The Day We Lost Our Minds

My 92-year-old father called in the evening. He learned of events in Charlottesville, Virginia, from watching MSNBC. He likes “that Rachel girl,” though he can’t understand why Trump hasn’t been indicted and hasn’t gotten us into a war yet, as she keep saying is about to happen any moment.

He fought in the infantry in World War II. He was with the 86th Infantry, known as the Blackhawk division. He received two Purple Hearts, among other things, for his efforts. His greatest fear is that there will be another war, and more young people will die, because he knows that afterward life goes on and they’re still dead.

He also knows who the Nazis were. Unlike people who read about it from books, he was there when concentration camps were liberated. He knows what the disease looks like, smells like, feels like. He was ready to die to stop the Nazis, and took bullets to prove it.

He asked me why? Then he told me why. “It’s like they want a war.”

The alt-right had been preparing for their march in Charlottesville for some time. It’s putative purpose was to protest the removal of a confederate statue, but that was merely the rallying point. It’s real purpose was to show they were to be taken seriously. They were real. They had enough power to cause the country to take notice of them, to fear them, to acknowledge their existence.

They wanted our attention. They got it.

Scanning reports, there is little information about how many alt-right marchers turned out. The reference is generally “hundreds.” Maybe two hundred? Three? In a nation of more than 300 million people, the flaming Pepe Boys eked out a few hundred of the master race.

And a few hundred nutjobs seized a nation’s attention. Front page of every newspaper. A mayor, governor and miscellaneous other politicians spoke out against the white supremacists. A president couldn’t bring himself to do so, proving for the hundredth time that he is the venal fool we deserve.

Then some 20-year-old kid, James Alex Fields Jr of Ohio, from the nutjob team plowed his car into a group of “counter-protesters” described as “jubilant” about routing the alt-right from a mall. Heather Heyer was killed. Many others injured. Afterward, the circular justification took flight, as a march that could have been a joke ended with a human life lost, other lives changed forever in pain.

How is it possible that a group of a few hundred outlier misfits captured the attention of a nation? The voices of reason on the twitters were stumbling over each other to prove their virtue, as if it had to be said that they abhorred white supremacists. The unduly emotional were shrieking that this was the Fourth Reich. The panderers were capitalizing on their marketing opportunity.

No, this wasn’t like the cops, a pervasive force in our society. No, this wasn’t about Trump, incompetent though he may be, empowering his special flavor of nutjob to go public with their tiki torches. This was about a nation that has lost perspective, willingly forfeiting its attention to a few hundred nutjobs who are so insignificant as to be worthy of no more than ridicule.

Yesterday, this was a joke. Today, this is real enough to bury a woman. This death, the injured, don’t prove that these alt-right nutjobs should be taken seriously. They are no more worthy of attention than any group of nutjobs who are so insignificant that they fail to make a blip on the radar of serious people.

What’s changed this from a meme to front page news is the reaction to these few hundred alt-right crazies. They only matter if we want them to matter. They can’t seize our attention. Only we can give it to them. And that’s all they really want is to matter, to own our attention.

In a better world, this would be the time when mature and thoughtful voices would calm us down, bring us back to earth by reminding us that these nutjobs are unworthy of our attention. We have real problems. We always do, of course, but these are exacerbated by the gaping hole in governance between right and left, leaving the 80% in the middle voiceless as the sides throw spitballs at each other. There is no one to fill that niche.

The president lacks the grasp to do it, and even if someone explained it to him in small words, he could be called out as a fraud and hypocrite. To criticize his pathetic response is convenient, as even a totally sound response would be rejected as a lie.

And there is no one with the broad acceptance as a voice of reason who could bring a nation back from the brink of hysteria. All over a few hundred worthless nutjobs.

“They need someone to blame,” my father said. He wasn’t talking about the alt-right, but about the furious left. At 92, he saw the dynamic at work. He knew these white supremacists, these neo-Nazis, weren’t to be taken seriously. Yet they were. He saw that these were convenient targets for people in search of proof that they were right, that everything was “literally Hitler.”

They want a war, and what they needed was an enemy. But in war, people die, people are hurt. It’s a terrible thing to want. Nobody will hear the words of an old man over all the shrieking.

Pop knows what it’s like to watch his comrades die on the field of battle. He knows how it feels when a bullet enters your body. If war comes to you, you must fight, but never look for a war that doesn’t need to be fought.

30 thoughts on “The Day We Lost Our Minds

  1. REvers

    I’ll bet your father is not the only WWII vet who gets it. Each and every one of them should be contacted and given the opportunity to tell us how the world really works. If nothing else, maybe they could shame us into acting like Americans again.

    A very good post, Scott. Let your dad know he has a fan. And tell him thanks.

    1. SHG Post author

      I will. I don’t think anyone who has ever been in combat takes death lightly. Only the woke are willing to sacrifice, provided it’s someone else life.

  2. Jay

    If you’re right, then war is impossible. It’s just the same domestic terrorism we’ve had for decades. The only wars we might have are the red v blue states. What’s worrying is the millions taking the stance that the Nazis in this scenario were the victims. You’re paying a lot of attention to the overreaction on the left. Have you taken a moment to see what fox is doing? It’s not as if the right is disavowing the nuts.

  3. Sandy Phillips

    The long arc of history bends toward justice. As one of the “furious lefties,” I am furious because I see an interruption in the long arc. Perhaps I am afraid that it is not just a temporary interruption but a permanent bend in the arc. i see an ideology of anger and hate everywhere I look. Perhaps 5 years ago, or even 3, I too would have looked at the RWNJs in Charlottesville with amazement, but then just returned to my life. Now, the incident in Charlottesville is another in a long list of bludgeoning and I can no longer overlook it. “Make America great (white) again,” is a movement that seems to be swelling and growing like cancer. Now it has reached the point of almost unimagineable violence. I don’t know if ignoring them is the answer or if pushback is the answer. I love to tell the story of the KKK march that melted away because no one showed up, to illustrate the point that ignoring the hatred is the correct response. But that particular day was an isolated incident. Now, the incidents just keep coming. The RWNJ in the White House has given a patina of respectibility to these haters and they feel legitimated in their hate.

      1. Sandy Phillips

        Thanks for trolling an otherwise reasonable discussion. Your comment has served no purpose other than for you to feel like scored a point. Trust me – you scored no points with me but only serve to illustrate your incoherence.

          1. Billy Bob

            Comfortable is in the behind of the eyeholder. We rely on SJ for at least one laugh a day. It seldom disappoints. That’s is exactly why we return for more punishment.
            Discomfort has a place in the universe as well. Let us not discriminate against comfort v. discomfort! One many’s comfort is another man’s discomfort, let it be said? Did anyone really think this trip was going to be easy/sleazy?!?
            Finally, Sandy may be on to something, but we have no idea what? Maybe he’s new hear. Maybe he’s a prawfesser, or perhaps a “janitor”. They all look the same these dayz, even if the jargon is different.

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s a great quote by MLK, but it’s also one of those vagaries that serve any end you want. That’s how one rallies the vapid groundlings to a cause, but it’s empty rhetoric. Justice is what you believe it is? Anyone who disagrees with you is evil? Then what’s to discuss?

      You run through a litany of your beliefs, some, all or none of which may prove accurate, but you believe them and so they’re reality to you. I trust that your beliefs are sincere, but so what? People are always crying that the sky is falling. This time it’s you, so this time everyone else should believe it? You say, “I can no longer overlook it.” You don’t have to, if that’s how you feel. But when your passion results in other people’s deaths, who cares what you feel, unless you are the center of the universe and your feelings are the most important thing there is?

      So you’re a furious lefty. You’re allowed to be. But excess emotion makes for poor tactical thinking. When that results in other people getting killed, not to mention metastasizing the disease (but with good intentions), you’re the problem you hate.

      1. Sandy Phillips

        I was only describing how I feel – not anyone else, nor did I imply that I speak for all progressives. However, I recognize that I have the ability to become what I hate, though. I do try to dispassionately question my own beliefs and motivations and try to understand them. I also try to understand the motivations of the opposition. I do try to stack my beliefs against others’ and I ask myself, “Am I any different?” However, that was not the purpose of my post. I was commenting on the original blog’s suggestion that we are putting way too much emphasis on a few hundred people’s hatred. Thank you for your well-reasoned comment.

    2. Mark Bennett

      If history teaches us anything, it is that its arc bends inexorably toward tyranny, interrupted only by brief spasms of freedom.

      1. paleo

        Respectfully disagree. The loooooong term trend is toward more freedom, with smaller fits and starts and setbacks along the way. I was a child in the 60s and a teenager for most of the 70s, and there is more freedom here than there was back then, particularly for the less wealthy. Not that things are perfect – they never will be that because humans – but they’ve improved.

        And none of that gets into changes over that period in Europe, S America, etc.

        I mean, is there more tyranny now than there was in, say, the 1700s? The 1000s? The 400s? No way. Human beings have some internal thing that pushes toward freedom, and ultimately there are a lot more of us non-powerfuls than there are people in power…….

        1. Mark Bennett

          More freedom now than in the 60s or 70s? No way: We now live at the mercy of a government that claims authority to kill any of us anywhere at the whim of the chief executive. That is the embodiment of tyranny. That the chief executive has not used this power widely yet signifies nothing.

          More tyranny now than in the dark ages? Yes, for while we serfs lived only at the sufferance of the lord, the lord did not then have the near-infinite power that he now has to read our intimate communications, and even our minds.

          We’re more comfortable, but not more free.

          1. Norahc

            “We’re more comfortable, but not more free.”

            This bears repeating. Too many of us are willing to trade our freedoms for comfort and faux security.

            Silencing viewpoints you disagree with is not democracy, it is the tyranny of the vocal.

            1. Billy Bob

              Very good, Norhac. We concur. You two, Mark. Some of us–perhaps many of us–are more comfortable, but less free. That is affirmative!
              The proof is at the Defense Table. You do not want to be there. They will attempt to crush you and destroy your will to live/survive. (Long story, omitted for now.)

    3. Nick Lidakis


      Imagine a Venn diagram with a blue and red circle overlapping. List all the causes you hold dear in the red circle. List all the things you hate about the other side in the blue circle. In the middle, where the circles overlap, are two lines of text, with arrows creating a circular loop stating, “You’re wrong, I’m right, and you started it.”

      Do you suppose there’s a problem with this or should we just carry on?

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  5. B. McLeod

    Unfortunately, a half dozen members of Congress couldn’t resist taking to the Twitters and conflating the tiki torch crew with the Third Reich, notwithstanding how completely ludicrous that is. But for the idiots who think these idiots need to be fought in the streets, there would have been a rally in a park and some ranting. In fact, it should have been the job of the Charlottesville police to make sure that things went exactly that way, by preventing “protesters” and “counter protesters” from ever contacting one another.

    Instead (and what stand out most to me about this whole chain of events), the Charlottesville police performed very poorly and not only took no action to prevent armed confrontations, but reportedly failed to intervene in the street combats for a period of hours (then using the disorder as a justification to cancel the disfavored rally).

    Trump doesn’t often get things right, but in this instance, he made more sense than most in recognizing that there was causative conduct “on many sides.”

      1. B. McLeod

        Needlessly, because the police could have managed this to prevent the competing groups from ever coming into contact for the initial combats. In my opinion, the municipal government of Charlottesville deliberately allowed the violence to occur because they wanted to use it for their own cynical, political gain.

  6. Billy Bob

    Good essay. We like it when you mention your father, which you’ve done previously. My father served in the Pacific arena with the Navy, and came back damaged goods. Today, we call it PTSD. At that time there was different terminology. The government likes to flim-flam us with their incessantly moving-target terminologies. They have lawyers and functionaries who are good at these shenanigans on unsuspecting citizens and veterans of foreign wars of aggression.
    To the point: We trust Mr. President TrumpMaster will NOT initiate any (unnecessary) wars. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that he will be indicted for anything so much as a ham sandwich as long as the RepubliCants are in control of the Congress–and, implicityly, the so-called Supreme Court, which–as we all know–is a supreme farce these dayz. Stay tuned for BB’s take on the Federal Reserve Bank, which is neither a bank nor a reserve–whatevever that is. Stay tuned! The best is yet to come?

    1. Dan Quigley

      My father also served in the Pacific in WW2 and returned damaged. Mileage will vary. My observations are limited to press coverage, and there are certainly “sides” to what occurred, but what I find impossible to accept is a posture that equates Nazism to any idealism on display this weekend.

  7. Joseph Masters

    “They want a war?” Let me express the sentiment of an American watching the stockpiling of weaponry at Yokota Air Base: Are You Serious? The war risk is HERE, not in Virginia. Shuttling to Osan AB this week, hope springs eternal considering the air base closest to the DMZ looks almost deserted, until one recalls that Osan is in artillery range of the new 300 mm MLRS the North deployed last year that can drop 350 tons of ordnance in a single salvo. Osan simply is supporting the 30,000 “tripwire” force south of the DMZ while the rest of the USAF sits in Kunsan, Kadena, Misawa, Yokota and Andersen on Guam, waiting for POTUS’s order.

    But Charlottesville is in all the media from back home, and Americans in Japan and Korea can and do read such stories due to the Web. It’s a good distraction from the fear over here, but but can you really not see that the car assault was just the Illinois Nazi scene in The Blues Brothers coming to life? (yes, I am aware that the scene was based off of the 1977 Skokie incident). The Angry Left looks and acts like the Occupy Wall Street crowd, but they’re spoiling for war? Don’t they need weapons to fight?

    To top it off, I keep reading of THREE deaths in Charlottesville, because the local police apparently feel compelled to link a helicopter crash that killed the two cops onboard to the fracas. No word how either side managed to shoot down the said chopper, but the implication seems clear: law enforcement sees the alt-right loons as a threat. I would think this makes the prospect of anything other than crackdowns on Neo-Nazi groups unlikely back home, but what do I know?

    Thanks for raising the WWII canard for some reason. There is a close link, but to the wrong theater. Your father fought in Europe, while all the men in my family fought in the Pacific. In 2017, conventional war could break out, but the fighting will be here in Japan and Korea, not back home. Unless it goes nuclear, God forbid.

    1. SHG Post author

      Usually, a comment so absurdly off-topic, not to mention rambling and pointless. would get trashed, but you seem to need to get this out so here ya go.

  8. ShallMustMay

    I read this post this morning before other life took hold. Now after work I checked into comment – started to read other commentary first but decided to ignore & just post.
    You’re father is right – sadly. (It is like)They want war. Both sides.

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