I’ve always believed that language matters. For example, I never refer to someone who is here without documentation as an “illegal”. People cannot be illegal. Their political status may be undocumented. Their behavior may break laws. Their very existence, however, is not a crime. The language we use to describe people orders the way we view them. Language matters.
Which is why so many people were upset this weekend when President Trump refused to decry the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. While people were armed and marching with nazi symbols and chanting nazi slogans, and after a man drove his car into a crowd of counter protestors, the best our president could say was:
We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.
When facing neo-nazis and white supremacists, our nation, and it’s leader, need to clearly say white supremacy is sin. Creating a false equivalence between nazis and the people who stood in opposition to them is verbal sleight of hand that immobilizes us and lets us pretend the problem isn’t as bad as it is.
President Trump’s response is true on one level. Yes, we decry violence on all sides. The imprecision of his language, however, has emboldened the people who marched in Charlottesville, chanting “blood and soil”.
David Duke, former grand wizard of the KKK said this about the rally: