows that truth without being told it by me, by his daughter Ivanka, by Speaker Paul Ryan or by anyone else.
But I also believe he knows in his heart that neo-Nazis are not the only problem in America, and probably not even the biggest problem. Yes, they can easily become the scapegoat for everything that is wrong in our country, just as the left wants to make Donald Trump such a scapegoat.
But the trouble with modern-day America goes much deeper than a few men with torches and a slogan. In particular, we seem to have lost touch with our humanity. We are so enamored of our personal political ideals that we value them over and above our common humanity. We also seem to value them above common sense.
When the two sides were squaring off on last Saturday morning in Charlottesville, I watched with a growing sense of unease. Could this really be happening over a few statues placed decades ago in honor of the losing heroes of a war won by the right side more than 150 years ago? Are statues really more important than our common safety and our common humanity? Or are they just an excuse for us to devolve into dangerously divided tribes.
As I watched the neo-Nazis and Antifa soldiers pounding each other with clubs, throwing bottles and flames at each other, and bloodying each other with passionate intensity, I saw the police acting as if they had no role to play in restoring order, and I thought of Joseph Conrad’s thesis in “Heart of Darkness” that the only things standing between modern man and savagery were the butcher and the policeman. If the police stepped out, then we were one step closer to chaos. God help us if we ever went hungry.
It was also obvious that what had been scheduled as a protest and a counter-protest had quickly degenerated into a riot. I recalled my mother’s sage advice during the Vietnam War that when a protest turned into a riot no one was safe, and if I ever found myself in a mob, I should extricate myself as quickly as possible. Accordingly, I told my 7-year-old son that the situation was out-of-control and people were going to get hurt. Hours later, Heather Heyer died and many others were injured when an apparent neo-Nazi rammed a crowd of people in the area. James Alex Fields Jr., the accused driver, has been charged with second-degree murder, and other charges are pending. The murder of Heather Heyer was a heinous and depraved act, unimaginable, and yet it was not the only evil committed that Saturday afternoon.
If we have forgotten the lessons of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, then we have a very dangerous path ahead.
As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Would it not have been better for all of us if the protesters against the hate of the neo-Nazis had exhibited love instead of their own hatred? Had thrown flowers instead of punches? Had praised God instead of cursing flawed men.
I think this is what President Trump meant in his much-condemned original statement when he said, “When I watch Charlottesville, to me it’s very, very sad. We have to respect each other. Ideally we have to love each other.”
The president has been roundly criticized for emphasizing love rather than hate. That’s not surprising. It’s much easier to fight those we hate than to love them. Just ask Jesus, Gandhi and King.
Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana.