Op-ed: The speech we wanted to hear after the violence in Charlottesville

Julia Rendleman, AP

Tom Lever, 28, and Aaliyah Jones, 38, both of Charlottesville, put up a sign that says “Heather Heyer Park” at the base of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee monument in Emancipation Park Tuesday, Aug. 15 in Charlottesville, Va. Alex Fields Jr., is charged with second-degree murder and other counts after authorities say he rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, including Heyer, Saturday, where a white supremacist rally took place.

Like most Americans, I am still thinking about the violence in Charlottesville. I wonder how we got here and what we can do to improve the current political climate in this country. I hoped to hear something from the president that would lead us, all of us, toward reconciliation and healing. But I didn’t hear anything like that from President Trump. I know, however, what I wanted to hear.

For context, I am a native New Yorker who lived in Richmond, Virginia, for over a decade. The Confederate monuments in that city did not offend me at first. With typical Yankee hubris I saw them as cultural oddities; they were second-place trophies for a ragtag band of rebel soldiers who failed in their quest for independence. Or so it seemed. I learned more about the Confederate leaders as I spent more time in the South. Many of the Confederate generals were war heroes for the United States before they took up arms against that same country. Robert E. Lee himself was a graduate of West Point. Southern whites — some, not all — have a lot of pride in those men and their accomplishments. African-Americans, I learned, see them very differently.

And that’s where Trump should have begun his speech. He didn’t do that, so I’ll do it for him:

To those of you who are white and live in the South, I understand that you take pride in the Confederate soldiers and generals who led the Southern rebellion in the 1860s. Many of them did so because they truly believed their cause was right. They did not decide lightly to rebel against their native country. And you probably want to keep their memory alive in the form of monuments and memorials. I will not address the morality of the Confederate monuments here, but I implore you to consider the experience of…

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