Has America No Sense of Decency?
Last Saturday, in broad daylight, a man drove his car at full speed into a crowd of people. After crashing into another car, he then hit reverse and drove backwards as fast as he could. One woman was killed.
And that’s it. Nothing else. Just that.
The action was deliberate. The man driving the car was not from Virginia, where it happened, but Ohio. To get from Ohio to Virginia takes an eight-hour drive. One does not take that drive casually.
The man was among a larger group of men, men with guns, men who had also traveled great distances to be in Virginia that weekend. We are told they were there to protest the removal of a statue, but that was not why they were there. You do not protest the removal of a statue with guns. You do not protest the removal of a statue by chanting slogans that have nothing to do with the statue. You do not drive eight hours to protest the removal of a statue.
The men with guns were there to proclaim their dominance over others. The driver of the car that plowed into a crowd of people and killed a woman was there to demonstrate it.
And that’s it, too. Just that. Nothing else.
We are having a difficult time understanding why that isn’t enough. We are having a difficult time understanding why that can’t be seen, seen for what it is, and judged appropriately. An evil man, encouraged by other evil men, committed an evil act. That’s it. That’s what it was. Nothing else.
And yet people can’t see it. Some people can’t see it because they agree with the evil men. Other people can’t see it because they support the people who agree with the evil men. And still more people can’t see it because they don’t want to see it, they don’t want to see the evil, they want to believe that the evil was never there in the first place. Because if they saw the evil, saw the evil for what it was, they fear they would be forced to accept responsibility for it.
And yet, there it is. The evil. In plain sight. In broad daylight. Unmistakable. And people can’t see it. That’s it, too.
Why can’t people see it?
We’ve been wondering this all week, the week after a woman was murdered in broad daylight for all to see, the week people have refused to see it. We’ve been wondering about this because we thought we lived among people who could see that, who could easily see that, see that for what it was, and react with revulsion, as people who could see that would do. There’s a lot that the people among us can’t see, won’t see, refuse to see, but surely they could see that, surely the people among us could see a woman being murdered in broad daylight. Who couldn’t see that?
And yet they haven’t.
And we wonder: What does it take to see that? If the evil is apparent, blatant, manifest, and the people among us can’t see that, what does it take to see it?
A few years before we were born, one man saw it. He sat face-to-face with evil, vile evil, and he saw it. We would not know of him, or what he saw, for some twenty years after he saw it. He had become a hero, an American hero, for seeing it, and saying it, saying what it was, saying what he saw, the evil facing him. And in saying it, he used an unusual word:
It is not a word you would have expected from a man like him, or any man in that setting, facing evil. It is a very simple word, with a very deep meaning, a meaning that we would like to think describes the people among us, a word that captures our hearts and souls. We are a plain people, but a decent people. We respond to evil as decent people do: with revulsion.
And yet the people among us have not responded with revulsion this week. They have responded with defensiveness. They have responded with distractions. They have responded any way they could, so long as they didn’t have to respond to the evil of a woman being murdered in broad daylight.
Decent people don’t respond like that.
And that deeply saddens us. We know there is much other evil that the people among us don’t respond to, that they refuse to see, but that other evil is always at a slight remove, not that you have to look hard to see it, but it’s slightly easier not to. But when a woman is murdered in broad daylight by an evil man, an evil man among other evil men, evil men with guns who proclaim their dominance over others, you have to willfully not see it, to try your hardest not to see it, to refuse to see it at any cost.
Even if the price is your own decency.
And the people among us refuse to see it.
That man who faced an evil man before we were born asked the evil man a question, a simple question, a decent question, and we’ve been thinking about that question all week. We have been asking that question of the people among us, frequently, repeatedly, incessantly, hoping that we could find the answer we want to say, the answer that gives us hope, hope that we’ll all get through this, hope that our shared decency has not been lost, or worse, that it was never there to begin with.
And each time we have asked that question, we have not found the answer we want, an answer that helps us understand why the decent people among us cannot see the evil among us.
Because each time we ask the question, the answer remains Yes.