Donald Trump as President of the United States is the single biggest indicator of the enduring strengths and crippling weaknesses of the American democracy.

Trump campaigned against much of what the Republican party stood and had no establishment support during the primary, and yet he still won the nomination against a dozen other better qualified and more established candidates. He ran against a well-funded, organized, and established politician in Hillary Clinton who was reasonably expected and predicted to sweep the table.

What Trump did was to appeal to disaffected citizens in strategic states, and through that (and a surprisingly weak opposition) he was propelled to the White House, even without a majority of the popular vote.

That’s how American democracy works, and even if you disagree with him as President, the election of a non-politician to the highest office in the land should be viewed as a triumph of our constitutional system, at least in concept.

(of course, in our modern era of highly-targeted electioneering, there is a very real debate we should have about the role and structure of the electoral college, but that’s for another time)

So if Trump’s election is a sign of a healthy and functioning democracy, then how the heck did we end up here? Echo chambers, plain and simple. We all saw the echo chamber effect in action this weekend — on both sides.

Most of us don’t see white supremacists and neo-Nazis in our daily lives. So when we turn on the news and see them in the hundreds in real life, marching through the streets with torches, it’s a shock. We don’t seek out Nazi groups and sites and we don’t research white supremacy because it offends our collective values and we have no interest in what they have to say because it is morally repugnant.

We group with like-minded people, because that’s what’s comfortable. It’s easiest to chat with people we agree with, it’s easier to just avoid uncomfortable conversations. And the internet has made that simpler than ever — both to find people like us and to ignore others. We get our news from sources that reinforce our preconceived worldviews, we block or mute or unfriend people with whom we disagree, sometimes even people we consider to be our friends.

Echo chambers have long existed in the real world. Liberals will probably feel out of place in rural Alabama, just as a conservative will feel lost in San Francisco. But in these places we still come face-to-face with people who will disagree with us. That intrusion doesn’t happen online, and it’s something we can easily ignore.

The internet, for all of its amazing tools and unimaginable potential, has made it far too easy for us to isolate and insulate ourselves from disagreement. It’s given a megaphone to the most extreme among us, amplifying their hatred and vitriol to anyone who will read or listen — but flying silently under the radar to those that aren’t watching.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theorists, anarchism, Islamist militancy, isolationism… it all thrives online. Often out of sight of those that would oppose it.

The vast majority of us don’t wade into these dark corners of the internet. We don’t read the Breitbarts and Intercepts and Daily Stormers of the world. We’re citizens of the amazing parts of the internet — we get instant news, running chats with friends, help from strangers, unbounded shopping, and unlimited pictures of cats and dogs.

The internet is a great, amazing tool. But some people are abusing this tool. It’s all too easy to virtually congregate with people that agree with us and ignore and dismiss those that disagree. People like to say that we don’t talk as much anymore, thanks to the internet. That’s false — we’re talking more than ever, and to more people than ever before. But because it’s easier than ever to talk to people that we think are like us, it’s also easier to avoid having uncomfortable conversations with those that don’t. And when we do, our stances and preconceptions about who we’re talking to are informed by the echo chamber in which we’re spending more and more time.

We’re all guilty of it. I’m guilty of it, and so are you. Somebody you know, somebody you love, somebody you work with says something outrageous? It’s easier just to change the topic and forget it ever happened. It’s easier to steer into the agreeable waters of sports or celebrity gossip or our kids and then retreat back into our bubbles. It feels safe and we get to keep our friends and avoid being upset by uncomfortable conversations.

But it’s not safe to just brush aside outrageous speech from people we know and love. Ignoring extremism is tacit acceptance of it as a valid point of view. What we saw in Virginia was the result of all of this. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, the KKK — they all brought their echo chamber into the real world, and it was horrifying.

Let’s be clear: a protest or a rally, no matter how racist or extremist, is protected speech under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. It is the same protection that allows you to counter-protest, to speak your mind in support of or against our government, our politicians, and each other. Of course, these protections do not extend to violence.

And to be equally clear: I want these people out in the open. I want to see who they are, for the world to see who they are and the things for which they stand, so we can excise these ideas from our society. We need to acknowledge that these people exist and what they believe, and we need to emphatically reject those beliefs as unacceptable and incompatible with what our nation and society stand for.

This hatred isn’t natural. We aren’t born like this — it is taught, it is learned. And because it is taught, we can teach against it. We can talk to each other, understand the misconceptions that have led to these conclusions, and work to combat it. We cannot fix this is we don’t engage with those that disagree with us. It’s not easy, it’s not fun, and it certainly isn’t comfortable. But it’s something we have to do.

What happened in Virginia, in the 2016 election, and continues to happen today is what happens when we embrace and retreat into our own echo chambers and dismiss others. We must stand up and speak out for what is good and right in this world. This is no longer about politics; this is about our civilization. The people who were marching with torches and chanting Nazi slogans believe this is a fight for civilization, and on that point alone I agree.

We cannot fight extremism with more extremism. We cannot fight civil violence with more violence. This is a fight over ideas and ideals. Fists and clubs and bullets are not ideals. We should be appalled by those who exercise violence and those who speak with hatred on their minds and in their hearts — and those who speak in their defense.

But our horror must not lead to more violence. We must engage peacefully and forcefully and not allow these events and words to drive a wedge between us as Americans. I don’t believe that neo-Nazis and white supremacists and the KKK are representative of more than a small fraction of Trump’s supports — I don’t believe that anymore today than I did in November. Broad conclusions and generalizations that lump the worst in with the misguided are always counterproductive.

Ignoring the problem lets it thrive. Condemning all Trump supports as racists gives the real racists cover and sympathetic cohorts. It’s a tricky needle to thread, a needle surrounded by other legitimate needle holes of jobs, terrorism, healthcare, and more that are too easy to loop in. The people leading this movement have woven a complex and deluding web of blame for their perceived woes. We must untangle that web of lies, and the only way to do that is with rational facts and resolve to not accept this as normal or tolerable.

We must show that these despicable people are not in the right, that they do not speak for any portion of us, that we will not stand by and allow their hatred to go unchallenged. When they march, we must stand against them. When they speak of hatred, we must speak of love. When they attempt to tear apart our society, we must fight to mend our civilization’s wounds. When they try to hijack our democracy, we must make the stand at the ballot box.

We cannot allow those who stand for or excuse or minimize racism, fascism, sexism, isolationism or any of these other repulsive ideas to go unchallenged. These beliefs run fully counter to our ideals and principles as Americans and as enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. For we do believe that all people are created equal. We do believe that all are entitled to inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We do believe in freedom of expression, in the right to self defense, in justice, and in freedom from tyranny. We do believe in government of, by, and with consent of the governed.

I am fortunate to live in the greatest country on Earth during the most remarkable time in the history of our civilization. For all we have accomplished in the last 241 years, there is still much work to do to further the promise for all of the United States of America.