Several days ago, in the beautiful central Virginia town of Charlottesville, groups of American citizens clashed with clubs, shields, torches, and projectiles. One local person’s life has ended. Two State Police officers are gone forever. A town will not forget being invaded, by hundreds of neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and members of other White Supremacist groups.
Most of us have never seen such a thing. A few of us, and far more of our parents and grandparents, fought Naziism and white supremacist ideology during World War II. Four hundred thousand Americans died to defeat fascism and its ideological tendrils during that war. And yet here Naziism is again, on our shores, spoken in English, swastikas and all, clashing with other Americans and taking at least one life.
Our foundation has worked for years to improve governance in America, and to improve conditions for all Americans. There is a range of political opinion in our country, and that is a good thing. We work with Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, with people who favor government initiatives, and with those who are reluctant to seek government solutions. America is precisely about having different views, and then working together to create the best possible outcome. Difference is in our country’s DNA. We take difference, and then we create something new, whole, likely better.
But what we saw last weekend is something apart.
In the country we love, there is no place for the ethnic-supremacist ideologies that came to Charlottesville last weekend. America depends on respecting all as citizens; last weekend’s marchers called for excluding much of America on the basis of ethnicity, or religion. America depends on listening; last weekend’s marchers came to shout their views. Citizenship requires some love for our neighbors; last weekend’s marchers were overwhelmed with hate.
Our country, as we know it, would not survive the adoption of their ideas. That’s why we fought a world war to defeat those ideas, and won it.
We love what we do: working with citizens from every corner of the country; busy people with families, and jobs, who have decided to become legislators as well in hopes of helping the people of their state. We love the range of their views and interests, and the challenge of hearing these views and finding the best possible solutions to public problems. We relish the rough-and-tumble world, at times, of our country’s politics. And with all of that experience we know, without a wisp or a shadow of doubt, that there is no legitimate place in American discourse for ideologies of white supremacy.
We think today of the following words, spoken as our country entered the midpoint of its recent century:
We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
January 17, 1961
Eric Allen, SLLF Curriculum Development and Research, for SLLF