On Saturday, August 12th, 2017, a rally called “Unite the Right” took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was there white nationalists congregated to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Counterprotesters soon arrived to harass the rally participants, with the situation escalating into chaotic exchanges of violence. One person, Heather D. Heyer, 35, died when a car rammed through a group of counterprotesters, and another two state troopers died in a freak helicopter crash.
The conflict that erupted in Charlottesville was not self-contained, but the result of an accumulation of lingering resentments that resurfaced, either from the 2016 presidential election or from the current political climate that we live in. It is an extension of one of the worst ideological rifts in our country’s history, and another clear demonstration of two opposing groups’ inability to sort through their differences rationally.
It should not be understated that both radical conservatives and progressive liberals are at fault here, as President Trump was quoted with saying on Tuesday that “I think there’s blame on both sides.” Trump subsequently received scrutiny for not specifically condemning the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. Nonetheless, the counterprotesters (i.e.: Black Lives Matter & ANTIFA) are just as guilty of inciting violence and causing discord as they were. That’s not to say that I agree with what the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists stand for—their values are acutely incompatible with everything I believe in. However, at Charlottesville, there were no white knights.
Police officers, too, have received scrutiny for not “keeping the peace.” At the same time, whether you’re on the right or left, a police officer or just a regular citizen, these days it is virtually impossible for you to understand another person’s point-of-view (and even sympathize with it) because “he or she is not on your side.” And it’s this attitude of taking sides that’s spiraling what are supposed to be peaceful protests completely out of control.
Turn the clocks back to March 11, 2016, when the Trump campaign cancelled a rally at the University of Illinois in Chicago because of increasing safety concerns. Footage shows Bernie Sanders supporters disrupting the event by shoving, harassing, and shouting at Trump supporters. You did not see this kind of animosity during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and even post-2016 presidential election, tensions between the right and left continue to soar, with Charlottesville illustrating that uncomfortable reality.
Generally speaking, people should discuss their opinions rather than attack them. In the case of Charlottesville, it would have saved three lives, and in the case of the University of Illinois, voters would have been able to see their preferred candidate in person without any disturbances. This behavior should of course not be solely encouraged of protesters and counterprotesters, but of all Trump supporters and former Clinton supporters alike, Democrats and Republicans, males and females, and people. No matter your beliefs, age, gender, or skin color, the best way to diffuse any conflict is through simply talking about it first. And even if you find yourself in disagreement with someone else, what exactly do you think that throwing punches and shouting obscenities are going to accomplish?
Obviously the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists should be vehemently condemned by anyone with a modicum of common decency, but the fact remains that violence will always be unproductive, no matter who it comes from.
Conflict resolution is a skill. Let’s all start practicing it before the next civil war breaks out.