“It should be really, really easy to censure a president for being a Nazi apologist”
What now feels like 250 years ago, our president spoke ad-hoc in his namesake New York building’s lobby to a press gaggle. The informal press briefing was scheduled so Trump could comment on…well, who cares, I’m talking about that moment when he said that there were “good people” on both sides of the race riots in Charlottesville.
This was on August 15. Not even a eight weeks ago.
In 2017: months are the new years, weeks are the new months, and hours are the new days.
I am a white woman. I consider my experience with race, and my acceptance of people who don’t look like me, to be incredibly fortunate. I got lucky early. I went to college in Los Angeles and, by 19, the people I met there, who befriended me, whom I loved (and still love), took my already open-minded worldview and cracked it open even more. I met my lifelong best friend (a black woman) when I was newly 19. My first very serious boyfriend (whom I fell in love with the fall of my sophomore year) was Afro-Puerto Rican.
That boyfriend, a kind, gentle, funny, smart, college student, was hogtied and harassed by Los Angeles police on the side of a dangerous highway in 1990 for no reason while he was coming to pick me up. Car tags were current. He had no outstanding warrants. When he arrived at my apartment moments after the incident, his face was swollen and covered in road rash. All he could say: “I didn’t do ANYTHING.” I remember how staggering that was to see him on my couch, this man I loved desperately, running through scenarios with him that sounded reasonable to my white mind that were, for him, out of the question. When I suggested that he call the police and complain, he looked at me like I was an utter, and naive, fool.
Moments like this, which would become increasingly common the more and more diverse my friendships became, taught me an important lesson about the relative ease of my whiteness as compared to the painful challenges of “otherness” when I was a very, very young woman. I saw it. I heard it. I witnessed it. I was stunned and disgusted by it.
All of this is background for this statement: Until Trump spoke those now famously divisive words in his gilded lobby, I never thought any level of racism in America would shock me.
Charlottesville, August, 2017
If you just awoke from some multi-decade slumber and this is all news to you: a bunch of tiki torch bearing, violent, murderous Nazi knuckleheads stormed the streets of Charlottesville, the place went nuts, and our president defended the instigators who were demanding for the complete eradication of blacks and Jews (I am one of those) from the very earth, and country, which we all share.
Like so many people of many cultures and races in America, I watch with a stunned horror as a literal racist mob harassed other peaceful protesters. It was something I couldn’t turn away from. Trump muttered a gutless apology on Monday, and, like a nation of stunned drunks, we all thought that Trump might be done talking about it.
Then, one day later: the gaggle, the lobby. “Good people on both sides, believe me.” He said those words. His tacit acceptance changed into out-and-out condoning. I can’t imagine a moment just this side of 9/11 or November 8, 2016 that were any more horrifying on a national level.
I found Shaun King streaming on Facebook moments after that press conference ended. (In the name of all you hold dear, please watch his Facebook live stream from August 15 here.) He said, “To put blame on people who are fighting for justice…to blame them for what happened in Charlottesville is wild because a woman was murdered. A black man, Deandre Harris, was almost beaten to death, by bigots and Neo-Nazis.” In the same address, King read tweets from men like David Duke who were lauding themselves, and this president, for the movement they all gave birth to.
I have a black friend who lives in Sonoma. She has been called a n***** on the street more than once. She has seen swastikas spray painted on the fences of houses owned by people in her community. Again: this is in Sonoma, California. I’ve known her for over 20 years. She is as remarkable a person as I’ve ever met. In her peaceful, quiet BAY AREA city, she’s been called…that. In the 21st century. In the Bay Area.
So: I’ll say this again: When it came to American white supremacy, I didn’t think you could surprise me anymore.
I wasn’t even that surprised when the most overly racist presidential candidate in the history of post-Civil War America won the election. That’s how acclimated I am to the reality of racist America. Once again, I’ll hand it to Trump for raising the bar. I’m shocked. He shocked me.
It wasn’t the racism itself that shocked me. It was the bold, brazen, embracing of it. By the president. Of my country.
“I want to lean into this fear that you have because, I think it’s real. I want to give you some life advice. Trust your gut. Trust it. Right now, your gut is telling you that where our country is going, what’s happening right now, your gut, your heart, your mind, your soul, whatever you want to call it, is telling you “something’s wrong. This is not right. This is not normal.””
Shaun King, August 15, 2017
Wednesday, August 16
There had already been protests up and down the streets of St. Louis that week for the third anniversary of Mike Brown’s shooting. There were also marches in support of a conviction (the verdict is forthcoming) for SLPD officer Jason Stockley for the murder of Lamar Smith. St. Louis also had a (much less tragic) kerfuffle over our own local Confederate Statue this very summer. In terms of racial tension: you can’t get any more ratcheted up than this place right now.
Activism isn’t easy, by any means. I’ve been an activist on and off my whole life. It’s never been harder than it is today. The best thing to do during the Trump era, the era of shock, is to navigate yourself to the next room where you know you need to be. Find the conversation that needs your input the most.
On the morning of August 16: that room was, for me, a constituent meeting at Missouri Senator Roy Blunt’s office. Constituent meetings often feel like the world’s greatest exercise in futility. Only, here’s the thing: your elected representatives are still legally required to make themselves available to you. We can’t make Roy come to us (I’ve come to believe that he will never, ever hold a town hall for Missourians), so it’s even more important that we bring ourselves to him.
A local Indivisible group regularly schedules constituent meetings at Blunt’s St. Louis office. I have attended at least two, maybe more. The morning after Trump’s racist pronouncement, there I was back in that same conference room, where I’ve sat a few times now, with a dozen other people who were there to express the same indignation and anger that I felt.
Why, we all wanted desperately to know, wouldn’t our Senator rebuke the president’s pro-nazi comments? (Blunt’s tepid response to the crisis was so inexcusable, I’d already written a post about it.) We asked for censure, at very least. Censure, after all, made sense.
Blunt’s staffer, we’ll call her Jane, as she is wont to do (it’s her job) patiently took notes. A man to my right spoke of his experience as a gay Jew, a man terrified of the word “nazi” let alone the actions of people who identify as such.
I spoke after him. I read a text from my cousin, whose son is both Jewish and black (surely a human abomination in the eyes of the nazi marchers in Charlottesville). She’s a single working mom and doesn’t have the flexibility of a childless freelance writer . I wanted to be someone’s voice that morning. So, I was hers.
These are her words:
“I am a single mother of both a Jewish and black child. How am I supposed to feel supported and protected with leaders who blatantly support hatred towards my innocent 5-year-old son?”
I let those words just sink into the air in the room. I’ve never seen a group of adults look so defeated, and this is in a city known nationally for some very troubling racist police brutality.
I pointed out that Blunt was a natural to go against the grain with the president on this one: he went on record as not attending the Republican convention when Trump received the nomination.
“He’s not a showy guy,” Jane explained. “He doesn’t really get on social media. He’s a quiet man. It’s not his way.”
“He took out time to declare he wasn’t going to the convention,” I said again. “He has SOME precedent to…”
Jane nodded. “I totally get what you’re saying,” she said. “I understand.”
Comment after comment, Jane seemed even more resolute, albeit politely, that Blunt was not “the kind of guy” who was going to be vocal or overtly active on any social media platform.
Another Blunt staffer present that morning (and whose voice I recognize from the dozens of calls I’ve made to Blunt’s office) is a black woman. I point this out for a singular reason: not in my wildest thoughts about Senator Blunt, or in my darkest hours when I have disliked him the most, do I think he’s racist. I don’t. Nor do I think he’s an anti-semite (his wife is Jewish), nor that he supports Nazism.
Jennifer, one of our most dedicated and tireless Indivisible organizers, spoke last. I’ve been in that conference room with her at least once. I’ve had countless discussions about politics with her and I would say that she is as unflappable as they come (she is a former litigation attorney). That morning, though, like the rest of us, she was unable to hide her justifiable rage.
“I originally scheduled this meeting,” she said, “because I thought we needed to talk about nuclear war.”
She said the same things that we did, but in a way that made me wish I’d brought a pen so I could have written all of it down. Her lawyer side was coming out in full force, and she didn’t miss a beat. She spoke the words that are both utterly common sense and tragic. They were delivered with such midwestern matter-of-factness, I couldn’t forget them. I don’t think I ever will.
“It should be really, really easy to censure a president for being a Nazi apologist.”
It was on those words that the meeting ended. I watched as Jane wrote them down, convinced that Blunt never, ever would publicly censure anyone who is a member of his own party.
On my way out the door, I complimented Jane’s outfit. I’ve seen her enough times that, despite knowing who she works for, what he represents (surely not my interests), and her position as a conservative during the darkest era in the history of the Republican party: I can’t help but humanize her. I’m not sure how shoving vitriol in her face will change a thing (also: it won’t).
So: I complimented her blouse. It was cute. (She’s actually quite attractive, and, truly, respectful and friendly.) She stopped me, the other staffer flanking me on my other side, and their faces softened.
“I have to tell you,” she said, “I always appreciate it when you’re here. You do your homework, and you always have so much context for what’s going on in our office and that means so much to me.”
She opened her arms to embrace me. I wanted to recoil. I wanted to step away from it. Instead, I started sobbing. It was beyond me to do anything else.
“I’m so sorry,” she kept saying. She wouldn’t say for what. I knew, though. I know very well what she was sorry for, even if her boss refuses to do any apologizing on our collective behalf in public.
Her colleague, the one standing to my right, the young black woman with long, heavy dreadlocks, looked like this moment — not my emotion, but the pivot our country just took — was somehow beyond her. She looked stunned: silent, smiling, nodding, able to comfort and do little else.
I took out my phone. I showed them the picture of my cousin’s young black son who started his first day of kindergarten that very morning. I showed them the picture of him standing in between his white, Jewish mother and his black father.
“He deserves government officials who have his back,” I said, tears melting down my face.
I ran into the gay Jew who sat next to me in the hallway in front of the elevator. I fell apart. He hugged me, this total stranger.
“What are we going to do?” I whispered into his welcoming shoulder.
He held me closer than I deserved. “I don’t know,” was his reasonable answer.
His husband joined us, and we rode the elevator down, doling out heaping piles of cold comfort to each other as we did. I walked to the car, contrasting those two hugs. I’d just hugged two relative strangers in a 10 minute period for two, very, very different reasons.
The car didn’t feel ready for me. The air around me didn’t either. I didn’t know where I could put my body or place myself. I may as well have been standing alone in a closet.
I started the engine and pulled out of my parking space.
We’re Still Waiting for Blunt’s Rebuke
Blunt, or at least his communication team, deploys a very political brand of alacrity on social media. Example: when the president came to Springfield (Blunt’s hometown) not days after a hurricane destroyed the greater Houston metro area, Blunt was quite active on Twitter:
He is quite comfortable with official statements, like this one, commending the president’s controversial Springfield visit:
For a guy who is reportedly not very vocal and not “showy”, he certainly had a lot to say about the president’s tax cuts and tax plan. Here is Blunt’s op-ed supporting Trump’s already embattled budget in the Kansas City Star.
Senator Blunt is experienced. He is familiar with the long game. He’s already shifted his behavior to align with the Trump regime. Blunt knows that we’re all swimming in an era where if we all wait long enough, a new crisis will come along and completely eclipse the one that came before it.
He has issued statements on DACA. He has issued countless tweets about increasing funding for the National Institute of Health (NIH). He discussed many of those things on “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd on September 3.
It is at the end of the interview (around the seven-minute mark) that Todd asks for Blunt’s comments to an August 24 op-ed former Missouri Senator John Danforth in reaction to Trump’s post-Charlottesville comments. In it, Danforth describes Trump as “the most divisive president in our history.”
Blunt’s answer to Todd:
“I think it’s a mistake to get into a fight with the president. It’s not a mistake to disagree when you disagree. It’s a mistake to suggest that somehow this president who was elected…that somehow need to not work with this president is a bad road to go down.”
When Todd asked Blunt if Trump is as divisive as Danforth claimed, Blunt’s answer:
“I don’t think so.”
That’s as close to going on the record about Trump and Charlottesville as we’re going to get, but let’s be clear. He’s on the record. When Blunt was given the direct opportunity to side with his respected and former Senatorial colleague (Danforth) or Donald Trump: he went all in on Trump all the way.
Blunt Can Follow…He Just Doesn’t Lead
On September 11, 2017 a day as significant as any other in American history, the Senate unanimously passed S.J. Res. 49, an act officially condemning the violence in Charlottesville and naming the actions as acts of domestic terrorism. From the resolution:
“A joint resolution condemning the violence and domestic terrorist attack that took place during events between August 11 and August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, recognizing the first responders who lost their lives while monitoring the events, offering deepest condolences to the families and friends of those individuals who were killed and deepest sympathies and support to those individuals who were injured by the violence, expressing support for the Charlottesville community, rejecting White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups, and urging the President and the President’s Cabinet to use all available resources to address the threats posed by those groups.”
Per Blunt’s D.C. spokesperson and public liaison who answered the phone when I called on September 12, Senator Blunt was part of the unanimous vote that passed this joint resolution. For this, I thank him (if he was indeed physically present for the vote which I am unable to verify at this time).
Clearly, though, when it comes to Blunt: he will never be a singular or brave voice for his constituents of color, even after the NAACP places his home state under a travel advisory (the first issued in its history). Blunt will only follow the path of least resistance when it comes to Trump on all of his most controversial and offensive issues. For good, reasonable Missourians who were waiting for the moment when their sole GOP senator will stand in defiance of hatred, violence, anger, and murder: you will be waiting for a long, long time.
Had to Cry Today
Back to Wednesday, August 16. Sitting in my car, waiting for the air to feel comfortable around me again, the engine humming underneath me, reminded me that, for now, my sole mission was to drive myself home.
Numbness isn’t a feeling. When it washes over you, you know there’s something terribly wrong. I pulled out of the parking space, desperately waiting for something to tell me how I should feel. I had to feel something.
As soon as I turned on the radio, Blind Faith’s “Had to Cry Today” came on (I have satellite radio). Steve Winwood’s voice is one from my childhood. My mother was a lover of all things Traffic, Winwood and Eric Clapton, so Blind Faith’s one album is a huge a part of the soundtrack of my life.
Important music showing up in your life unannounced is the emotional equivalent of diving into the water on the hottest day of the year. This song showed up during a strange hour in my life and my country’s history.
It told me something very important.
It reminded me I was grieving.
Lyrics are all about context and projection. Who knows what Winwood was actually talking about when he wrote this song in the late 1960s, the peak of the Vietnam era. It could easily be (and probably is) a song about war.
I think they speak for themselves well enough:
It’s already written that today will be one to remember,
The feeling’s the same as being outside of the law.
Had to cry today.
Well, I saw your sign and I missed you there,
I’m taking the chance to see the wind in your eyes while I listen.
You say you can’t reach me but you want every word to be free.
Had to cry today.
And so I did.
All the way home.