- This is where the party ends
I can't stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
ButI feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend –The Might Be Giants
I am not a man taken to Manichean thinking. I do not believe that most things are simply good or evil, but that almost everything is a fusion of both, that it's in that complexity that we find the things that make us human, that allow us to grow and change, to create beauty as much as we do horror, and that ultimately allow us to be redeemed. And I believe in the possibility of redemption, believe it like fire.
Redemption's a tricky thing, though, and you have to want it for it to work. We see this in both real life and fiction all the time, where someone believes they are clever enough to outwit the devil and find their way to Heaven, without really repenting their sins at all, without making any effort at amends for the harm they've done. There are reasons why the term “Faustian Bargain” has such a negative connotation. There's always a price for dealing with the devil. Always.
Thankfully, just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean they're the devil. There are shades and shades of gray within almost everything because, as the maxim goes, reasonable, well-intentioned people can and will disagree. This is the normal push and pull of politics and life, where we hope that, in the end, our wrestling and bickering will result in a better life for everyone.
But sometimes, there are flashes of actual, undiluted evil that are so stripped of adornment that they are unmistakable, so baldly malicious that any decent person will recoil from them. That was the case with the recent hate rally in Charlottesville, and its fallout. They came in defense of a statue celebrating the country's history of slavery, which was one thing. They also came bearing guns, and Nazi and Confederate flags. Some were overt members of neo-Nazi organizations and the KKK. (Some came wearing polo shirts and brandishing Tiki torches, which is just plain embarrassing.) (One wore a Marvel Comics“Hail Hydra” T-Shirt, which is even more mortifying.) They chanted racist and antisemitic epithets.
Writes Rolling Stone,“ It was the white supremacists who, in what was declared an 'unlawful assembly' disbanded by Charlottesville police on Friday night,marched on the University of Virginia campus with torches, chanting 'white lives matter,' 'you will not replace us,' and the Nazi slogan 'blood and soil. It's an alt-right tactic that has become familiar:deploying a terrifying and enduring symbol of violence against people of color, or against Jews, and defending their actions by saying it was a fun way of energizing their movement.”
The original concern – a statue, an argument over preserving history –was a political dispute. I have a clear opinion on the matter, but ultimately it's just that. Everything else, however, is a naked act of terrorism, designed to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who was victimized by the Nazis, the Klan or other white supremacists …They were not children playing dress-up. They, in the moment they chose to drape themselves in that iconography, made a deal with the Devil.
As the song by They Might Be Giants goes, “Can't shake The Devil's hand and say you're only kidding.”
Our president says that there were “very fine people on both sides,” but he is mistaken. Anyone who saw themselves standing amid Nazi and KKK regalia knew, in that instant, that they were making a decision between good and evil, and if they stayed, they chose evil. And if they didn't know it then, they should have known it when an alt.-right terrorist drove a van into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring many. That is a tactic used by ISIS terrorists in Europe. Indeed, it's been used since then, in Spain. It is always an act of evil.
I dislike having to talk in such stark terms, but it's the simple truth of the matter. Fools will try to make moral equivalencies between the White Supremacists and the Counter Protesters, but that's nonsense. On the one hand, returning to Rolling Stone,one group of protesters was chanting, “'No hate, no KKK, no fascist USA.' The group that attacked them … was chanting, 'Jews will not replace us.'”
Also, one group didn't intentionally kill anybody. Let's be really clear on that matter.
I'm not fond of the anarchist organization Antifa for a variety of reasons, but let's be honest with ourselves: Whatever faults they have, they're not the problem. Any more than Bernie Sanders was the problem, or Hillary Clinton. Arguing over them is a waste of everyone's time. The problem is actual fucking Nazis and actual fucking Klansmen,and the fact that a significant portion of the country is still OK with them. Or at least, willing to make excuses for them in order to mask their own feeling of culpability, because in hindsight a few people realize that that they have made big, big mistakes in their moral judgments, and don't know how to move forward.
There is only one way to move forward from this sort of evil: Renounce it unequivocally. Do not hide behind false moral equivalencies, do not try to hide behind politics. If you have made a mistake in your judgment, repent and ask forgiveness. If your politicians equivocate in what is really a clear-cut moment of good versus evil, then disavow them. This isn't a partisan thing: Many, many Republican politicians were quick to renounce White Supremacist movements in unequivocal terms, and have stood by their statements. That our president is unable to do so is a testament to his character, or lack thereof.
I believe in redemption. I believe it is possible to walk back from the fire and make amends for mistakes. But you have to want it, and the first step is admitting you were wrong, and that's an act of courage, just as hiding behind the regalia of evil is an act of cowardice. Be brave.
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