The shame of silence

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Sunday night people in West Chester, Kennett Square and numerous other locations around Chester County came together to do what our president could not bring himself to do: condemn the terrorism of White Nationalists, including the attack on demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday.

Instead, President Donald Trump has a new ad out attacking the media as “enemies” while basically giving a free pass to literal Nazis and Klansmen.

And maybe you could argue that the national media is making too much of a small number of nitwits, parading with their Nazi flags and salutes, their Klan hoods and so on. Maybe. But is there a number of cancer cells that you need to have before you worry that it will make you sick?

It’s pretty clear America is already getting sick from this.

Now, I’m not going to make this about political parties. I know for a fact that there are just as many Republicans horrified today by the rise of Alt-Right, white nationalists as Democrats — almost all agree that sort of hate is unAmerican at its core.

And yet…

When this palpable fear among some minority groups in the area rose when Trump was unexpectedly elected last fall, some dismissed it, suggesting their institution (insert a wealthy, privileged school district here, a government body there) had such a strong record on inclusion that it didn’t need to restate its commitment to social justice. Many more, of course, did — and some in very strongly and public ways — commit to defending the rights and dignity of all.

While the voices of the latter were comforting, the silence of the former has been deafening.

As history has taught us — and as we saw on the streets of Charlottesville this past weekend — silence is seen as permission. Whether it was the silence from the White House – or from a local school board — these thugs felt empowered to hit the streets, armed to the teeth, carrying Nazi flags, wearing Klan hoods and the various new icons of the Alt-Right and White Nationalists. Most were celebrating Trump and his election (the combination of Make America Great Again hats and Nazi uniforms and flags could be seen in many images from the protests), by the way.

The attack on Friday night’s AntiFascist prayer meeting by a bunch of jack-booted thugs was bad enough. The clashes on the streets Saturday of a college town — Charlottesville is the home of the University of Virginia — which left many bloodied and wounded were worse.

Then an angry man plowed his car into a crowd of AntiFascists, killing one woman and injuring more than a dozen more. To be clear, this was an act of domestic, right-wing extremist terrorism.

Maybe you argue this isn’t an issue here in Chester County.

Except, of course, it is. Just a few miles away, in Lancaster, there was a large Klan gathering a few weeks back — something that would have been hard to imagine just a few years back. And there are fringy types, who until recently kept their heads down, who now think they can trash minorities, the LGBT community — anyone different from their ideal of “Americans.” From the subtle (and not always so subtle) bullying of minority students in school hallways — denied by school officials the way some deny the Earth is round — to the roundup of Hispanic agricultural workers in Chester County, it is clear we now live in a different America, a different Chester County.

And not a better one.

Silence gave those that hate the green light. Some, for political reasons, were afraid to buck the new Republican president and were more interested in playing politics than living up to the responsibility of their elected positions. Others, frankly, just don’t care much.

We won’t even discuss the handful of county and legislative officials who were blatant and vocal Trump cheerleaders and offered winks to the Alt-Right as a method of furthering their careers.

None of that is acceptable, of course.

It was not acceptable for there to be equivocation (or worse) about hate eight months ago and most certainly it is not acceptable now.

It boggles the mind that there could even be a question about condemning people who idolize — and sanctify — a Nazi movement that committed genocide by the millions, or a Klan that lynched thousands of Americans and those who hate based on skin color, gender, religion or ethnic background.

That it could even be a discussion here in Chester County — home of the Underground Railroad, that brought so many African-Americans to freedom — where the first campaign biography of Abraham Lincoln was written, essentially the birth moment of the modern Republican Party, is appalling and pathetic.

Those who have chosen silence over principle have enabled this shame on our nation, on our county.

Shame on you.

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