Our Opinion: Berkshires, nation, rally against hate

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The stunned citizens of Charlottesville, Virginia are cleaning up after the tragic events of the weekend and reflecting, along with their fellow Americans, upon the chronic societal illness that gave rise to them. At such a time, it is instructive to ponder the words ascribed to that community's most famous son, Thomas Jefferson: "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people."

Jefferson, of course, could not have envisioned the double-edged sword wielded by the internet and its spawn, social media, which have unprecedented ability to both educate and mislead. It is ironic that in the Information Age, when technology ought to enable Jefferson's dictum to achieve its full realization, it can also fan and sustain the flames of hatred, racism, bigotry and all the discord and divisiveness that threaten to tear us apart as a nation.

The racist thinking that leads to hatred — particularly white supremacist hatred — is an indelible stain that is a product of what some call our "original sin" — the institution of slavery. The fact that even that great champion of human rights, Jefferson, was a slaveholder himself — meaning that he, too, was capable of harboring racist beliefs — illustrates the complexity of the problem. Today, as always, there are disaffected Americans who become susceptible to inflammatory racist and bigoted rhetoric served up by demagogues. Easy access to misinformation and the echo chamber of the internet unite these malcontents as never before, reinforcing their grievances and providing them safety in numbers.

Normally, this would be a time when the president could be relied upon to take the lead and speak for the majority of his fellow countrymen in expressing revulsion and condemnation of the weekend's violent acts. He would call out the malignancy within us specifically by name as a way to begin excising it from the body politic. These are not normal times, however.

It was in the spirit of civic responsibility that people all over this country, therefore, undertook to begin restoring our country's moral health through an act of collective will. They rallied to reassert and rededicate themselves to the Jeffersonian principles that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights. Here in Berkshire County Sunday, citizens came together in Pittsfield and Williamstown to extol those concepts, to condemn racism in all its forms as fundamentally anti-American, and to express their outrage at the unacceptable behavior of a minority of their compatriots (Eagle, August 14).

Again, it was the internet and its capacity to inform, educate and spread information quickly that made these rallies possible. A couple of gatherings in Western Massachusetts might not seem significant in the context of the sweep of history, but it is through such public expressions of true patriotism that, in the aggregate, the damage to a nation can be repaired and its underlying reason for existing restored.

Thanks to the efforts of these Berkshirites and other like-minded Americans, President Trump caved in to pressure and on Monday named "criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups" as "repugnant to all we hold dear as a nation." That at least constitutes a start.


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