Trump: When a leader fails a nation


I AM tired, I am discouraged, I can’t do this anymore – this would be my reaction to recent events in Charlottesville, if I was not cognisant of the experiences people of colour have had to endure for centuries under the hands of a whiteman and how they persevered.
The saddest thing about Charlottesville is that the gains of the civil rights movement are being eroded, not just by racism, but more importantly by some in the black community who, for financial reasons, feed on the exploitation of the black child, the black culture and way of life.
Over the weekend, Charlottesville became the site of an extended white supremacist revival meeting.
On Friday night, like a nightmarish graduation procession, a few hundred white supremacists marched with torches down the long green lawn that leads to the rotunda, the University of Virginia’s signature building.
They chanted Nazi slogans in the open, undisguised, unafraid of being photographed, proud to be seen.
They circled a statue of Thomas Jefferson and attacked a group of student counter-protesters who held a banner reading ‘UVA Students Act Against White Supremacy’ at the statue’s base.
On Saturday morning, flanked by the militia carrying automatic weapons, the white supremacists assembled in McIntire Park, with swastikas and Confederate flags fully visible; David Duke was there, along with other representatives of the Ku Klux Klan.
The counter-protest had grown.
Religious leaders had gathered at dawn to pray while progressive and anti-fascist groups tracked the demonstration to Emancipation Park, which was once named Lee Park, after the Confederate general.
There, the violence implied in a ‘white pride’ protest erupted, and the rally was dispersed.
As the counter-protesters moved on foot toward the adjacent Downtown Mall, a man who had come to town to show his support for white supremacy drove his car down a wide pedestrian alley, killing one woman and injuring 19 people; he then backed out of the alley and drove away.
The message is sickening and unmistakable.
Black demonstrators protesting the murder of teenagers are met with tanks and riot gear; white demonstrators protesting the unpopularity of Nazi and Confederate ideology are met with politesse.
Charlottesville is a symptom and we must deal with the cause;hate, bias and racism have been empowered and taken from the margins into the mainstream.
Now we must come to terms with the fact that the President of the US, Donald Trump, has played a role in emboldening these hate groups to come out of the shadows.
Those of us in New York City have known for many years that Trump is a racist and a bigot.
During the campaign trail, I wrote about how in the 1980s, he bought full-page ads in four major newspapers calling for the death penalty to be re-instated in NY against five black and Latino kids in the Central Park jogger rape case.
The children were later exonerated, but Trump never apologised.
He played on people’s fears and heightened racial division and tension then, just as he did during the campaign cycle and is now doing from the Oval Office.
In a statement, Reverand Al Sharpton, said: “What we have just witnessed this weekend was a President who did more than just ignore the problem of white supremacy.
He failed to immediately show the moral courage and leadership required by one who is the head of the highest office in the land.”
Commenting on the growing trend of open celebration of racism in the US, Jennifer Richeson, a Yale University social psychologist, said: “People learn to be whatever their society and culture teaches them.
We often assume that it takes parents actively teaching their children, for them to be racist.
The truth is that unless parents actively teach children not to be racists, they will be.
This is not the product of some deep-seated, evil heart that is cultivated.
It comes from the environment, the air all around us.”
Eric Knowles, a psychology professor at New York University who studies prejudice and politics, has been studying what he calls ‘everyday racism’ for nearly two decades.
He said he has not seen significant change in baseline levels of bias among Americans.
Instead, he thinks, more virulent forms of racism are being ‘unleashed’ – particularly by President Trump.
He noted the president did not explicitly condemn the hate groups that organised the Charlottesville rally until two days after it was held.
Writing an editorial comment in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s speechwriter put it this weekend that, it is one of the ‘difficult but primary duties’ of a political leader to speak for a nation in traumatic times.
A space shuttle explodes, a school student goes on a shooting spree, a terrorist flies a plane into a building and a hurricane floods a city.
When such things happen, ‘it falls to the president to express something of the nation’s soul’.
Yet if Trump’s words about the violent white extremist mobilisation in Virginia on Saturday – which an under-pressure White House was desperately trying to clarify on Sunday – are an expression of its soul, America may be on the road to perdition.
In his first response on Saturday, Trump utterly failed in his primary duty to uphold equality and speak the truth about the racist violence that had taken place.
Instead of placing the blame where it belonged, on the supremacists and Klansmen who triggered these events and rather than stand up for the indivisibility of equality and tolerance before the law, Trump’s words were by turns slippery, banal and morally compromised.
It was not true that the violence in Charlottesville came from ‘many sides’, as Trump evasively said, before repeating his evasion.
It is the head of state’s duty to stand up, explicitly and unequivocally, against racists and those who promote racial violence.
Trump was found wanting.
In fact, it can be suggested that President Trump has become the ‘commander-in-chief’ of hate.
Since his election, news outlets and social media accounts have swelled with reports of swastikas at schools, racist taunts and other hate-fuelled attacks and acts of intimidation.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which has aggregated media reports and gathered submissions from its website, catalogued 1 064 such incidents, 13 of which were later debunked as false reports, in the first month after Trump won the presidency.
Twenty-six of those incidents were perpetrated against Trump supporters.


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