This week’s primary elections confirmed it—little Charlottesville, Virginia is determined to become San Francisco, or at least Oakland. Now if that aspiration manifested itself, say, in an wealth of great restaurants it would be bearable, but unhappily, Charlottesville’s ambitions instead take the form of pushing a relentlessly predictable progressive political and cultural agenda down its hapless citizens’ throats. Over-governed and over-dialogued, tying itself into knots through the kind of endless process that plagues its big city models, Charlottesville has planned, studied, sensitized and regulated itself into stasis. Local businesses catering to low and moderate income people close while upper-end shopping centers just across the municipal border in surrounding Albemarle County thrive. Ironically in a city obsessed with controlling “streetscape” a derelict unfinished hotel looms over the downtown pedestrian Mall. Like the hotel eyesore, an economically-essential downtown parking facility has become the object of a nasty feud between the city and its owner. Twenty-something panhandlers ornament the median strips of major roadways; the very rain is taxed. And now the politics of empty gestures and self-congratulatory progressivism threaten even worse.
In the June 13 primaries the last identifiably moderate Democrat incumbent on the city council (there are no Republicans) failed to win re-nomination. The last straw for this fellow came in January when he asked for more time to consider “the consequences” and the costs of removing an equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee from the city park that bears his name. It was not enough that he cast the deciding vote in May to remove Lee and Traveler and rename the park. He’s out, and after November Charlottesville’s city council will likely run the ideological gamut from a dodgy race hustler with an unfortunate social media history to a gaggle of interchangeable busybodies, advocating for upending this or resisting that, but all united in the conviction that Robert E. Lee must go.
The hoopla over the Lee statue is ironic in light of Charlottesville’s history. The town was mainly a logistical and hospital center during the War Between the States. A small marker in a local shopping center memorializes a late-war skirmish in which a Union cavalry probe was repulsed, but the only official commemoration of the conflict is a recently declared holiday celebrating the day the Yankees marched into town. Nevertheless the Lee monument and a companion statue of Stonewall Jackson have become the most recent focus of a tendentious process that began in 2009 with an official “dialog” on race. The dialog prompted a Commission on endemic discrimination; the commission spurred a local Ordinance designed to unearth racial evils, and finally, a lawyer hired to enforce the ordinance had to resign after two years for lack of anything to do. During the era of “Massive Resistance” to Supreme Court –ordered school desegregation, Charlottesville saw neither the National Guard nor the Ku Klux Klan in its streets, but is now destructively focused on race and grievance. In conniving and pandering to race baiters and the lunatic left with their dubious petitions, endless studies, pointless commissions and greedy consultants, Charlottesville’s politicians have yielded nothing but disarray, confusion and rancor.
To the deep chagrin of decent people who simply value their history, the town that claims Jefferson, Madison and Monroe as its sons has lately been graced by torch-bearing white nationalists lighting up its night. Thuggish hustlers of both right and left are locked up following scuffles over the statues in Charlottesville’s parks. And finally, Charlottesville will suffer a visitation from the Ku Klux Klan, a North Carolina-based unit of which has applied for a permit for a demonstration on July 8th.If the Klan is coming will the Antifas be far behind? Then what? The congressional baseball practice shooting and its grievance-obsessed perpetrator demonstrate how cynical manipulation of popular emotions for political gain can turn unexpectedly to tragedy. Charlottesville needs to wise up before something serious happens—and get back to a lot of neglected business.