Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria’s response to racist threats at the Air Force Academy is the response Trump should have had to the Nazi riots in Charlottesville.
Donald Trump’s response to the deadly Charlottesville white supremacist riot in August was appalling. It was so bad, in fact, that Trump essentially abdicated any responsibility of his office to unify the nation in a time of division.
But there are still leaders in this country who understand how to address racism. Look no further than Air Force Academy Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria.
On Thursday, the Air Force Academy was rocked by an incident in which racial slurs were written on the dorm room notice boards of five black cadets, warning them to “Go home n****rs.” It was a horrifying threat designed to frighten and intimidate, and these sorts of incidents are becoming more common as Trump’s presidency emboldens fringe racist radicals.
But in a fiery speech to the academy, Silveria made clear he will not tolerate any hint of racism on his watch:
You need to watch this right away...trust me. Thank you Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria for your service. pic.twitter.com/WPUVl0mXJh
— Yashar Ali ? (@yashar) September 29, 2017
SILVERIA: If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place. That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, it has no place at USAFA, and it has no place in the United States Air Force. You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being. And I’ll tell you that the appropriate response for horrible language and horrible ideas, is a better idea. So that’s why I’m here.
Silveria went on to elaborate that his “better idea” was to stop brushing off racial tensions, stop dismissing them, and have an open conversation about them:
We would be naive to think we shouldn’t discuss this topic. We’d also be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what’s going on in our country. Things like Charlottesville and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL. What we should have is a civil discourse, and talk about these issues. That’s a better idea.
This is a badly needed message. Even a lot of people who defend the rights of civil rights protestors, like the players kneeling during NFL games, summarily dismiss their actual concerns on police brutality and systemic racism, and simply say the protestors have a “right to be wrong.” Silveria, on the other hand, urged us all to have a real conversation about what those protestors are saying, not just their right to say it.
Finally, Silveria had a simple, blunt message for the people behind the racist threats:
If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race, or a different color of skin, with dignity and respect, than you need to get out.
Compare everything Silveria said to Trump’s comments on Charlottesville. He refused to singularly condemn neo-Nazis, said some of them were “very fine people,” compared them to our Founding Fathers, and repeatedly asserted the unarmed people standing up to white supremacy were just as much to blame as the armed white supremacists.
Pretending there is any nuance to the merits of white supremacy is reprehensible, especially coming from a man who views virtually every other issue in black and white.
Silveria has put Trump to shame by giving the speech Trump refused to give, and reminding us all what the leaders of an accepting society should look like. When the Trump era comes to its ultimate, ignominious end, and we look back on today, we will hold people like Silveria — people who spoke up now — in the highest honor.