It is difficult to know what to say about the violence in Charlottesville that might be helpful. I could say that I abhor racism and white supremacy — which I absolutely do. But saying that doesn't feel like enough.
It is difficult to say anything about race issues in this country without putting a foot in one's mouth. It has been the most sensitive issue in our politics since before the Civil War. It still is. It's a game of "gotcha." President Donald Trump can't make a statement condemning violence and pledging to bring the criminals to justice without being accused of talking in code. We've had a national controversy over whether saying "all lives matter" was subtly racist because it included other people besides black lives. Trent Lott resigned his leadership position in the Senate for praising Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday party, even though Thurmond had long since disavowed segregation. Lott was accused of sending a dog whistle to his racist constituents.
I am frankly uncomfortable with some of the rhetoric of hate I've heard in reaction to this violence. I am reminded of the night I took my sons to hear a speech by Holocaust survivor Noemi Ban. She described many of the horrible things the Nazis did, but said she never gave in to hating them because it was hate that caused that evil in the first place.
When I look at the trouble they have in the Holy Land and see that the area's best solution is segregation (which is what the two-state solution is) or I think of the violence caused by separating India and Pakistan over religion, I am proud to be an American. Thanks to the leadership of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King and others, we have a country committed to the proposition that all are created equal regardless of race. We have found a better way.
But being a proud American, I am also worried about where our dysfunctional and hypersensitive manner of dialogue about race can lead. It is still the issue that has the most potential to cause civil war in our nation.
What can we do about this? If you are a politician and you are actually race baiting, please stop. Winning some votes isn't worth harming our country. You got into politics to help, right? So help. I'd like the media to stop scrutinizing language for Freudian slips that supposedly prove that someone is secretly a racist. That political witch hunt is irresponsible. It stirs up old resentments and stokes the fires of hatred.
Let's all answer hatred with love and forgiveness. The relatives of the victims of the Charleston church shooting are examples of the best in America. Almost no white Americans identify with the nuts at the rally, just as few African-Americans identify with the Baltimore rioters. Most of us just want to get along. Here's my suggestion. When you are changing at the locker room in your gym and see someone of another race, say hello and be good-natured. Get to know your neighbors of other races. Ponder the progress we've made in the last half-century since we had segregated restrooms. The same applies at the checkout line at the grocery store, the lunchroom at school, at church or in the workplace.
Let's love each other and see if we can get beyond this madness. Our country is at stake. Can we learn to live together like brothers and sisters? Or are we destined to descend into a century of war and chaos? America is better than this. American exceptionalism isn't racist. America is exceptional because we have learned to rise above our racial and religious differences and unite around a common political creed that values every human being as a child of a common Creator.
Jeff Teichert, JD, LLM, is an attorney practicing along the Wasatch Front in Utah, with an office in Provo.