Nothing Means Something: Not Responding to Charlottesville

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.
And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Y. Talmud 4:9, B.  Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.

When Paris was hit by a terrorist attack in November 2015, then candidate Trump tweeted that he was praying for victims and hostages. After the Orlando attack in June 2016, he tweeted that he was “right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day last January, the White House did not even mention the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazi regime although their eradication was Hitler’s first aim. Last February, Adam Purinton shouted “get out of my country” as he shot and killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla and wounded Alok Madasani. President Trump said nothing. When a mosque was bombed just eight days ago in Minnesota, we heard more in the way of nothing. When David Duke tolds us that Charlottesville is a “turning point” for a movement aiming to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump,” no one in the White House protested. The president did not distance himself from such claims.

Nothing means something. Nothing is not merely silence. It is acquiescence. It is permission. It is consent.

When white supremacists showed up on the streets of Charlottesville this weekend heavily armed, showing off their machine guns, when they marched to Nazi slogans, wore Adolf Hitler’s words on their backs, and when they attacked counterprotesters, we heard an awful lot of nothing from our president.

When the president deigned to speak, his words were no words at all. President Trump refused to use words like “white supremacy” or “white nationalism” although these words would have said something Americans need to hear. Instead he informed the American people that there was “hatred, bigotry, and violence” on many sides. When asked, neither the president nor his spokespeople could describe what they had seen from counterprotestors that constituted bigotry or hate.

Asked whether he considered the car rammed into a crowd of protestors and act of terrorism (a tactic that has been linked to terrorism in the past), President Trump refused to respond.

He touted the economy.

Trump eventually offered his condolences to the woman killed by the young white man who used his car as a murder weapon. He praised the Virginia State police and mentioned the death of two officers in a helicopter crash. “So sad,” he tweeted.

Black people have been enslaved, robbed, imprisoned and shot in the streets and in their churches. Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries have been defaced, mosques bombed. Muslims and Jews across this country have been harassed and attacked. Documented immigrants have been murdered and undocumented immigrants have been deported and separated from their families. Thomas Homan, the chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has told undocumented immigrants that they should live in fear.

There are no words to hold this pain. There are no verses that can take the measure of the murder and enslavement of peoples. There is no way to quantify terror.

Oh, wait. There is something you can do. Say nothing.

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