President Donald Trump usually is quick to share his immediate response to any event – usually on his preferred platform, Twitter. And he usually is reluctant to back down, once he’s made a statement.
So it was significant that his initial response to the racially motivated violence in Charlottesville was slow to come, but also that it was revised several times. None of the versions have been satisfactory.
In his eagerness to remain neutral and build a bridge of equivalence between hate spewing White nationalists and counter-protestors united against the cancer of racism metastasizing in our country, Trump has emboldened White supremacists and signaled tacit, if not clear support, to hate mongers.
There were not “many sides” in Charlottesville. There were alt-right adherents, nationalists, neo-Nazis, and whatever new-school euphemisms used to describe devotees of old-school racist ideology. They are all on one side.
Trump’s refusal to denounce the side that advocates terror and violence and came to Charlottesville armed to the teeth to provoke hostilities is a colossal failure of leadership. It is a dangerous, precedent-setting green light to hate groups and an open door to the return and re-legitimization of White supremacy.
White supremacists encouraged his word. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, released a statement praising Trump’s response as “good,” adding, “He didn’t attack us. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke made an appearance at the rally before the violence erupted and explained the event’s significance by saying it “represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We’re gonna fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s gonna take our country back, and that’s what we gotta do.”
When hate groups and former KKK grand wizards support your words and actions, you are doing something entirely wrong. You are not on the side of right and need to make your way there sooner rather than later.
Horrifying expressions of White supremacy and Nazi sympathies are not novel to our nation or the 21st century. What is shocking, however, is that these kinds of demonstrations and displays of naked hatred can happen on American soil without clear condemnation from the highest levels of government.
Quick and clear
Trump still communicates clearly and quickly. When Merck CEO Ken Frazier resigned from Trump’s business council after the president failed to unequivocally denounce White supremacists, it took Trump less than an hour to hop on Twitter and clearly denounce the pharmaceutical company’s African-American CEO. Compare that to the near 48 hours it took for Trump to release any statement that condemned White supremacy after Charlottesville.
During Trump’s inauguration speech, he promised to be a president for all Americans. Almost six months into his presidency, that promise has not been realized for vast swaths of people.
True leadership cannot be realized when the next election and pleasing your slice of American supporters animate your decisions and policies. True leadership would not demonize Americans who put their lives on the line for equal rights and racial justice for all, and it would not cast these people as the equivalents of White supremacists and neo-Nazis.
There should be no room for this brand of vicious hate in our society. This requires a leader who unequivocally stands against the surging tide of hate, not one who steps aside and allows the detritus to wash ashore.
Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.