Never in my life can I recall having anxiety about the fate of our nation. As I consider our splintered attitudes, I fear that the moral grit of our nation balances precariously on a tight wire of values. I wonder if we will reclaim our imminent leadership or if we will crash and burn into the likes of a third-world country? I also wonder if any of you share these questions and concerns? Below, I consider four ideas related to understanding and possible actions.
Personally, I need to understand that as defined by the First Amendment, freedom of speech does not include words and actions (fighting words) that pose harm to others. Like you, I listened to the chants in Charlottesville, Virginia. I cringed as I heard, “Jews will not replace us,” “Blood and soil” (a term from Nazi Germany based on genetics and land of birth), “Go back to Africa” and words such as “faggot” and “nigger”. I find it comforting to know that the constitution supports values that match my own thinking.
With a stronger understanding of freedom of speech under my belt and our nation’s dysfunction exhibited with such glaring ugliness, I now turn to consider how to respond. I have lived long enough to remember the return of military personnel at the end of World War II. I recall stories of torture and inhumanity toward Jews and others who were unacceptable to Hitler. Words of hate, rejection, racial bigotry, and rejection have never been and will never be acceptable. I cannot condone or even ignore slurs toward other humans whether due to race, ethnicity, religion, gender preferences, gender identities, or origin of birth. When our president accepted those who shouted abominations, I found his attitude unacceptable.
I must disagree with the president’s statement that there were good guys on both sides or that opposing sides were equally wrong. Although I am certain the local citizens and students at the rally made their own mistakes, we must stay focused on the presence of the alt-right, neo-Nazi, white supremacists.
Even as I denounce white supremacists, I remind myself that for the nation to heal, we must all decrease our own hate and violence. Hate never defeats hate. To live with myself, I must participate in reasonable (or maybe unreasonable) nonviolent ways. In the process, I must not lapse into the temptation to despise others.
In closing, I urge all of us to join together to write letters, send emails to elected officials, attend meetings, and participate in rallies. What is America all about? It is all about us.
Campbell, Alexia Fernandez. “Some Racist, Homophobic Chants in Charlottesville May Not Be Protected Under the First Amendment.” Vox. August 15, 2017. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/8/15/16144058/charlottesville-free-speech
“What Does Free Speech Mean?” United States COURTS. 2017. http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/what-does