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Not normal

SoVaNow.com / August 17, 2017
Before sitting down to write this piece I ran out for a fast-food lunch. At the drive-through I was served by two young women, one at the payment window, the other at the pickup window, both courteous and friendly as they took care of my order. As customers pulled out they braked for a middle-aged female pedestrian who crossed in front of the restaurant entrance, wearing headphones as she strolled by. Amid the general hubbub there was a small buildup of traffic; people had to slow down and wait their turn. No problem. None at all. I sat in my car as several vehicles drove through the intersection and then someone stopped to let me out. It was an unexceptional sequence in the daily symphony of ordinary people finding ways to get along.

Because such moments are so unexceptional, it’s all the more sickening to witness a breakdown of decency and social order such as we saw this weekend in Charlottesville. This peaceable college town was taken over by punks and thugs with no intention of “getting along”: Nazis, Kluxers, and white supremacist “alt-right” power trippers with fantasies of taking their country back exclusively for white people, the vast majority of whom probably never imagined these cretins existed. They came bearing torches, clubs and bullhorns; because our ridiculous gun laws allow racist idiots to openly carry firearms, there wasn’t much police could do to counter the intimidation they clearly meant to provoke. Three people died: Heather Heyer, run down by a Nazi sympathizer who plowed through a crowd in a Dodge Challenger; and Berke Bates and Jay Cullen, Virginia State Police helicopter pilots killed when their chopper went down patrolling the scene. The horrors of Charlottesville will not be soon forgotten.

If you haven’t done so already, check out the extraordinary documentary segment, about 20 minutes long, by Vice News journalist Elle Reeve; it will chill your blood. Embedded among the protestors, Reeve followed one around in particular: a bristling mass of muscle and hate, Chris Cantwell, who offered these observations on the “Unite the Right” rally:

“We didn’t aggress. We did not initiate force against anybody. We’re not nonviolent. We’ll f--- kill these people if we have to.”

“Right now we have people on the ground at the statue with equipment, and they’re being told they’re not allowed to have a vehicle come through and pick them up or anybody come and pick them up. I’m about to send at least 200 people with guns to go get them out if you guys do not get our people out.”

“I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here, frankly. … People die violent deaths all the time. This is part of the reason we want an ethno-state. The blacks are killing each other in staggering numbers from coast to coast. We don’t really want to have a part of that anymore.”

Watching the Vice video — and realizing this murderous thug had marched Friday night by the dorm building on the U.Va. campus where my son, a second year student, will spend the next nine months — I had one thought: the full weight of state investigatory powers and social condemnation needs to be brought to bear against these people. Federal prosecutors, police departments, watchdog organizations, opinion leaders, faith communities, ordinary people — we all have a role to play in making sure these fringe elements, and the mentality they represent, are never normalized, never accepted, and never allowed to succeed.

Then the president spoke up.

“That was a horrible day. I will tell you something. I watched that very closely, much more closely than you people watched it,” said Donald Trump at a Tuesday press conference that was grotesque even for his low standards. “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”

The group without a permit “on the other side” showed up to protest Nazis spreading their poison in a beloved Virginia college town.

“You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest,” said Trump of the white supremacist rabble. “I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this. There are two sides to a story.”

Trump added: “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”

Two sides: One side raised their voices against Nazi sympathizers with guns and armbands and swastikas. The other side, the side that says it wants to kill Jews and blacks and God knows who else, murdered a woman.

Two sides.

By now, whether the President of the United States is a deranged racist-coddling imbecile or just a deranged racist imbecile is pretty much beside the point; the question is what we’re going to do about it. The answer, in the direct sense, is not much: at least not until such time that Republicans in Congress who’ve keep Trump afloat are ready to atone for their moral cowardice and opportunism by removing him from office. Elections will eventually restore the hygienic function of democracy to drain the swamp, but the next crack at getting rid of Trump is more than three years away.

In the interim, indirect responses to the outrages of Trumpism will have to suffice. An excellent opportunity comes in November when a Republican Party fellow traveler of the president’s, Ed Gilespie, will seek to become Virginia’s next governor. Gillespie is a longtime GOP operative and lobbyist — the quintessence of a party hack — who would be easy enough to oppose purely on the merits; this is especially true insofar as his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, is a superb choice for governor based on a laudable record of public service both inside and outside of the political sphere. Even if the traditional scales by which candidates are measured were more closely balanced, Gillespie deserves to lose simply as an expression of contempt for the direction that the Republican Party has taken with (and prior to) Trump. Republicans in general have shown themselves incapable of governing. Virginia presents no exception to this rule.

Think such statements are too harsh and sweeping? Think that the issue, such as it is, is restricted to Trump? If so, please read state Sen. Frank Ruff’s column here. While most Republican politicians have the good sense (or who knows, maybe even the decency) to distance themselves from Trump’s crazed take on the weekend violence, Ruff is only too happy to parrot the president’s fantasies. Charlottesville, our longtime state senator writes, was a “situation in which many erred in judgement [sic] and action. As one side of the trouble makers made errors in judgement, the other side made equally bad errors. This process ratcheted up to the point that three have died and others are in the hospital. Tit for tat situations generally move to worse and worse situations. This time is no exception and where it stops — if it does — no one knows.”

Stop for a moment and consider what Ruff is saying here. An innocent woman is dead because of a “tit for tat situation,” not because she was killed by a 20-year-old neo-Nazi who used a car as an instrument of domestic terrorism. There was a time when Republicans would decry any hesitancy to “speak evil by its name”; Ruff gives the false-equivalence treatment to a moral abomination. “Both sides had individuals prepared for physical confrontation,” Ruff continues in his column. “While services were conducted, they did not speak of peace and forgiving, but rather ginned up passion in the crowds gathered.” Right: alt-right protestors march up to U.Va.’s Rotunda, one of the world’s most iconic buildings, shouting out fascist chants of “blood and soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!” and Ruff lays the blame at counter-protestors “who did not speak of peace and forgiving.” Even for Frank Ruff, this is a galactically stupid thing to write.

If Ruff were an average citizen who spent his days staring at Fox News in the basement, his insane babblings would be no less insane, but they would be much easier to overlook. In fact, however (despite a mostly inconsequential career), Ruff is the longest-serving Republican elected official in state government from the Southside Virginia region. Unmoored as Ruff is from guiding principles or original thought, there have even been times during his tenure when he has tilted in a moderate direction. (As a senator, for instance, he once voted to triple Virginia’s gas tax to raise revenue for transportation.) That Ruff at this advanced stage of his career would give credence to wild-eyed, extremist notions about the tragedy in Charlottesville just goes to show how far down from the fish’s head the Republican Party has rotted. It’s not true of all members of the party; only too many of them.

Many people I consider friends voted for Donald Trump, that much I know. But I refuse to believe that decent people of any political persuasion signed up for this. I’m no fan of Marco Rubio (Ruff apparently is — he endorsed him in the Republican presidential primary) but Florida’s U.S. Senator has been straightforward about what went down in Charlottesville this weekend. “The organizers of events which inspired & led to #charlottesvilleterroristattack are 100% to blame for a number of reasons,” Rubio wrote on Twitter Tuesday. One hundred percent. This is not a hard concept to grasp.

Never normalize. Never accept. Next time people see Frank Ruff, they should give him an earful for his shameful and disgusting “column” that gives cover to alt-right racists. Donald Trump may be out of accountability’s grasp, but Frank Ruff — and those like him who provide oxygen for Trump’s lies — are not.

Senator Ruff’s office number: 434-374-5129

Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)





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