The Constitution and its amendments affirm that all human beings in this country have certain rights of which we cannot be deprived without due process of law. These rights are ours regardless of many of the traits that, from the dawn of time to today, have been used as excuses for depriving some of their rights to advance the interests of others. Things like the color of our skin, the country of our origin, or the God we worship.
One of the rights we have is freedom of speech. We define that right more broadly than almost any other country on the planet. We protect “speech” (including gestures, signs and symbols) that insults, ridicules or even rejects the human dignity of others. Most of us do not approve of such speech, but we accept that it is within the legitimate exercise of the speakers’ First Amendment rights.
Accepting that such speech is protected does not prohibit us from criticizing or even condemning the message it delivers. And some speech merits such condemnation from all who take seriously the words of the Constitution and the values they express. Indeed, some speech must be condemned by any true American patriot, and most especially by those who have sworn to uphold our Constitution.
Let’s consider Charlottesville in this light.
To give the president his due, it is probable that some counter-demonstrators, as well as some “Unite the Right” attendees, engaged in violent acts. Anyone who has ever been in a heated confrontation between protesters and those who oppose them will tell you that passions sometimes flare and punches get thrown by representatives of many different ideologies. Only the most disciplined groups schooled in non-violence manage to avoid striking out, whether out of anger or out of fear.
The issue isn’t with the assertion of violent behavior by “many sides.” The issue is that, for certain groups (including neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and many white supremacist groups more generally), violently depriving people of their security and liberty is central to their ideology. It’s not what happens when tempers flare; it’s what happens and will happen if these groups have the opportunity to pursue their agenda.
These groups reject foundational tenets of our constitutional system. They claim that some people can (indeed, must) be deprived of their fundamental rights because of their color, their creed, their DNA. That’s not just what the critics and political opponents say; it’s what neo-Nazis, Klansmen and many other white supremacist groups say about themselves.
And, to be excessively clear, it is not what groups like Black Lives Matter or the Antifa movement say about themselves . . . whatever their critics may think of them.
The anti-American convictions embraced by white supremacist groups provide motivation and pseudo-justification for violence against those they deem unworthy. And they explain much of the attire and the equipment worn and wielded by many at the Unite the Right event.
It is these convictions, and the violence they foster, that must be condemned by anyone who has sworn to uphold our Constitution.
Without qualification. Without nuance. And without hesitation.
Enough is enough. It is time for the president, and all Americans, to reject that which rejects our nation’s fundamental values. To do otherwise is to put our nation in grave moral peril.