Here's Johnny - Thoughts on Charlottesville
The evening after a motorcade during which the president saw ugly racial epithets scrawled on signs, he began talking about what he'd seen to a top aide. "I'll tell you what's at the bottom of it," the president said. "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you." The setting was Tennessee and the president was Lyndon Johnson. President Johnson's description of racism more than a half-century ago seems a fitting way to describe the cause of the nastiness in Charlottesville - even before a woman was murdered and two state police officers were killed in a helicopter crash. We don't yet know the motives of the Kentucky-born man who allegedly drove his car into the crowd, fatally injuring a woman who'd come to protest the protestors. Would James Alex Fields Jr. have done so had he known his victim would be a white woman named Heather Heyer? We do know Fields was a troubled man who associated himself with symbols of white supremacy and didn't last but a few months in the U.S. Army. Was he discharged because he was unhappy over having to serve with people of all creeds and colors? Perhaps he was one of a growing number of Americans who subsist largely on a diet of outrage TV - programs consisting mostly of often-inaccurate and out-of-context barbs aimed at political opponents. Maybe radio talk shows and websites were included in his daily servings of outrage. Whatever his alleged motivations, Fields was likely just one of all too many Americans who are unhappy with themselves and looking for reasons for their rage and sadness anywhere but a mirror. It is quite possible that we will see some of this sickness closer to home. In our state's two largest cities, the mayors are discussing ways to remove or relocate symbols of the Confederacy, and it's entirely possible that white supremacists will bring their show here. Of course, among them may be people who aren't racists, who merely dislike the idea of a bit of history being removed because of so-called political correctness. I dunno. I do know, as an amateur student of the Civil War and what led to it, that slavery was the root cause of the war that killed more Americans than all our other wars combined. Southern states seceded before giving President Lincoln a chance to prove that he didn't intend to outlaw slavery, but rather to merely limit its growth, and as a result, hope it eventually would wither and die. If our God-given coats of paint were reversed, I bet there'd be plenty of people my shade who'd be uncomfortable at the sight of Confederate statues near what was once a thriving slave market. It's too bad Fields didn't last in the Army. As a Navy veteran, I can tell you that servicemen and women are taught, even before that first boot camp haircut, that they can and must work together for the good of their unit and country. In the Civil War, some Northern soldiers who wondered why they were fighting a war for slaves changed their views after watching their black brothers fight bravely. More than a century-and-a-half later, some Americans are still judging each other not by the content of their character - which they usually have no idea of - but by the color of their skin. Perhaps worse, some politicians and members of the media are still doing, however subtly, what President Lyndon Johnson warned of: convincing some folks that they're better than others in order to line their pockets, or just get reelected.