In today's volatile political landscape, it can be easy to take the path of least resistance and simply bury your head in the sand when the news gets to be too much. Like many others, I've found Donald Trump's unpredictable rise to the White House as fascinating as it is horrifying — the political equivalent of a high-speed train wreck — so I can certainly relate to the overwhelming sense of dread and exhaustion that sets in with each new jaw-dropping headline.
As a journalist with a keen interest in the palace intrigue of American politics, even I have found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the scandal-a-day pace of the Trump administration. The harrowing news cycle is never-ending, each new bombshell overshadowing the last. Taking a break from it all seems like the healthiest course of action.
But then, the disturbing images of armed neo-Nazis marching on Charlottesville, Va., splash across the screen, and you wonder: Can I afford to ignore this any longer?
I tried, I really did. When the news came pouring in, when my social-media feeds became flooded with outrage and anguish, I made the conscious decision to ignore it all, if only briefly — ignorance being bliss and all that.
And then a friend recommended a short Vice News documentary shot from the frontlines of the Unite the Right rally, and I sat down to watch. It was, without question, some of the most chilling footage I have ever seen.
In it, Vice correspondent Elle Reeve embeds with white nationalist leaders as they spew their ignorant, fascist rhetoric and revel in the brutal murder of a counter protestor. (I want to commend Reeve here for her monk-like composure in the face of such hatred. It took everything in my power not to roundhouse kick the TV after listening to white supremacist and walking-piece-of-human-garbage Chris Cantwell speak for more than five seconds. I can't fathom how she showed such restraint sitting two feet from him.)
There is a school of thought out there that believes this kind of widespread attention — the documentary has been viewed over 44 million times at last count — only serves to amplify the loathsome message these pitiful, Tiki-torch-wielding trolls want to get out.
I'm sure Cantwell falls into this camp. He did tell a New York Times reporter last week that his decision to be interviewed by Vice has "worked out magnificently" so far. (Which, OK. Dude is officially one of the most hated men in America and is facing possible charges stemming from his role in the march, which he reacted to with big-boy tears in a video he shot upon learning of the warrants out for his arrest. So, let's all agree to take his statement with a Gibraltar-sized grain of salt.)
Besides, it's not as if ignoring the big, bad Nazis will make them go away. They've always been there, bubbling under the surface. It's just now they have a president who has empowered them to emerge from the shadows.
This is the sad reality of it all: Whether out of fear, wilful ignorance, or a dangerous combination of the two, far too many Americans have yet to accept that their country — founded by slave owners and fractured by a civil war that continues to show its fault lines a century and a half later — has always been this way, to varying degrees. And sadder still, it will remain so as long as there are disenfranchised white men around to channel their social and economic alienation into a twisted form of community.
Those who ignored the rising tide of white nationalism that helped propel a morally vacant egomaniac to the most powerful office on the planet are probably the same folks who use the "politics aren't really my thing" excuse to dismiss any news that makes them uncomfortable and challenges their cushy status in society.
Well, maybe that discomfort you're feeling, that twinge in your stomach, isn't such a bad thing after all. Maybe that discomfort pales in comparison to the oppression and violence inflicted upon generations of black and brown folks. Maybe you should use that discomfort as fuel. Maybe it will transform into a red-hot, seething fury, a foundational anger at the troubled state of the world. Maybe now's not the time to tune out. Maybe it's time to stand up.