In Charlottesville, Trump Fails His First Test Of Leadership
"The Republican Party is broad and inclusive. It represents many streams of opinion and many points of view.
But if there's anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the Party of Lincoln. And the exits which are clearly marked are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise."
- Bob Dole, 1996 Republican National Convention
Out of all the President's escapades within his first 6 months, those which have received the most coverage from the news media are his attacks. Lashing out is what earned President Trump billions in free media coverage over the course of his campaign, and it is what continues to put him on the front page today.
Trump's attacks seem to be what people care about: the Mika Brezinski facelift tweet garnered far more media attention across the country than when the President withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, despite vastly different policy outcomes. When President Trump attacks, the country, and even the world, watches.
Trump is no stranger to attack by any stretch, either. It would appear that there is no institution, ideal or tenet too sacred to be disparaged, whether it be gold star families, or the age old Republican loyalty pledge from the primaries.
However, during a Presidency which has seemingly revolved around a Commander in Chief who bad-mouths everyone from his most loyal supporters (Attorney General Sessions) to Senators whose vote he desperately needs (Dean Heller of NV), the President has maintained a deafening silence on two of our country's most dangerous enemies.
One, Putin and the Russian Federation, he has managed to turn into a political issue with broad support within his party. Vladimir Putin went from a -65 to a -10 net favorability within the Republican party over the course of the 2016 election, and Republicans have become noticeably warmer to Russia overall over the past two years. Despite the current special counsel investigation, Trump's obvious unwillingness to speak negatively about Russia has left him largely undamaged within his own party
The other enemy Trump refuses to name and reject is the domestic White Nationalist, Neo-Nazi movement, an offense perhaps more damaging to our country's social fabric than any so far.
Trump's first test on white nationalism as president came just last week, a test he failed miserably when he failed to issue any public comment or tweet, much less a condemnation, regarding the firebombing of a Minnesota mosque.
But most recently, after a White Nationalist and Neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville Virginia turned violent, the President had a legitimate and important opportunity to fulfill and reassert the moral leadership of the office of the President. Unfortunately, our President emphatically refused multiple clear opportunities to make a public denouncement.
One might think that given any opportunity, the President of the United States would be able to condemn White Supremacy and Neo-Nazism without a prepared statement or talking points. This proves too much to ask.
When Trump finally took to his pulpit today to denounce the KKK and other groups present at the Charlottesville rally he did so in a carefully prepared statement, far out of step with his usual approach to governing. In a White House where the President basically invents our foreign policy towards a nuclear North Korea on the spot over twitter, it is hard to believe that he ordered a staffer to write a statement on Charlottesville to condemn white supremacy. It was more than likely something his aides directed him to do. It was clearly disingenuous and of course, to little to late.
The moral dimension of the Presidency is perhaps it's most important and immeasurable aspect. Policy looks different depending on what side of the aisle you look from, but when it comes to respect for the office, the values of our country, and the moral authority of the oval office the best Presidents are always in step.
Trump was far out of step, showing a painfully obvious inability to criticize his brutally racist supporters without incredible pressure to do so. The only comment we have seen from the President on twitter, undeniably one of the best medium's we have for direct communication from the President, was a complaint that the news media wouldn't get off his back for not condemning the rally earlier, preceded in time (and importance?) by a set of attacks on a CEO who resigned from his manufacturing counsel in protest.
Trump may think that his insincere condemnation covered his behind for 2020, but he has abdicated the moral authority of his office by delaying his remarks so long. Many a political pundit has wondered how the Trump administration might handle a crisis requiring legitimate leadership. Well know we know that we cannot count on the President.