If there were any hopes before about the ability, competence and temperament of Donald Trump to successfully execute the office of the president of United States, those were dashed with the Charlottesville “storm” and associated events. These originated primarily with horrific scenes of confrontation between the White Supremacists and neo-Nazis groups who were protesting the proposed removal of statue of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the university grounds, and the counter protester group opposing it.
As ugly and shameful as the incident was, it also led to violent death of Heather Heyer of Charlottesville as well as injury to dozens of people by a neo-Nazi sympathizer who drove his car into the crowd of counter protesters opposing the racist group. In addition, two state police helicopter pilots were killed while trying to control the situation.
The Charlottesville rally also included torch carrying Neo-Nazis and chanting anti-Jewish slogans like “Jews will not replace us” as they marched through the grounds of University of Virginia. These scenes were reminiscent of the old ugly days of Nazi Germany in 1930s under Adolf Hitler, when Nazis and their sympathizers used to march through the German streets chanting anti-Jewish slogans to intimidate Jewish minority population.
In his reaction to this tragedy, the president de facto equated the racist White Supremacists and neo-Nazis to the anti-racist counter protesters by saying that people were involved on “both sides.” By this statement, the president implied that evil was on both sides, thereby establishing the moral equivalency between the racists and the anti-racists groups in America.
Most minority communities are perceiving these statements from Trump as him embracing the white racism for political purposes while ignoring the immorality of racism and bigotry that was exhibited by the hate groups in Charlottesville. Given America’s racial history such statements are also damaging to the collective psyche of minority communities with potential to fracture the multi-cultural and multi-racial social fabric of the country.
Besides and beyond the morality and ethical aspects of Charlottesville incidence, all things Confederate have special significance for the African American community. It was the U.S. Confederacy that tried to preserve institutionalized slavery in the 1860s and Gen. Robert E. Lee was its protector. President Trump’s actions only opened the raw wounds of those who have the memories of segregation and repression human right, police brutality, torture or even murder by the white mobs and the law enforcement to control them.
As President Trump has expressed moral equivalence between evil and the good, Charlottesville incidence marks a dark moment in contemporary American history drawing almost universal condemnation except from White Supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK groups. These developments have also polarized the Republican Party as its leadership has rejected its own president’s stance on racism. Both Senate leader Mitch McConnel and Speaker Paul Ryan have criticized President Trump’s handling of Charlottesville mess.
This Republican outrage was best exemplified by comments of Senator Bob Corker who remarked that "the president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.” He further commented that "he (Trump) has also recently not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation," and "He has not demonstrated that he understands what makes this nation great and what it is today.” These are serious indictments of President Trump and represent the growing uneasiness and frustration with him.
Similarly, President Trump’s handling of the Charlottesville fiasco has been rebuked by major business leaders of America who resigned in protest from his business council. These are apex bodies to advise the president on the direction of business and commercial activity. The same sentiments have been expressed by the art council made up of actors and performing artists.
Even more telling and significant about the Charlottesville incidence were the statements from the chiefs of five military organizations rejecting President Trump’s stance on the White Supremacists and neo-Nazis in America. They clarified in their stand by tweets that America totally rejects racism and bigotry in all forms in the U.S. Army and civilian sectors.
Overall, President Trump’s response to Charlottesville has been toxic whose echo has reached other major cities across the country as evident from increasing anxieties and demonstrations in cities like Boston, Houston, and removal of Confederate statues in some American cities. There are also calls from some quarters for President Trump to step down because of his immoral stand on the whole Charlottesville affair.
The president of the United States is heir to a powerful bully pulpit to promote morality and social justice for all in the conduct of public policy. It is this moral authority that enables the president to govern the country and ask citizens to lay their lives in its defense. Any act or inclination towards injustice, immorality or public perception thereof, can only work to the detriment of the president.
The Charlottesville tragedy and President Trump’s reaction to it have cast major doubts about his moral convictions and have called into question his sincerity, understanding or commitment to the institution of U.S. presidency. Unless and until Donald Trump can demonstrate his conviction and ability to unite the diverse groups and promote amity among them, the dream of a successful Trump presidency will remain a distant mirage in the future.