Smith: Politicians must confront hate

Alt-right members holding Nazi, Confederate and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags prepare to enter Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Anthony Crider, via Wikimedia Commons

(Mike Smith is a regular columnist for VTDigger. He hosts the radio program “Open Mike with Mike Smith” on WDEV 550 AM and 96.1, 96.5, 98.3 and 101.9 FM and is a political analyst for WCAX-TV and WVMT radio. He was the secretary of administration and secretary of human services under former Gov. Jim Douglas.)

In the early 1960s we still had racist state laws defending the widespread practice of segregation. Slowly — too slowly for many black Americans — those laws began to change.

However, racism and bigotry don’t end by changing laws. In many respects, integrating lunch counters, schools and bathrooms is the easy part. The real challenge nowadays is confronting those individuals who have been taught to hate.

Too often, it’s easy to ignore racism and bigotry, because confronting hate brings risks. Perhaps it’s human nature to hope that hatred toward others will somehow fade on its own. But it seldom does: Instead, it usually intensifies with time. If racism and bigotry are left unchecked, those consumed by hate will ultimately become more volatile and more dangerous.

The neo-Nazis and white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week were there for one reason: to spread hate. They needed to be confronted. And those who were nonviolent and protested against them deserve to be praised. Tragically, the event did turn violent, and Heather Heyer was killed by the actions of someone who seemed filled with rage and prejudice. But she will be remembered as one who stood up against those promoting racism and bigotry.

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump failed to confront hate in the same direct manner as Heather Heyer. Instead of denouncing these hate groups in a timely and unambiguous manner, he muddled his message, and as a result he gave credence to their actions, which legitimized their beliefs. Hate should never be legitimized.

The president believes our country is being ripped apart by a culture war. Certainly, we have endured divisive debates before, most recently in the turbulent 1960s.

In 1963 an assassin shot and killed President John F. Kennedy, and then in 1968 assassins killed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. In 1968 race riots set our major cities ablaze. In that same year opposition to the Vietnam War was growing to its height as more and more men were drafted and the death toll skyrocketed. And in 1970, four college students were killed by Ohio National Guard troops on the campus of Kent State University during a protest of the war. Eleven days later, two more young people died and 12 were wounded in a police shooting at Jackson State in Mississippi.

Indeed, in America today racial tensions are once again high. But most Americans – of all races and ethnicities – believe that our political and economic systems are rigged against them, and as a result some Americans are turning against others — whether minorities or ethnic groups — to place blame. And when this happens hate begins to fester.

Starting in the mid-1970s there was the political will and the political leadership to try to heal our country from the strife of the previous decade. In 2017 that same political will and leadership seems to be lacking. Somewhere along the way we have lost our motivation to heal.

Instead, our two major political parties are in a constant state of political warfare. Each side is focused on trying to vanquish the other. And the rhetoric is vicious. Major national problems sit unattended because a compromise with an opposing party is considered a defeat. An attempt to understand an opposing view is interpreted as lacking conviction for your cause or, worse, disloyalty to a political party.

The neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville — and others planned elsewhere in the United States in the future — reminds us that individual hatred still exists and perhaps is gaining strength.

Politicians who exploit our fears and separate us by our differences must be held responsible for the explosion of racism and bigotry in our country.

In the 1960s film footage of African-Americans peaceably protesting and then being beaten by police, attacked by police dogs and blasted by water from fire hoses shamed our nation into realizing we had a horrible problem that needed to be corrected.

Two questions have yet to be answered as a result of last week: Are the events that unfolded in Charlottesville ominous enough to shock and shame us to demand action from our political leaders? And will our political leaders confront hate and actually address the underlying problems to diminish the influence of racism and bigotry?

Only time will tell if our political leaders will lead, or if they will continue to point fingers.

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Mike Smith

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  • rosemariejackowski

    The voters voted for a ‘tweeter’ instead of a ‘leader’.

    Voting has consequences. In Vermont we had a good selection of Presidential Candidates on the ballot. Most voters still do not know how many candidates there were. Welcome to the United States of Apathy.

    Sometimes we get what we deserve.

    • Neil Johnson

      But sometimes it’s not all as it seems. The tweeter has a direct line to the people unfiltered. People need to read the book SMEAR. Our government on both sides is so corrupt and in bed with the press it is sickening.

      We have more prosperity, equality and freedom for all groups of people in the history of the world, yet we are approaching violence never seen since the 1950’s….why is that?

      We are not getting what we deserve, our press is so in bed and biased across our nation for division and ratings of which they could care less about the consequences as long as they make money.

      Labeling Burlington a hate town is pure propaganda, used to stir the pot. Classic example. It is a planned division, teachings of Saul Alinsky filtering in our government and churches no less. Vermonters want to live in peace, it’s the outside parties that want us in chaos, it’s how they get power.

  • Angelo Napolitano

    sad people should look up Antifa… they are funded by George Soros

    • Jeff Noordsy

      I know it’s hard, but please try to stay on topic here.

      • Neil Johnson

        He’s very much on topic. Why would America be threatened by a group of 300 people with dumb ideas?

        Why would we assume this means anything in a nation of 330,000,000 people living in peace an harmony? Why would this become that biggest topic, they had to pull people from the entire nation to even make a small group, so why?

        Have you noticed that division in our country has been getting worse and worse for 20 years? Doesn’t matter who’s in office. It’s because some groups want to create division, chaos and gain power through this. It’s not about helping people, look at Chicago for an example of this groups fruit.

        We will never rid the world of stupid people and bad ideas. Perhaps we can rid the world of a few rich people running havoc in our nation, Koch? Bloomberg? Soros? Pick your poison, it’s all poison. Our country is smart enough to rule ourselves, we don’t need billionaires telling us what to do.

        • Dennis Works

          Neil Johnson: I agree with your last paragraph. And the partial cure is a constitutional amendment to overturn the disastrous 2010 SCOTUS decision in ‘Citizens United’. Money in politics is corrupting every corner of government and private enterprise. We truly have become an oligarchical plutocracy. We must get private money out of campaigns and all politics. All (at least) federal campaigns should be publicly funded, with NO ALLOWANCE for ANY gifts of ANY type (cash, loans, trips, etc.).

          BTW – I have seen you mention the book ‘The Smear’ by Sharyl Attkisson a couple of times. I have not read the book by I certainly plan on buying it… it does look intriguing.

  • Homer sulham

    I think an important question is, what is fostering all of this “hate”? Angelo Napolitano is correct, Soros is behind much of it.

    • walter carpenter

      “Angelo Napolitano is correct, Soros is behind much of it.”

      Do you have any proof of this? Soros, in fact, has seen hate first hand because he had to live as subject under fascist rule in his native Hungary during WWII. The people really behind it are folks like the Koch Brothers, who have spent billions subverting our democracy, and whose father made first made the family fortune off of Hitler’s Germany and praised Nazism:

      Then, of course, there is our history of racism and hate

  • Don Dixon

    I believe that racism/sexism/bigotry is on the wane; this based on what I hear from young people to include my own 20-somethings and their peers. It will never disappear entirely most likely. It will have to die out gradually. But you have to admit that hooded protestors hurting people and damaging property, whether in Berkeley or Middlebury is not really helpful to their cause in the court of public opinion. It is to them that I believe the president was so in artfully referring.

  • Jeff Noordsy

    No. You are conflating many separate issues in an effort to deflect and distort. Say it after me … Nazis are bad. Even Billo agrees. http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-administration/347320-opinion-bill-oreilly-trumps-real-failure-is-not

    • Steve Baker

      How about we stop conflating and debating, Condemn ALL violence? Do you think you’re All-Knowing enough to tell “good violence” from “bad violence”

      • David Bell

        Then our so-called President should take the lead, first by condemning the violent Nazi murderer who killed an innocent person for protesting a hate speech rally.

  • David Bell

    If you think a counter protest is a protest against free speech you do not understand how free speech works.

    But hey, who cares if Nazis are a hate group, certainly not our so-called President.

    • Peter Chick

      Did Trump really say that he did not care if Nazis are a hate group? Or are you making that up. I do Bernie has named Trump as the most dangerous man in America.

    • Steve Baker

      Real Simple, The rally was “A FREE SPEECH” rally, obviously you don’t get the irony of the counter protesters.

      • David Bell

        The rally was a HATE SPEECH rally, as evidenced by the group organizing and the message being sent.

        If you are unaware of this, you should do a little research first.

        • Edward Letourneau

          What you mean is if you don’t agree with the message, then its hate speech. You are wrong.

          • JohnGreenberg

            So wearing shirts “wearing shirts that talk about Adolf Hitler,” while chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” is not hate speech according to you?

            How about: “This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal nigges”? Still not hate speech? http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/nazis-racism-charlottesville/536928/

            If these don’t qualify, according to you, please tell us what does.

  • Jamie Carter

    “Are we united or not?”

    Absolutely not. Our politicians have successfully divided us. It started with Dubya and the war on terror. That brokered a growing divide between the political parties and public that associates with the two ends of the poltiical spectrum. That divide was further exacerbated with Obama. The pendulum swung back the other way and the Dems took control and Republican’s like McConnell ratcheted it up a notch as did Democrats like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. That divide reached a fevered pitch during the presidential race thanks to uneducated southern bumpkins and fire and brimstone orators like Sanders. Trump rallied one side, and Bernie rallied the other. Leahy is doing his best to keep that divide as large as possible. McConnell is still doing his best… We are absolutely not united and we have our government… OUR GOVERNMENT… including and especially Sanders and Leahy. Welch seems to be the only VT Congressman to be able to hold his tongue and not make things worse.

    Personally I think things have gone past the point of no return. We now have a situation where there is a strong prejudice against others based solely on their political identity. Instead of reducing hate and prejudice our poltiical system, Dems and Reps alike, have created an entirely new way to hate each other.