Tough Talk from Weak Men

By Jonathan L. Walton

Charlottesville 20170812
Photo: Associated Press

“The past is not dead. It’s not even the past.” –William Faulkner

Last week the President of the United States employed tough talk in response to the escalating tension with North Korea. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump declared from his New Jersey golf resort. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Diplomats from many sides found his threat troubling. Yet rather than toning down his rhetoric, the President took to twitter to declare that the United States is “locked and loaded.” One might call this his John Wayne approach to international relations.

Yet this is one reason that I found the President’s call for calm and peace in the wake of violence in Charlottesville so problematic. The same person who prides himself on being a “straight shooter,” and swims in toxic doses of testosterone when it comes to nuclear weapons, had the audacity to denounce violence from “many sides.”  For a country that has embraced a “Stand Your Ground” approach to conflict, it is an egregious fallacy of false equivalence to reduce courageous men and women like Heather Heyer to pathetic white supremacists and fascists.

Why the hypocrisy and equivocation? The President cannot expect us to believe that he can be Cowboy-In-Chief on Monday and transform into Gandhi by the weekend. And even if we ignore the apparent dog whistle politics to the President’s base of supporters—a wink to those who profess Black Lives Matter as “terrorists,” and insist that the removal of Confederate symbols is somehow racists against whites—the moral inconsistency is incomprehensible.

The bottom line is that the White House cannot condemn those who are willing to stand their ground against racist, sexist, anti-Semitic thugs when it is willing to play fast and loose with nuclear weapons.  Nor can the White House call for peace in the streets, when its current occupant employs such vile, vicious, and violent language that dehumanizes a large swath of this country, particularly Mexican and Muslim Americans?  

Peace is not the absence of conflict.  Peace is the result and reward of an earnest pursuit of justice. Not some conception of justice that plays to the faux-grievances of those of us who want to protect our wealth, white, and/or male entitlements.  But rather our willingness to challenge laws, policies, and practices that allow some to be born on third base while acting as if they hit a triple, while asking others to hit a home run with half a bat.

As long as this current administration pedals in sexism, bigotry, and xenophobia, the executive branch will continue to bolster the sick and twisted boys who showed up in Charlottesville with their Confederate flags, Swastikas, and “Make America Great Again” hats.

As long as the legislative and judicial branches of state and federal government ignore economic inequality, feed the prison industrial complex with draconian policies targeting the poor, and promote “religious freedom” bills that baptize religious bigotry, pain and despair will continue to self-medicate in the forms of gun violence and opiate addiction.

And as long as you and I continue to look for easy scapegoats and embrace simplistic solutions this country’s deep and enduring challenges, then what we witnessed in Charlottesville is just a preview of darker days to come.

See also: Pusey Minister