The March to Confront White Supremacy completed its remarkable 118-mile trek from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., last Wednesday, carrying a demand to the nation's capital from the city where racist and xenophobic violence left one woman dead and many injured.
That demand was urgent and unequivocal: “This is the time for us to stand up for justice and equality. This is the time to confront white supremacy in our government and throughout our history.”
The marchers have spoken truth with the clarity that extends from painful experience.
But how will our government respond?
It is clearer than ever that the Trump administration will not lead. President Trump and his attorney general continue to use the politics of prejudice to divide Americans against one another, most recently with the assault on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections for Dreamers.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who once tried to jail voting rights activists for registering African-Americans to cast ballots in Alabama, now peddles vile lies about immigrants who serve their country with more honor than Sessions has ever mustered.
Sessions should have been impeached after it was revealed that he had lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which weighed his nomination. Yet he remains in office because senators have been unwilling to confront a lawless attorney general, as House members for the most part continue to facilitate rather than challenge administration wrongdoing.
House Speaker Paul Ryan showed a measure of remorse in a Sept. 7 conversation with The New York Times, saying that white supremacists in Charlottesville displayed “a pure form of hatred, this notion that some human beings are intrinsically superior to others.”
“That whole concept is wrong, evil,” said Ryan. “We need to be very clear about that.”
The speaker fretted about the crisis, explaining: “I worry that we’re going to get this normalized in our society. We have to be outraged every single time, so they never occupy normal space in our civil dialogue or civil space in our country.”
Those are fine words.
But Ryan has yet to provide America with anything more than rhetoric.
It is way past time for the speaker of the House and the chamber he leads to renew their affiliation with the system of checks and balances, to move from words to action and to take a meaningful stand against the hatemongering alt-right conservatism that has infected the Republican Party and the Trump White House.
Responsible House members, working in conjunction with civil rights and social justice groups, are outlining a concrete action plan that can and must be taken to confront white supremacy from Charlottesville to D.C. Horrified that the president of the United States has sought to equate those who march on behalf of racism, anti-Semitism and fascism with those who march in opposition to hatred, Madison native Ben Wikler, who now serves as the D.C. director of MoveOn, told a crowd outside the Capitol last Thursday: “Seventy-five years ago, Nazis killed members of my family. There weren’t two sides then and there aren’t now.”
Demanding that Congress “Choose a Side,” Wikler joined U.S. Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., as well as activists with People for the American Way, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement at the Center for Community Change, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Bend the Arc Jewish Action to call on Congress to:
1. Censure Donald Trump for his response to the violence in Charlottesville. This simple act would put the legislative branch of the federal government on record in opposition to the outrageous messages that have been sent by the executive branch.
2. Remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol. This physical act would recognize that the current crisis extends, at least in part, from the failure of our leaders to acknowledge that it was neither heroic nor honorable for Confederate generals to lead armies into battle to defend the sin of human bondage.
3. Demand that Trump fire White House counselor Stephen Miller, a former aide to Sessions with long ties to the extreme right who helped to write the president’s incendiary inaugural address, promoted Trump’s “Muslim ban,” and advocates within the White House for rolling back the DACA program.
The removal of Miller is vital. By keeping this alt-right favorite on staff, argues Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-chair Mark Pocan, D-town of Vermont, Trump gives Miller “a platform to advance (his) dangerous and hateful worldview and political agenda.”
Miller’s platform is just one of the awful edifices that must be deconstructed in order to confront hatred in this administration and in the politics that extend from it. The Confederate statues must be removed. The president must be censured.
In truth, those are merely first steps toward an accountability moment that recognizes the necessity of formal action by a Congress that has been too silent, too weak, too complicit.
No one has been more complicit than Paul Ryan, who has been making excuses for Donald Trump since the summer of 2015. If Ryan is finally ready to censure the president and to reject the divisive rhetoric and the divisive individuals who define this administration, more power to him. If, on the other hand, Ryan is making bold pronouncements but failing to follow through on them with meaningful action, then he will continue to own the shame that attached to him when he made himself the willing accomplice of a reprehensible candidacy and a dangerous presidency.
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