Racial, ethnic, and religious hatred in this country aren't new. They predate the founding of the nation.
So Donald Trump didn't create the sentiments that the white supremacists and racists and anti-Semites spewed out in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 11 and 12. But he embraced those sentiments and the people who marched with torches and shields and guns. He voiced their belief and their anger, and he stood comfortably on their side.
And we can no longer minimize the significance of his actions by assuming that they're the result of cold calculation, done for political or business self-interest.
Donald Trump stood with the marchers because he believes what they believe.
Think of his birther attacks on Barack Obama – which date as far back as 2011, when he insisted that he had sent investigators to Hawaii and that "they cannot believe what they're finding." Think of the Justice Department's suit against him, his father, and Trump Management for discriminating against African Americans.
Think of his slurs against Mexican immigrants when he announced his candidacy, his repeated focus on excluding Muslim immigrants, his opposition to plans for a Muslim cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero. Think of his attack on US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, an Indiana native of Mexican heritage.
Think of his rallies during the presidential campaign: his sneers, his rage, his promise to pay legal fees for fans "who knock the crap out of" protesters at the rallies.
He wasn't acting, any more than he was when he was caught on videotape bragging about groping women.
This is who he is.
And so, on August 11 and 12, hundreds of white men marched with torches at night and shields and guns in the daytime in Charlottesville. They weren't marching to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The statue's pending removal gave them an excuse. Chants like "You will not replace us," "Jews will not replace us" had nothing to do with a bronze statue of a Confederate general.
The young and middle-aged toughs knew what they were doing. They knew exactly what they were marching for.
And so did anybody watching their demonstrations or reading about them afterward.
Every member of the Trump administration knew what the marchers were marching for – including the vice president, who has continued to smile approvingly at the president and said he "stands with" him on his Charlottesville statements. Every Republican member of Congress knows what Charlottesville was about, every Republican governor, every member of every state legislature.
So do the billionaires like Sheldon Adelson who financed the Trump campaign.
It is time for Republicans all over the country to speak out on behalf of their party and their nation, against the man who is leading both. And as the Rev. Lewis Stewart noted last week, that includes local Republican officials.
I don't think that the white nationalists, racists, and anti-Semites who marched in Charlottesville represent a majority of the country. But I don't believe their kind will ever go away. (Nor do I condone meeting their violence with violence. And there is no place in politics for Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat, who said on Facebook that she wished Trump would be assassinated.)
But what matters is where the country stands. And that will be defined both by the actions of its leaders and the actions of its ordinary citizens, rich and poor, powerful and weak.
"To sin by silence when we should protest, makes cowards out of men," American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote.
A few Republican leaders around the country have spoken out. But only a very few. The others have been silent.
They were silent when Donald Trump shouted hatred during his campaign for the presidency. They have been silent as he has attacked immigrants. Can they not find the courage to speak out now? Not even now?
"Every member of the Trump administration knew what the white men were marching for in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12."