Finally, the president has united much of the country. Unfortunately for him, most of the country opposes what he stands for.
Yes, there are still many people who support the president and believe that his equating violence on both sides was appropriate, but a larger majority sees the danger in his saying that the Nazis and the counter-protesters in Charlottesville were morally similar. That the opposition to his words came from around the world and across the political spectrum tells you that this was no victory for Trump. And his decision to stay away from the Kennedy Center Honors program this year is not just a tactical retreat; it’s a rout. He’s not the first president to skip the ceremony, but the reason is different from why other presidents didn’t go: because his appearance would be a major distraction.
At this point, the president has been rebuked by corporate leaders, members of his arts council, and even James Murdoch, who is so afraid that American Jews, and even Israel, will see the president’s words as doing major damage, that he threw a million dollars at the Anti-Defamation League to stanch the bleeding. And where is Benjamin Netanyahu? The right-wing protector of Israeli and Jewish values has been remarkably silent on Trump’s atrocious choice of words. The company you keep, you know.
The point is that Charlottesville will likely be one of those turning points in our history. It will lead to major changes across the political spectrum and in the way that ordinary people view and talk about race. They will have to do this without moral leadership from the White House unless Trump decides that he needs to be more magnanimous and makes a prime-time speech calling for a more united country. OK, I’ll wait until you stop laughing. But I do really wish it would happen.
It is clear that we cannot expect President Trump to act presidential or to stand up and defend all of the citizens of this great country. In such a leadership vacuum, we run the risk that other noxious voices will try to fill the silence. And we also run the risk that violence will be seen as the tactic of choice.
Don’t let that happen. Be the moral voice that says the right words, the courageous words, the words that embrace instead of repel. Do not equivocate. And of course, agitate, agitate, agitate.