The Folly of False Equivalence: Charlottesville, Bigotry, and Activism

This is no time for moral waffling or false equivalence. Donald Trump has asked us to believe that a terrorist attack on Charlottesville by white, racist, Nazi pigs was an appropriate occasion to condemn hatred “from many sides.” And he said, in the context of a racist Nazi march to preserve monuments to treasonous Confederate criminals, that we should all “cherish our history” (yes, in context, that’s a dog whistle to racist neo-Confederates).

Here is Trump’s statement, per Vox:

We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.


It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.




My administration is restoring the sacred bonds of loyalty between this nation and its citizens, but our citizens must also restore the bonds of trust and loyalty between one another. We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history and our future together. So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally we have to love each other.

“On many sides.” Right — because being a frothing racist and being an advocate for equality are exactly the same thing. Trump wasn’t the only ignoramus spinning a false equivalence narrative; I saw one reporter explaining that, “to be fair,” there was misbehavior and bottle-throwing “on both sides.”

Since this point has been lost on so many, let’s try to make it as clearly as possible: when one side of a conflict only exists because the other side exists, it’s the side that caused both sides to exist in opposition to one another that gets pinned with blame when events go horribly wrong. Civil rights activists don’t do what they do as a hobby; they do what they do because there is a disease out there that needs to be treated. They are the oncologists to our community’s cancer; no cancer, no oncologists.

The story of good versus evil has been with us from the start, and it’s only a diabolical shape-shifter who would cast the mayhem at ground zero when the two clash as equally the fault of both. If racism and racists would vanish from our orbit, then so too would the conflict necessitated by their existence.

As to which side is good and which is evil, Trump and his ilk seem confused about that, too. It’s the same kind of confusion that leads so many to see the Civil War as a fight between equally noble forces, or to see a warm, foamy bubble bath and a boiling cauldron of liquid horseshit as equally appealing.

Bigotry bears no essential moral relation to equal-justice activism. Their only commonality is energy, but that only makes them as alike as a tornado and a jet engine. Whereas one force destroys everything in its path, the other lifts our bodies and spirits — gently — into the sky.


Bigotry, like a tornado, is a force of nature unrestrained by discipline or cognition or judgment.It has no focus or objective. It is a dumb and base phenomenon produced by conditions that are turbulent and indiscriminate. It requires that good people warn of its approach, mitigate its impact, and then clean up the godawful mess it leaves in its wake.


Equal-justice activism, like a jet engine, has a certain refined elegance to it: it’s the product of science and learning and thought. The essence of equal-justice activism is focused and utilitarian; it is not just a force of unbounded and misdirected fury. It enables good people to dream bigger, go farther, and achieve more.

It is a special species of fool who would say that the two — tornadoes and jet engines — are essentially the same because they both produce wind. It’s the same kind of fool who would say that, because both racists and equal-justice activists throw bottles at one another, their essence is the same, and so we must condemn the “many sides” to their struggle one against the other.

Donald Trump is that kind of fool.