It looks like Politico changed the original headline (something we also do on occasion) to –
‘What I Saw in Charlottesville Could Be Just the Beginning’
We think both headlines are apt.
Attached is an article from a fellow Charlottesville resident and career diplomat who spent 15 years dealing with tribal strife in Africa. The author, Brennan Gilmore, explains that the unrest he saw in Charlottesville on Saturday reminded him, to some degree, of what he saw all too often in Africa. That is people dividing themselves and being divided by the powers that be into US and THEM.
Though I’ve never set foot on the continent of Africa I also felt something similar as I walked the streets of Charlottesville in the wake of the protests. I kept thinking of this quote from a Bob Marley song –
‘See they want to be the star
So they fighting tribal war’
Tribal war. That’s what it felt like and it made me mad. We’d been heading in this direction for a while. We’ve (some) abandoned the principles of an American being a person defined by a love of liberty, freedom generally, free enterprise, and hard work. This, post civil rights era, really was the ethos many of us embraced. Skin color be damned – let’s grow the country together.
But somewhere along the way some of us reverted to a lower level of civil understanding. One based on race. (And sometimes gender.)
In the article Gilmore lays the current craziness at the feet of Trump who he says has sought to divide the country. Though I can understand this perspective, and though I too have serious problems with Mr. Trump, I don’t really see it. I did however see it in stark terms with the prior president, Obama, aka 44.
44 was the embodiment of a hyper-racialist (if not overtly racist) worldview. His presidency we were reminded over and over and over was defined by the fact that he was the first black president. His appointments and general attitude further pushed this meganarrative.
It was clear to me that Obama saw the world in terms of his crowd and the “clingers” or “deplorables” or “tea baggers” or whatever derisive term you choose. US and THEM. It is Obama who laid the foundation for much of the unrest we’ve seen recently. It is he who picked a civil scab that by the time I was an adult had almost healed (or at least was well on its way). But Obama wanted to prove a point and so he lowered the level of civil discourse again to the level of tribalism.
It is he, not Trump, that I see as the facilitator of the murderous stupidity we see now. (Yes, we all know what David Duke said. He’s just a race hustler like Sharpton.) Obama gave safe harbor to politically correct tribalist thinking, to US versus THEM thinking, to zero sum politics (which is asinine). And now we are surprised that a bunch of white people bought into the same vile mental dreck? Of course! This is what happens when one lets the tribalist monster out into the countryside.
I am fully aware that some will vehemently disagree with my assessment. But if one really thinks about and is honest about it I think it becomes pretty obvious. Obama got in trouble politically and went quickly to his base to survive. In so doing he inflamed racial issues and then to some degree – though I still don’t see Trump as a racist – Trump capitalized on the racial flames burning with some whites who were marginalized by Obama and were told that this wasn’t their country any longer. (By a guy who spent his entire life on the margins of the country.)
It wasn’t that Obama was black. It was that Obama subscribed to a big government, again, zero sum, highly racialized politics. Instead of embracing the idea that we as American people of various ethnic backgrounds could grow closer together and also grow the economic pie together, Obama demonized much of America. And the demonized people naturally resented it. Some people, sadly, tragically, were radicalized along racial lines. But in Obama’s world, a world of Alinskyite community organization, of deep political correctness, this was a good thing. Easier to identify the “enemy.” Well, congrats Mr. former president.
Now no one is giving a free ride to the Klan here just to be very very clear. Let’s be REAL clear. The point is however, that unlike what the author of the article asserts, and I encourage our readers to read all of the article at Politico, the ugly plant that burst forth on Saturday was not sewn by Trump, it was sewn long ago, but given new life by Trump’s predecessor, 44.
Again I understand that my comments will strike some as controversial. However let me make something else VERY clear. I have had close friends in my life, dear friends, friends with whom I’ve had the realist of conversations, who happened to be black. I hate to have to say this. I hate to have to bonify my racial “legitimacy.” But we’ve degenerated as a society to such a point that now, I guess I have to do this. At least when writing pieces like this one.
I suggest we get back to seeing each other as thinking, feeling, human beings and not as members of different “tribes.” Leave that in Africa.
Actually kill it there too.
What we witnessed Saturday was the terrifying but logical outcome of our escalating, toxic politics of hate. I’ve seen it happen before. Serving in the Central African Republic in 2012, I saw political leaders use hatred and “othering” as instruments to gain political power. As a result, within months, Christians and Muslims, peaceful neighbors for decades, turned against each other. I saw the same thing happen when I served in Burundi, where Hutus and Tutsis made giant strides toward reconciliation after a horrifying history of mass atrocities, only to be manipulated, divided and turned against one another yet again.
America is not Africa. But watching this past election cycle in the U.S., my stomach churned as I saw some of these themes repeating themselves. Looking back now, I can see it was leading toward a cycle of conflict that, once started, is hard to break.
Many Americans like to think that this kind of thing can’t happen here—that American exceptionalism immunizes us from the virulent racism and tribalism that tear apart other countries far, far away. But we’re more susceptible than we’d like to think.