Certainly, one would be forgiven for thinking that the United States is irreparably broken – that so deep are the divisions of race and class that no amount of mending will be able to stitch the Republic back together again. There are daily reminders that America is a country torn asunder by competing and seemingly irreconcilable philosophies and by identity politics run amok. A cynic would latch onto this as proof that something very real and fundamental has stopped working.
That’s one possibility.
A second is that, while the U.S. may not be broken, the unrest and social upheaval show signs that the country is spinning dangerously out of control. More than a few have given voice to fears that America is teetering on the edge of a second Civil War – for now, an ideological one – and that, unless there is a monumental course correction in terms of tone, tolerance and common temperament, civility between citizens is unlikely to be restored anytime soon.
But what if there is a third possibility? There could be another way of looking at the current state of affairs and interpreting the aftermath of Charlottesville in a more hopeful light. That approach requires us to turn the kaleidoscope and view the regrettable violence, upheaval and unrest as the inevitable growing pains of a culture transitioning from what it once was to what it will become – what it must become – if only to ensure its own survival and future prosperity.
In cities and towns across the United States there have been demonstrations from citizens who gathered together to denounce and disown the hateful and bigoted ideology espoused by the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville and, most especially, to send a clear and unequivocal signal that the same groups would not be welcome in their communities.
The events in Charlottesville last week seem to represent a tipping point from which there will be no return to the past status quo or retreat from the line now drawn in the sand that says simply ‘no more and never again.’ No more and never again will the armies of hate and intolerance be allowed to march unchallenged or unchecked through the streets and public spaces of any American city large or small.
Let’s not pretend for one second that what happened in Charlottesville was in any way unique or out of the ordinary. Let’s not pretend that the United States has not frequently, recently and regularly witnessed acts of unspeakable collective violence perpetrated by its own citizens unto their fellow citizens.
It’s come to the point that simply listing off names of cities suffices to make the point: Oklahoma City, Columbine, Boston, Newtown, Orlando, San Bernardino. Far from being a travel brochure, the simple naming of places in the United States can serve as a checklist of murder and mayhem brought about through twisted worldviews that sought expression in blood.
But the very idea that a country that has been around for nearly a quarter of a millennium – and often during that time embroiled by intense, internal conflict – could find itself broken and bowed by the acts of a 20-year-old loser and Nazi fanatic would be laughable if only the senseless tragedy of a young woman’s lost life was not so fresh and painful.
Instead of viewing what happened in Charlottesville through the lens of doom, maybe what happened afterwards – in the wake of the death of Heather Heyer – can give Americans the chance for serious and sober self-reflection.
Those who think Charlottesville will be the end of social violence based on race should probably brace themselves for worse to come in future, for there will always inevitably be those who choose hatred and violence as their default state of being.
But in the responses from coast to coast – that seem to have been provoked by the sudden realization that monsters do actually walk among us – there can be a glimmer of a future still unwritten but also sure to come.
The United States of America will endure; those who espouse hatred and violence will not. Ultimately, the dustbin of history awaits them and their ilk.
Slowly but surely, “We the people” will come to mean all the people.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.