Hate Endangers Our Union

September 1, 2017

By Representative William Tong

The video from Charlottesville is so violent and profane that I was not sure the kids should watch it. But Liz and I decided not to shield them from it. And as we watched it together, my nine year old daughter started pointing out people on the television and asking us “is he a good guy” or “is he a bad guy”? At first we tried to be even handed -- true to our training as lawyers -- and to avoid making judgments so our daughter could make up her own mind. But we both quickly realized that was the wrong approach.

We must be clear in the face of hate. There are good guys in this world. And there are bad guys. To say there are “good people on both sides” is just not true. There are no good people among white supremacists. We all know that the hateful and intolerant have a constitutionally protected right to speak and protest. But they have no right to incite violence. As Justice Robert Jackson once said, the Constitution “is not a suicide pact.” To credit white supremacists and their sympathizers as “good” is to enable and give license to hate, and, as we saw in Charlottesville, to invite the violence that is sure to follow.

We cannot give mixed messages. No ambiguity. This is no time to duck for cover or shirk our responsibility through some non-partisan, apolitical, fair and balanced refusal to say and do what is right. To say that neo-nazis are really no worse than leftist protesters is to encourage the most hateful and violent to act out openly and without restraint. Some try to rationalize hate by claiming that otherwise good people are damaged by economic dislocation and political disenfranchisement. They are somehow driven bad by fear of the change wrought by technology and globalization. NAFTA caused the rot in their soul. That is complete Steve Bannon garbage. There is no excuse, no rationale, no justification for the hate and violence we saw in Charlottesville.

What we must remember, always, is that our country is a union. At our core, we are people bound together voluntarily, and we are self-government by our mutual consent. We are a federation of 50 states consisting of the most diverse population on earth; we are not a homogenous country in which everyone is joined in kinship by a common race or religion. Americans choose to live together in peace. But the Civil War proved that we don’t have to.

The President clearly does not understand this or the damage he does with each callous utterance. With each word, the President intentionally divides us and breaks us apart. As Mitt Romney and others have said, the President tears the fabric of our nation. And in so doing, he does not merely dishonor some high-minded theory of America; instead, he drives the long-term social and political disintegration of our country and feeds the physical violence that results.

There are many in our own state who support President’s destructive agenda to break us apart and change the character of our nation. Local elected leaders invited Michelle Malkin, an accomplished racist, to give the keynote address at an event in Connecticut just a few weeks ago. Among many other offenses, Ms. Malkin wrote a book “In Defense of Internment” to justify the incarceration of American citizens in concentration camps on American soil. Ms. Malkin’s purpose may be to monetize hate; but the result is to drive a violent wedge between us all.

Some statewide leaders sheepishly shrug their shoulders and claim not to notice that our house is on fire. They want to hunker down and wait until this storm passes. One gubernatorial candidate called the discussion about the President’s response to Charlottesville a political “diversionary tactic.” A major party Chairman said that, on a scale of bad-ness, Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are a 10 but the left-wing protesters are an 8. Others statewide candidates claim they don’t pay attention to what the President does; that these are federal issues, and they’re more focused on our state. Some of these lucky candidates may even hope to ride this wave of hate to the governorship. But our great state will suffer the cost.

The President has been criticized for failing to provide moral leadership. He seems to take that to mean that he was not sufficiently compassionate or “politically correct.” No doubt he feels some righteousness in trampling legal and social norms so he can speak racist and sexist “hard” truths that could not be more false. At the beginning of his Presidency, many of us hoped for the best, which, loosely translated, means that we hoped he was merely negligent and at worst reckless with his words. Now we see that the President’s words reflect a malignancy that is not accidental. A man who can move markets and start wars by opening his mouth now evinces a true purpose to watch this nation tear itself apart so he can rebrand it as part of his organization.

In February, I wrote that the President is building a bonfire of hate and putting the American people in grave danger. Now the bonfire burns and Heather Heyer is dead. I can only hope that Mr. Trump soon realizes that he is the President of the United States. By his very title and oath, he is charged with holding this union together. We cannot let him rip us apart.