Once upon a time a presidential candidate promised to make America great again. There were hats. There were rallies. There were protestors—and there was tough talk.
Before her murder, Heather Heyer was just another of Trump’s many losers and haters. So thick were we in the woods of the president’s response to white supremacists and antisemitism, we forgot to notice his hand in her murder.
This isn’t conspiracy theory. This isn’t fake news. It’s current events. It’s a civics lesson. We saw this happen. We predicted this would happen. For though the president may profess to harbor sympathy for Heather Heyer now, he surely did not have sympathy for her when she was alive. Had she been a protestor at one of his rallies, he would’ve directed the full might of his mob at her. Had she been a reporter in the press pool, she would’ve been mercilessly booed and hissed as a “subhuman” “scum of the earth.”
Recall the time Trump unleashed his Twitter followers on Meghan Kelly over a critical debate question. His crazies tweeted death threats at her and her children. The situation got too hot and top network brass urgently called the Trump campaign. They explained it isn’t good for his campaign if someone gets killed. All that’s needed, they explained, is for one person to take it too far. In the end someone on Trump’s team understood their candidate’s liability. Because following that phone call, Trump took to Twitter to quell the storm. His goons backed down, and no one got killed.
Well. His goons are back in the news. Someone did get killed this time. And the lesson from the Meghan Kelly episode is Trump understands his liability in Heather Heyer’s death. But does America? Will anyone hold him accountable?
Trump didn’t know Heather Heyer, but he knew others like her. Her spirit, like the light of liberty itself, was at his rallies. Her spirit was in the press pool. Her spirit was in critical debate questions. In every context Trump met Heather Heyer’s spirit, he did everything he could to intimidate and bully her into submission. And he did everything he could to inspire others to carry out his marching orders.
He didn’t do this once. He didn’t whisper it in someone’s ear like a spy movie. He orchestrated it from the conductor’s podium. Factoring crowd sizes and total number of rallies, plus replays on national news, Donald Trump has spurred millions to cheer themselves hoarse for violence. That’s right! Rough ‘em up a little! Go on! Good! I’ll pay your legal fees!
Trump is the eclipse on liberty’s light. For now it is dark and we are truly lost. But this darkness shall pass. The light will again shine bright.
Will the real America please stand up? No, not you who mark blacks at three fifths the value of whites. No, not you, who mark Jews with black armbands. And no, not you, antifascist, who mark people in red hats with black eyes and broken noses.
Donald Trump exploits Americans’ anger by offering scapegoats. He tells us people like “x” are the problem. People like “y” are the problem. And while his supporters froth at the mouth, the darkest problem facing our country is the moral character of the man starving us of the light. A con man. He’s the one setting the terms. And his terms are: he cannot be the problem. By his terms, he is the only solution.
In a way, he’s right. We can shove him aside and rebuild for peace. It’s important for all of us to understand the Charlottesville counter-protestors are fundamentally no different from the ones upon which Trump encouraged harm. I am not arguing they are better Americans for harboring liberal politics. I am arguing they are undeserving of being dehumanized for their values by our Commander in Chief. Agree with them or not, they are Americans. Heather Heyer was not “scum of the Earth.” She was not a “loser and hater.” Our president framed these characterizations and she is dead because of it.
Heather Heyer’s grieving mother cannot accept Donald Trump’s sympathy call. I wonder how many Charlottesville residents can accept his empty words. So thorough are Trump’s attacks on his critics, so pervasive are his lies, even he seemed for a moment to appreciate something more was needed to convince anyone of his sincerity. And what did he come up with? He whored his Virginia winery as a moral credential to prove he cares, then he lied about its size on the way out the door.
This is the point: Heather Heyer’s murder gestated in a petri dish on the president’s desk. He yelled fire in a crowded building, clear as day. His viciousness is not reserved for the likes of ISIS. Nor is it reserved exclusively for the powerful. He unleashes it against the meek without reservation, and he directs it most commonly at Americans.
Dehumanizing others is a tried and true tactic. Blacks are scum. Jews are scum. Gays are scum. Women are bitches. And while it may not be those precise words spewing from the president’s mouth, it is the spirit of those words animating the ones that do. “Scum of the earth.” “Knock the crap out of ‘em.” “Punch him in the face.” Coming from the President of the United States, words like these have consequences. They surely did for Heather Heyer.
It’s hard to write about Donald Trump and stay focused. There’s always a million targets. But today, let’s pause the conversation on Trump’s moral confusion over white supremacy and antisemitism to talk about the murdered American citizen whose blood is on Trump’s hands. Rough ‘em up a little. Remember that phrase. Our Provocateur in Chief courts controversy by habit, making further violence sadly predictable. We are entering a new phase of escalation. The powerless will resist. Responsible citizenry will operate within the law, but to risk impeachment is to risk a spark near the powder keg. If the president truly cares about anything other than himself, it is past time for him to prove it and resign. That can happen. His power stems from his base. The power to stop this is in their hands. If you voted for Trump, turn on him now. Be a patriot, pick up the phone and make the calls. Pick up the phone for the real America. Because for those of us who didn’t vote for Trump, this isn’t America anymore.