Charlottesville's lessons: Our civil rights movement is stronger than an impotent Trump and white supremacists

“What will you do when the race war starts?” A question I have often heard in times of increased racial tension amongst friends. I too have inelegantly floated the query while bantering with the white parents of biracial children.

It is a question used as a show of solidarity with those who know the truth: even in light of all the formidable progress we have made against it, racism is still too pervasive in our society.

While though-provoking, it is also inaccurate. Not only have we been fighting the so-called race war since our founding, we have been winning it.

Americans of every color, gender, and generation have lifted our voices and shed countless amounts of blood, sweat and tears, to root out the racial intolerance embedded in the founding fabric of our nation.

Using constitutional amendments, legislation, and the courts -- the tools our founding fathers gave us with the specific intent that they be used for progress -- Americans have clawed our way through state houses, the halls of Congress and Republican and Democratic administrations to seek out and ensure “inalienable rights” applied to all.

These are the last kicks of a dying hog. They don’t stand a chance against a movement for civil rights and justice that has been resisting, persisting, and winning from day one of our democracy.

For 241 years, we have inched our way closer to the egalitarian society that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in.

With the despicable display of hate and bigotry and the tragic loss of life in Charlottesville this past weekend, President Trump had a tailor-made opportunity to do his job: comfort a confused and frightened nation. He failed.

Martin Luther King’s description of Barry Goldwater easily applies to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and his brief seven months in office. He regularly “articulates a philosophy that gives aid and comfort to the racist.”

White supremacists are the people candidate Trump knowingly and specifically spoke of during the campaign, the cohort of American voters that would still support him if he shot an innocent person on the street.  They are not real Americans. Real Americans are not domestic terrorists.

The initial defense offered by the White House as to why the president of the United States was loathe to directly condemn white supremacy and Nazism, guaranteed this delayed declaration by Mr. Trump be appropriately deciphered as forced pandering. Caving to pressure is a far cry from rising to the occasion. His strong words on Monday – though lackluster in performance – were necessary but late.

The ones most affected by the reverberations of Mr. Trump’s initial decision to falsely equate people trying to end oppression with white supremacists will be our nation’s youngest citizens.

The president deprived an entire generation of an opportunity to see firsthand the true greatness of America. With the entire nation and the rest of the world watching, the president was impotent in his leadership.

Having hired a chief strategist who described the media property he used to run as a “platform for the alt-right” – the alt-right being, in my view, a euphemism for white nationalists – and other White House advisors such as Seb Gorka and Stephen Miller who regularly mirror the rhetoric of white supremacists, it should come as no surprise that President Trump first deliberately chose to not use his communication prowess to call out the proud racists who voted for him.

Like yeast, his words – or lack thereof – have fueled the rising usage of swastikas and the resurfacing of the KKK and neo-Nazi groups all over America.

Consequently, it is understandable why many Americans wake up feeling like the progress achieved over generations is being erased with each passing day of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

However, we have to remember that brick-by-brick, generation by generation, we have built our own wall. A firewall against hate and bigotry that simply cannot be dismantled despite Mr. Trump’s best and sometimes successful attempts to rewind the clock on progress and pervert much of what makes America great.

One reason our country is great is because even a powerful president lacking a moral compass has no chance of breaking us. We are just too resilient.

Long before Colin Kaepernick adeptly used his on-field interaction with the national anthem to call attention to the unfair treatment of people of color in our criminal justice system, I was mocked for standing hand over heart whenever I heard it playing. Whenever and wherever. Even if it meant missing a flight.

One reason I proudly stand for the national anthem and look forward to the Fourth of July as my favorite holiday is because both are inspirational reminders that our founders gave us everything we need to defeat injustice. Everything.

The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice through our actions in times of crisis and in times of prosperity.

The president abdicated his duty to be a moral authority and represent all Americans – not just the ones that elected him – from day one of his presidency. We – the people – cannot.

We all have a greater responsibility to move our activism offline and out of the streets and into our homes, places of worship, classrooms, and workplaces. Those of us blessed with amplified platforms of influence can do a better job of holding each other accountable, not just the president.

While there is absolutely no excuse for bigotry, understanding that hate is a learned behavior, and that hate and racism are byproducts of fear of survival, are key to our ultimate victory. Continuing to embrace solely nonviolent activism and the idea that love trumps hate will only accelerate it.

There are still battles left to fight in the centuries-old race war – with criminal justice reform at the top of the list. While our nation’s long winning streak against injustice theoretically came to an end with the election of Donald Trump it is a momentary victory for bigotry.

These are the last kicks of a dying hog. They don’t stand a chance against a movement for civil rights and justice that has been resisting, persisting, and winning from day one of our democracy.