Get Him Out Of There

One of the difficult but primary duties of the modern presidency is to speak for the nation in times of tragedy.

Not every president does this equally well. But none have been incapable. Until Donald Trump.

Trump and his people did not believe the moment trump29n-2-webworthy of rhetorical craft, worthy of serious thought. The president is confident that his lazy musings are equal to history. They are not. They are babble in the face of tragedy. They are an embarrassment and disservice to the country.

Ultimately this was not merely the failure of rhetoric or context, but of moral judgment. The president could not bring himself initially to directly acknowledge the victims or distinguish between the instigators and the dead. He could not focus on the provocations of the side marching under a Nazi flag. Is this because he did not want to repudiate some of his strongest supporters? This would indicate that Trump views loyalty to himself as mitigation for nearly any crime or prejudice. Or is the president truly convinced of the moral equivalence of the sides in Charlottesville? This is to diagnose an ethical sickness for which there is no cure.

There is no denying that Trump has used dehumanization—refugees are “animals,” Mexican migrants are “rapists,” Muslims are threats—as a political tool. And there is no denying that hateful political rhetoric can give permission for prejudice. “It acts as a psychological lubricant,” says David Livingstone Smith, “dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under normal circumstances, be unthinkable.”

If great words can heal and inspire, base words can corrupt. Trump has been delivering the poison of prejudice in small but increasing doses. In Charlottesville, the effect became fully evident. And the president had no intention of decisively repudiating his work.

What do we do with a president who is incapable or unwilling to perform his basic duties? What do we do when he is incapable of outrage at outrageous things? What do we do with a president who provides barely veiled cover for the darkest instincts of the human heart? These questions lead to the dead end of political realism—a hopeless recognition of limited options. But the questions intensify.

Michael Gerson

President Trump’s mealy-mouthed mutterings on the terrorism let loose in Charlottesville on Saturday are worthy of the hypocrite and instigator of hate that he has proved himself to be. Trump knows what was at work on those streets and who was behind it. As well he should. They are some of the same forces that helped to put him in the White House.

That was your crowd down there in Old Virginia, Donald Trump.

They were speaking your language, vomiting your sentiments, acting out what animates you from within.

Don’t act as though you don’t know them. They believe and expect klan border watchyou are working to “take back America” for them, because you are of them, just as just they know—as do you—that they gave their all for you.

So why are any of us the least bit surprised that Trump’s devoted clan of white nationalists would be so emboldened as to brazenly emulate their klan forbears and take it to the streets? One of their own reached the White House, with their help. It’s enough to make an old Confederate proud, and a present-day white nationalist as arrogant, reckless and dangerous as can be.

Colbert I. King

This is not the first time Trump has played footsie with white nationalists. During the campaign, he initially pleaded ignorance of David Duke’s racism in an interview with Jake Tapper. He played to white nationalists’ fears of illegal immigrants, demonized Mexicans, made racist accusations against a federal judge, falsely accused illegal immigrants of causing a crime wave, and refused to apologize for anti-Semitic imagery. Once in office, he hired alt-right darlings including Stephen K. Bannon (who bragged that he had made Breitbart a “platform for the alt-right”) and Sebastian Gorka. As president, he has channeled the white racists’ “blood and soil” concept of nationalism in his speeches and encouraged white, Christian, working-class Americans to think of themselves as victims and to see their religion as under attack—while he championed a Muslim travel ban.

This kind of stomach-turning display of moral obtuseness is precisely what opponents of Trump predicted when they warned that he was unfit for the presidency. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on Saturday denounced white nationalism as a “scourge,” but he supported Trump even after Trump attacked a federal judge and Gold Star, Muslim parents. What did Ryan think America was getting?

If Republicans are now truly disgusted by the president they supported, they can condemn his embarrassing comments, support the FBI and Justice Department investigation, and urge that Confederate statues throughout the country be taken down. We’ve now erased the fictions that these monuments are about “Southern heritage.” No, they Trump-Supporter-550x300are giant concrete shrines to white nationalism.

“It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, they fought against it,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a memorable speech explaining his city’s decision to remove the statues. “They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.”

If the president doesn’t grasp this, the rest of the country should. It’s time to get rid of the statues and get rid of the alt-right heroes in the White House. As for Trump, the country cannot get rid of him soon enough.

Jennifer Rubin

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