It is 10:30 p.m. Berlin time, but it is 4:30 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Someone just ran over a crowd, killing one and injuring nineteen others. More may die. The Governor has declared a state of emergency. Skirmishes and clashes have erupted in a town thirty minutes south from where I grew up. Tear gas cans are flying. And all I can think of are friends that have gone there, friends that live there, and my sister who works there.
What I’m seeing in the streets of Charlottesville isn’t a disagreement of political ideology. It isn’t a differing view on race, religion, politics, or anything else. It isn’t discussion or discourse or any of the things that both liberals and conservatives are fond of saying we need to “have an honest discussion about” in this country.
What’s happening isn’t liberalism. It isn’t conservatism. This is war.
I do not mean this in the hyperbolic sense. Literally two sides are arming themselves. The little fuck-sticks that decided to put on this white nationalist dog-and-pony show, this “Unite the Right,” have even encouraged open-carrying and arming themselves because they literally want this to be a fight. They’ve even said it out loud. They want this. People have already died. I’m pretty sure cars will burn by night’s end. It seems almost inevitable this will be something awful, even more so than before.
But there’s something implicit in the term ‘war’ that gets overlooked: an unwillingness to back down. People want blood, whether they admit it or not. Those who believe in their cause, both left and right, see themselves as champions marching to slay the beast. They see the other side not as people, but as objects. Instead of human beings, it’s “liberal-snowflakes” or “bigots and racists.” And there is no speaking to the other side. The time of talk is done. People have decided that speaking is at an end.
There are still pockets of people who wish to talk, but ultimately, talk will end. War will take over. Or, at the very least, it will drown them out.
I know that as an outside observer I don’t see everything. I won’t see the kindness of strangers. I won’t see the little things that should restore our faith in humanity. I’ll see war. Media will highlight the death and destruction. Pundits will talk endlessly about how one side or the other is at fault, completely ignoring the fact that innocent people will be affected.
But I guarantee you, the one thing that will get overlooked, is that what is happening in Charlottesville right now isn’t liberals or conservatives. It’s people wanting to fight. It’s racist a-holes who want to make a statement. But we’ll keep painting conservatives as racists and liberals as deranged, even though I know conservatives and liberals who are neither.
And by the end of it, do you know what will change in all of this? Nothing. Not one thing.
Because what led to all this is decades in the making. It happened because we didn’t want to speak to each other before we chose sides. And though I won’t give into the false narrative that both sides are equally complicit in this (hint: the ones who are complicit are waving swastikas; see if you can spot them), the end of this war will have to be bi-partisan. It’ll have to be two sides laying down their arms and realizing this isn’t the way. It’ll be the large divide being bridged.
Basically, the thing we haven’t done well through the last few decades—the whole “living together in harmony” thing—is the only thing that can save us. And right now, we really suck at doing anything close to living in harmony.
So I’ll end my angry rant and worry about my sister going to work and my friends who are there. But if you have gotten this far with me, I want to end by letting you know this isn’t a pessimistic piece. I won’t just bemoan the situation and say, “screw it” and let the whole world burn. Because though as hopeless as our current political and social climate is, it is in the most hopeless of times that I find the strength to do what I think is right and necessary. People harp on hope, saying it fuels change. I personally believe that when you hit rock bottom, that is the true place of change.
I encourage anyone who reads this to engage, especially with one another. On the left, there are many angry people, but there are those willing to listen. They’re not snowflakes. They’re actual people with brains who are intelligent. On the right, there are compassionate individuals willing to stand against hate. They’re not bigots. They’re people with hearts and minds you can change for the better.
What we’re seeing isn’t liberalism. It isn’t conservatism. This is war. But wars can end if we’re willing to the difficult thing, which sometimes meaning not marching off to a fight, but to a debate or discussion. We can still talk. There still may be time. But if this is any indication, that time is slowly coming to a close.
I’d rather talk while there is still time to talk.