On this Sunday, a day meant in my religious tradition for reflection and prayer, I find my mind returning more than a half century in the past to the early days of the civil rights movement. I spent many a sabbath in black churches hearing justice and righteousness preached from the pulpit in the face of violent state sponsored bigotry - the deep roots that beget the vile strain we witnessed yesterday in Charlottesville.
Then, like now, we didn’t know where this country would be heading. But thankfully we found out that the vast majority of Americans were decent enough to recognize that segregation, disenfranchisement, and violent intimidation should not be part of our national destiny. Apparently, tragically, that lesson must be repeated. And now the question is will we have leadership out of the White House or will have cynicism and cowardice?
But what I also remember from covering the civil rights movement was the strong current of hope that coursed through the entire enterprise. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers believed that if America could see the true depth of the hatred it would recoil. And, by and large, it did. And our political leaders acted with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, amongst other measures.
We are once again peering into an abyss, and I am heartened by the response from across the political spectrum. But we cannot merely cleave the most grotesque incarnations of this national malignancy. We must recognize that the seeds for yesterday’s carnage can be found in attacking voting rights, demonizing immigrants, the coded words of anti-Semitism, and all the other more subtle forms of discrimination and false victimhood. They are just as dangerous as what was on display in Charlottesville, perhaps more so because they are allowed in “polite company” - with a knowing wink and a blow of the proverbial dog whistle.
Perhaps we needed to see this hatred so raw. Perhaps we needed to see how easily our order can break down. Perhaps we needed to feel the empathy for those in our society who are subjected daily to racist taunts and actions. This is a moment for moral clarity as a nation. It is a time for everyone to line up and be counted, are you on the side of love or hate. The central question of the moment is will we pledge actions that do not only mitigate the crisis but lead to real and substantive change. The world is watching. History is watching. I hope we are up to the challenge. I think we are.Dan Rather