If the past few days have not been a tipping point for the United States, the nation is in greater trouble than perhaps anyone allowed themselves to believe.
Americans have seen angry crowds waving Nazi and Confederate flags in their streets, marching with guns and shields while shouting anti-Semitic chants, ultimately escalating tensions to the death of a young counterprotester and the injury of 19 others. Ethical lines must be drawn and moral action taken.
In a nation's darker hours, citizens turn to their leaders for solace and for guidance, but President Donald Trump has shown that he is not the moral authority decent Americans can seek inspiration from.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, the images of angry, torch-carrying white men and women embedded in the immediate American conscience, Trump raised his voice not in opposition to the white supremacists who marched on Saturday, but in sympathy.
On Sunday, in his initial response to the tragedy over the weekend, Trump refused to explicitly denounce the racist groups that marched armed through the Virginia city, but instead claimed that there was violence "on many sides." He attempted to placate the ugliest fringe of his base by justifying their actions to a slack-jawed nation.
The backlash to his remarks was swift and bipartisan, and the fact that white supremacists cheered his statements did not go unnoticed.
So, on Monday, Trump gave yet another statement, this one denouncing in clear terms the white supremacists who initiated the rally and provoked the violence. Yet, the words were hollow as Trump read from a script clearly written by White House aides in much the same way an unrepentant toddler mutters that they are "sorry."
Conservative pundits lauded his effort, however, and pointed to this public appearance when debating liberal contributors as if to say, "See? He's fine. We're fine."
However, that argument was obliterated after Trump unleashed both on Twitter and during a press conference the following day, attacking the "fake news" and doubling down on his assertion that responsibility for the violence was shared by both the alt-right and the "alt-left," a newly-coined term that means nothing given the context.
He even went so far as to insist that there were "very fine people" marching among the neo-Nazi crowd and drew a moral equivalency between founding father George Washington and secessionist leader Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was a key player in the Civil War that almost ended the nation Washington helped build.
Those across politics, the media, and the citizenry responded with outrage, some unable to hold back tears ,and the mother of the slain counterprotester, Heather Heyers, calling for "righteous action."
In stark contrast, former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, celebrated the president's words, and Richard Spencer, a leading figure of the alt-right, informed The Atlantic that he was "really proud of him." Trump's words are resonating with Americans, but only with the most vile.
There is an odd, but common, method of defense those in the conservative media use when faced with Trump's most reprehensible traits: to translate for the president while also reprimanding his opponents for assuming to know what it is he means.
As one Fox News pundit sarcastically put it while debating with a critic of Trump's, "You can read a heart? Wow, you really are a PhD."
It's a bizarre line of attack as it goes without saying that no one can read a heart or a mind, and so humans have learned to read each other through actions. Americans can only presume to know Trump through his actions, and if he kowtows to white nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan, and neo-Nazis, what does that say about the man?
By equating those who protest against white supremacy and neo-Nazis to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, Trump has spit on a moral pillar that led thousands of Americans into battle over slavery and millions more to cross the seas to fight and die in World War II. He has diminished the values that America has flourished under and dismissed the sacrifice of good people by drawing a moral equivalency between their protection of said values and those seeking to denigrate them.
"Nazism is not simply one end of a political spectrum. The world decided decades ago that it is an ideology that has no place on the spectrum at all," wrote Sonali Kolhatkar for Truthdig.
American democracy and fascist ideologies are not compatible, and there is a particularly foul smell when Trump and his supporters attempt to shelter Nazism and its derivatives under the Constitution. If all that Trump is taking away from what happened in Charlottesville is that the neo-Nazi rally was protected under the First Amendment, he is avoiding the moral point. Even worse, perhaps he does not see the moral point at all.
Since Charlottesville, Trump has been called the "alt-right president" and "the president of the white nationalist movement," among other things, but history has already given the world words for what Trump has shown himself to be.
Those who give Nazis a voice and their ideologies moral weight are Nazi sympathizers, at best. Those who stand up for the Ku Klux Klan are complicit in racism, bigotry, and hate, at best.
If Trump is going to assume the role of president for America's "deplorables" at the expense of the country, the rest of America must show him that he's relinquished the privilege of being theirs.
Banner/Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS/Stephanie Keith