The Thunder in Virginia’s political night

Nazi and Confederate flags aren't about love of country and neighbor, but the hatred in Virginia and America won't end if we just hate the haters enough.

Thunder at Sand Dunes National Park | Image by James Picht for CommDigiNews

WASHINGTON, August 12, 2017 — My son and I were up late last night, him packing and me giving him fatherly advice before his move to the dorm. We were up early this morning to load his things in my car. By mid-afternoon he was gone and I needed a nap.

I woke up to a storm. It’s dark out, now, and thundering. It’s been a stormy day, and it’s mostly passed me by.

But not entirely. A friend came over to join my wife for tea, and she mentioned a car attack on a crowd in Virginia. “Awful,” I thought, assuming a crowd of shoppers or vacationers. Then I napped, unaware of political rallies, Nazi flags, the Klan and marches around Confederate symbols. There have been storms today, and I’m just now hearing distant thunder.

If you’re a Christian, you have one social imperative: Love your neighbor. Do good to those who hate you, and forgive them. If you love the Constitution, you have one social imperative: Defend and protect it. Defend the rights of others, and hold your political leaders to account for their behavior.

There’s no love in the Nazi flag or in the Klan. Perhaps someday the swastika will be reclaimed as a symbol of peace and good fortune, but not today, not in your lifetime. Confederate symbols aren’t just about mint juleps on the verandah and states’ rights, but about the slavery that supported that life and the blood Confederate soldiers shed to preserve it.

Our political leaders have one job: To defend the Constitution. You decide whether the party and leaders you support are doing that, but it appears to me that our political leadership holds our institutions, the rule of law, due process, equal protection, civic virtue and the American people in low regard.

But in no lower regard than we hold each other. Things won’t get better in our country as long as most of America hates the half of the country that isn’t them or holds them in contempt. You wave Nazi flags because you hate people and want them to be afraid, not because you empathize with them or want their lives to be better. You call people names and categorize them out of contempt and your own sense of superiority, not because you care what they want or believe.

Our leaders are like the people they lead, taking their cues from us and then feeding them back, amplified. And what’s the lesson in that amplified signal? That people are objects. We can apply power to them in the same way that you’d apply power to a chair, sitting on it, moving it out of your way, smashing it if it displeases you. People and their hopes and dreams are just objects, there to be used, used up, ignored or smashed.

My Facebook page is full of politics, but it’s mostly about my kids, my work, my hobbies, my joys and my disappointments. It’s about the things that matter to me. And this is a country with 300 million more of me, and they matter.

My Facebook feed tonight is full of rage. Anger is an appropriate response to some of what’s happening in our country. But do remember as you go out to slay FB dragons and social media trolls that facts don’t change minds or hearts, and every time you kill a troll, there are two new ones to take its place. Facts win arguments, but they don’t win discussions. Arguments have winners and losers, with everyone ultimately a loser. Discussions only have winners, but they’re much harder to manage.

Hit me with your anger and your version of history and your facts, and you won’t change my beliefs. My beliefs are bound up in my values and the things that matter to me. If you can’t understand those, you can’t talk to me in words that I’ll hear. I’m impervious to your words and your hate. I’m not impervious to your genuine concern. I’m not impervious to love.

If you’re hoping for a clear finger of blame here or hoping that I’ll choose a political side, you’re disappointed. I do choose a side: my neighbors. That’s all of you, Christian and Muslim and atheist, liberal and conservative, gay, trans and straight, male and female. “Neighbor” isn’t an exclusive category.

Blame is for thundering sermons to the choir, and that’s not what this is.

I still hear the thunder outside in the dark. If I shout at it, it won’t hear, and neither will anyone else. You do what you think best. As for me, I’ll light some candles, and if they go out, I’ll light some more.

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James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics. He teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years doing economic development work in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He has also worked in Latin America, the former USSR and the Balkans as an educator, teaching courses in economics and law at universities in Ukraine and at finance ministries throughout the region. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.