This Friday night, Senator Ben Sasse posted a long, disjointed Facebook essay titled "The Next Charlottesville." Sasse wants to be thought of as a different kind of Republican -- he's opposed to President Trump and he's skeptical of (some) ongoing partisan battles. But he's still, in many ways, a modern culture-war Republican, much as he tries not to seem like one.
Sasse's post begins:
Over the last week, many Nebraskans have told me some version of this: “There are lots of us here who are scared about where the country is headed. I think more violence is inevitable." That much seems obvious. Less expected was where some of them went next. One of my constituents, a fairly energetic Trump supporter and a middle-aged man, told me:
**"To be clear, I think the alt-Right are a bunch of a**holes."
**"And we should admit that the President has done a bad job getting us through this."
**But "when the next rounds of violence come, I'll bet you most of it will come from the left."
**"And then some folks I know will respond in kind. It's gonna be a powder-keg."
What does Sasse think about this? He never tells us, at least not directly. The Trump supporter (and, by extension, Sasse) virtue-signals by denouncing the alt-right and the president's Charlottesville response. But they both seem almost reassured by the notion that left-wingers are going to be responsible for the next Charlottesville -- and that anyone on the right who decides to "respond in kind" will be blameless, even if the situation turns into a "powder-keg." Or is it just the Trump supporter who believes that? Sasse never explicitly tells us what he thinks.
Sasse, in numbered points, states clearly that he blames white nationalists for Charlottesville (as he should):
3. White supremacy and racism are un-American, period.
4. The heartbreak in Charlottesville was the fault of the white supremacists. Heather Heyer was murdered by an act of terrorism. The driver used his car to target public marchers.
Sasse, understandably, thinks it will happen again. He seems to waffle on who'll be at fault:
5. Sadly, I think that the pessimistic Nebraskans I've been with this week are right that there will be more violence toward public assemblies in the future.
6. I expect that violence will come when white supremacists and the alt-right fight anarchist groups aligned with the extreme left.
He thinks the president will react badly -- though to some extent he thinks this will be the fault of advisers, not Trump himself:
7. What will happen next? I doubt that Donald Trump will be able to calm and comfort the nation in that moment. He (and lots of others) will probably tell an awful combination of partial truths and outright falsehoods....
8. Besides ability and temperament, I also worry that national unity will be unlikely because there are some whispering in the President's ear that racial division could be good politics for them.
And then Sasse reverts to being a Republican:
9. I worry that some on the left are also going to salivate over these divisions. Like the President's ear-whisperers, they see a divided nation as good for their political objectives.
The bothsidesism continues. Yes, Sasse acknowledges the real reason Confederate monuments were built:
11. I wish more folks understood how many of the monuments now being debated are not really from the post-Civil War period as a way to remember war dead. Rather, contrary to popular understanding, many of these statues were explicitly erected as Segregation Monuments in the twentieth century, during Jim Crow, as a way of shouting – against the American Idea – that public spaces were to be whites-only spaces. Tragically, many of these monuments were erected exactly when lynchings of black Americans were being celebrated in those communities – and the timing overlap here was not accidental....
But to Sasse that's not a sufficient reason to remove them at the earliest possible opportunity:
12. But I'm also against mobs tearing down the statues, or city governments removing them in the middle of the night. That doesn't advance the civics discussion and debates we need; it just exacerbates the unhelpful "on both sides" grievance culture. Rather, we need an orderly debate about such monuments.
What Sasse doesn't understand is that we're not going to have "an orderly debate." Defenders of these monuments aren't going to limit themselves to peaceful discussion of the question. If it's agreed that the monuments have to come down, they're not going to accept the outcome. And I'm not just referring to white nationalists -- in many cases, state law prevents cities from removing Confederate monuments or changing street names. What's the point of "orderly debate" if localities can't make their own decisions?
Sasse proceeds to defend Trump against liberals and members of the media who are presumed to hold extreme positions, although Sasse offers no evidence that they do:
13. Every single place I've been this week, I've gotten a question like this:
**"Washington and Jefferson owned slaves; do we have to tear down their statues too?"
**"Explorer X didn't treat native Americans the way he should have; do we abandon states west of the Appalachian Trail?" ...
The people asking these questions (over and over and over) are not racist. Rather they're perplexed by the elite indifference to their fair questions – about the "unnaming" movement now unfolding at Yale, for example. Most of these folks voted for Trump, to be sure, but many quietly admit to being dissatisfied with his leadership. But they have ZERO uncertainty about a choice between a Trump who would defend statues of Washington and Jefferson, and a national media elite who they assume would not defend monuments to Washington and Jefferson. That's the divide many here are seeing and hearing.
Does Sasse really believe the "national media elite ... would not defend monuments to Washington and Jefferson"? He doesn't say. The fact that Trump voters think they won't is sufficient to make it a legitimate question.
Sasse has no answers for all this, apart from the following:
This is the right time for each of us – parents and grandparents, neighbors and patriots – to pause and teach our kids again about universal human dignity and about love of neighbor. This is a time for discussion and education and humility, not intimidation and mobs and midnight wrecking balls.
And there it is: Sasse believes there's a moral equivalence between killing someone in a violent demonstration and removing a statue.
Incidentally, how many of the statues that have been taken down have been subject to "wrecking balls"? I see a lot of monuments being carefully removed from pedestals. I don't see a lot of wrecking balls.
Sasse is savvy and ambitious. He's going to run for president eventually, and he's very determined to make a name for himself now. I appreciate the fact that he expresses anti-racist sentiments, but over the years a lot of national Republicans have been overtly anti-racist while supporting vote suppression, brutal law enforcement policies, and scapegoating and stereotyping of non-whites as criminals and "takers" of public assistance. Moreover, the party has allowed its messaging to be disseminated primarily on Fox News and talk radio, which vacillate between racist dog whistles and more overt appeals to racial fear and anger. And, of course, the party -- with Sasse admittedly one of the few exceptions -- rallied behind a birther who's now president.
If Republicans reject all that -- or if Sasse and others reject the Republican Party because it won't -- then we can have a civilized discussion of race. But we can't have one before then.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog