The far-right viciousness President Donald J. Trump did so much to embolden and legitimize even before Election Day wasn’t going to stay rhetorical forever. It never does. In other words, we all knew one frightening reality: sooner or later, somebody was bound to get killed for advertising his or her disapproval of the Trump era too publicly.
She turned out to be Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old Charlottesville paralegal with a warm smile. She was murdered on Saturday, when a Nazi—sorry, but we’re awfully tired of the whole “neo” fudge—deliberately plowed his Dodge Challenger at high speed into a bunch of people demonstrating against a white-supremacist rally in that perfectly lovely Virginia college town.
As you already know, this lethal The Fast and the Fuhrer strength-through-joyride injured 19 other terrified Americans. Some of them are still in critical condition. Two police officers also died during Saturday’s clashes when their helicopter crashed near U. Va.’s campus, and let’s not forget their names either: pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40. But it’s still far from clear whether their deaths are connected to Heather Heyer’s, so let’s stick to her case for now.
It took two days of media and public outcry to get Trump to cough up a condemnation of the KKK.
The alleged plowdriver, James Alex Fields, now in custody, was a 20-year-old Nazi who had at least two interesting things in common with Heyer. The most obvious one is that they were both white. The other is that neither one had a college degree, so for once, we can stop talking about over-educated white people versus pardonably under-educated ones. Either you’re a decent human being or you aren’t.
Judging from the many testimonials to her by her grieving friends and co-workers, Heyer was. Right now, tributes to Fields’ admirable qualities are rarer than sightings of Halley’s Comet. Maybe we’ll find out he likes dog, or something. But don’t overlook the fact that he still enjoys the ultimate privilege every human being hopes will last forever: being described in the present tense.
In related news, Heyer’s death gave us incontrovertible proof of something else we’ve dreaded admitting. It gave us proof that we don’t have a president. At least, not the kind we used to know, who “smiled at the good and frowned at the bad.” That isn’t a quote from the Declaration of Independence, which expresses similar sentiments in a wordier, more elevated way. It’s a quote from a children’s story, Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline. The very least we can ask of any president—Republican or Democrat—is to smile at the good and frown at the bad.
Trump never will. It took two days of media and public outcry at his pusillanimous initial comments on Charlottesville—and, most likely, intense behind-the-scenes pressure, too—to get him to cough up a condemnation of “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans.” Now that he’s put that chore behind him, he can go right back to cozying up to them.
Whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, the rest of us know how to frown at the bad. Orrin Hatch does. John McCain does. Marco Rubio does. Even Ted Cruz, who used to be the most despicable man in Republican politics, does. “The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-semitism, and hatred that they propagate,” he wrote. We can now confess that we’ve agreed with Ted Cruz for the first time in our lives. Because we’re patriots, we truly hope it won’t be the last.