So, is Donald Trump responsible for Charlottesville?
That’s the popular narrative on social media on Monday morning. Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, a Democrat, said that Trump had fomented the movement that led to the violence and terror attack in Charlottesville: “Look at the campaign he ran. … Look at the intentional courting both, on the one hand, of all these white supremacists, white nationalist groups like that, anti-Semitic groups. And then look on the other hand, the repeated failure to step up, condemn, denounce, silence, you know, put to bed all those different efforts.”
So, is Trump to blame?
A little over one year ago, a black radical named Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed police officers in Dallas, killing five and injuring nine more. The prior week, President Obama had condemned the police killings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, stating that such killings were not “isolated incidents,” and adding, “They are symptomatic of challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve.”
So, was Obama responsible for the massacre?
Of course not. As I wrote at the time:
Rhetoric is responsible for violence when it calls for violence. Radical Islam calls for jihad. Protesters chanting “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” calls for violence against cops. Barack Obama didn’t call for violence against cops … of course Obama isn’t responsible for the Dallas shootings. But he’s surely responsible for cultivating a racially polarized culture, ignoring the real causes of anti-cop violence, and leaving cops out in the cold to fend for themselves.
Was Bernie Sanders responsible for the Congressional softball game attempted massacre?
No, he wasn’t either. Here’s what I wrote:
Rhetoric is not directly responsible for violence unless it advocates violence. Radical jihadism advocates violence; the bulk of its supporters know this and support violence; a solid contingent of its followers participate in violence. The same is not true for American-brand political leftism, as vile as it is. For the right to equate verbiage with violence — no matter how inflammatory the verbiage — is to fall prey to the same snowflake syndrome the right condemns on college campuses.
Obama wasn’t responsible for Dallas; Sanders wasn’t responsible for the Congressional softball shotting; Trump isn’t responsible for Charlottesville. But they are all responsible for their rhetoric, and their unwillingness to condemn polarizing movements in clear and convincing language. President Obama spent years making excuses for the Black Lives Matter movement, even explaining away riots in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore as the aftereffects of institutional racism. The effect: the increasing racial polarization of the country. Bernie Sanders has used heated rhetoric to castigate all those who disagree with his economic policies as looters. The effect: the increasing economic polarization of the country. President Trump spent his campaign willfully ignoring the alt-right, which grew like a mushroom cluster in his shadow. The effect: the increasing reactionary racial polarization of the country.
Blame lies with individuals, not rhetoric, unless the rhetoric deliberately calls for violence. But failure to vigorously condemn nasty movements — that responsibility lies with those who participate in that particular sin. The growth of those movements thanks to failures of leadership — that responsibility lies with abdicating leaders. And that group certainly includes Obama, Sanders, and Trump.