The anniversary of Charlottesville provides an opportunity to reflect on how each of us deals with American racial hatred and white supremacy; and how our President has equivocated about Nazis and White Supremacists despite our national goal of equality for all.
Each of us, by word and deed, can live our lives committed to living up to the meaning of our national motto: E Pluribus Unum -- “out of many, one.”
But our top elected leader -- who claims “good people” are found in White Supremacy groups, and is known for ugly, harsh and harmful attacks -- routinely singles out people of color for his worst verbal assaults.
Particularly concerning is how Republican leaders remain mostly silent as the President deeply divides America to strengthen his political hand. Their values are crassly set aside to protect their political positions.
Some may claim the President is just correcting “political correctness,” or say his insults are simply “racially tinged” or “racially insensitive.” Some might actually think that he is a stone-cold racist. One or two might occasionally speak out. But we hear little from GOP leaders but the echoing sound of silence.
Sir Thomas More, made famous in the award-winning play and movie “A Man for All Seasons,” addresses the maxim of law “Qui tacet consentit” -- “Silence gives consent.” In their silence, Republican leadership is consenting to the shredding of our values by the temporary White House occupant. Let’s hope the diminution of our fundamental values will be only temporary.
In America the people are supreme, thus it’s important how each of us deals with this assault on our values. American values can prevail if each of us lives by them and demands the same from our leaders. Meanwhile, we must find our voices while many leaders remain voiceless.
Speaking out honors our American citizenship. My speaking out is also honoring what I learned from my parents.
In 1952, my Mom and Dad operated a movie theater in a small Montana town, where the KKK had a historical presence. In an era of few televisions, the “picture show” was the center of social activity. My folks booked a touring piano player, Robert Allen, to perform live onstage. Allen had won the Horace Heidt Amateur Hour on radio -- like today’s American Idol. When they promoted the performance with photos in the weekly newspaper, it became clear that Allen was African American. City “leaders” approached my father, telling him that Mr. Allen could entertain but the sun never set with a “negro” in town, so Allen couldn’t stay after the show.
My brothers and I, ages 10, 8 and 7, listened as my parents struggled with the problem. Outraged and offended, they refused to bend to the community code. Dad went to each motel and hotel in town to book a room but, not surprisingly, was told there were no rooms available. They talked openly to us about doing what was right or giving in to the community norm. They chose to do what was right, deciding that Mr. Allen could stay overnight at our house, within the town limits, and offered him that opportunity.
That powerful lesson has never left the consciousness of the three of us. I strive daily to live up to those American values set by my folks.
Most of us learned to appreciate the values of America in our own way, in our own families. While those experiences may not have been as dramatic, they are personally determinative. If we all live up to our values, our nation will benefit.
In the shadow of Charlottesville, silence does give consent. Do not be silent.
Evan Barrett, who lives in historic Uptown Butte, recently retired after 47 years at the top level of Montana economic development, government, politics and education.