southernbeau

Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

Rock Bottom – Trump & Charlottesville

In a presidency filled with the lowest of lows, Trump’s reaction to the turmoil in Charlottesville is inarguably its nadir.  On an occasion that called for clear and unequivocal leadership, Americans were met with a response that was simultaneously tardy, tepid, confusing, lazy, childish, intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt.  This was Trump’s chance to resurrect his flailing presidency.  And what a chance he had.  This was low hanging fruit; the proverbial hanging curveball over the fat part of the plate.  This was simple.  Disavow racism, bigotry, and white supremacy specifically, in the plainest and strongest of terms, without nuance, ambiguity or equivocation.  Full stop.  Who could screw that up?

Trump could, and he did, with immaculately flying colors.  In doing so, he has rendered himself illegitimate for the balance of his days in office.  His moral compass has been exposed as so sorely lacking, how can one possibly trust what he has to say with regard to North Korea, or ISIS, or climate change, or healthcare, or tax policy, or any other pressing issue of the day.  The false equivalency of suggesting that the white supremacist protesters spewing hate are somehow on the same plain with the folks protesting that hate is either supreme ignorance, profound stupidity or unquestionable bigotry.  Of course, it could be all three.  Neither option is a good look, particularly for the President of the United States.

While the abdication of leadership was breathtaking, it was hardly surprising.  Trump consistently shrinks on the biggest stage.  His predecessor was just the opposite, always rising to the occasion.  Think of Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, and the countless other times that tragedy tested a nation.  President Obama was at his absolute best when guiding a wounded people through turbulent times.  He was the steady captain of a rocking country amid the swaying seas.  He extended a warm and empathetic hand in an effort to heal, while also displaying an unwavering resolve to seek justice based on our shared American values.

Can you picture the Obama response to Charlottesville?  I can.  It is clear as a Carolina blue day in my mind’s eye.  In addition to empathy and resolve, he would have systematically laid out the intellectual framework for removing certain statues from the public square.  He would have provided the historical context to support such an argument.  He would have acknowledged that there would be fellow Americans with whom he would not agree.  Nonetheless, respectfully, he would have eloquently made his case on moral, rational and practical grounds.  And, in the end, every American, whatever their political stripe, would have known exactly where and why President Obama stood in a particular place – based on reason, intelligence, history, justice, liberty and the general good of the country.  The difference with Trump is as striking as it horrifying.  How could a statement of such gravity be given so little thought and preparation?

I will leave it to historians to shed appropriate light on Trump’s assertion that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are tantamount in historical significance to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  The faulty comparison is ignorant at best and obtuse at worse.  The latter two men played pivotal roles in creating these United States, while the former undertook to destroy it – all in the name of upholding the wretched institution of slavery.  It does not take a molecular scientist, or even a man of high conscience, to comprehend these less than subtle differences.

The events in Charlottesville have resigned me to ponder the nature of progress.  Perhaps we were inevitably destined to retreat after the triumph of Obama.  Indeed, politics often hinge on the fateful swing of the pendulum.  But this time was different.  Trump was not a reaction against 8 years of a Democratic president.  Trumpism was a reaction against 8 years of the first black president.  It was a recoiling of pent-up frustration from folks who feel that their grip on power, on society is hopelessly slipping away.  In some ways, what we saw in Charlottesville were the desperate actions of an ideology fighting for its very survival against the tides of progress.  The substantive, and wholly disconcerting, difference at this point in history is that this otherwise moribund ideology has been given a newfound legitimacy by the Office of the President of the United States.

Progress is frequently halting, almost never linear, but always finds its due course in time.  And so it shall be again, but not without action.  It is our job to stamp out hate and bigotry wherever it exists and in whatever form it takes.  But, even more than that, it is high time to usher in a new Age of Enlightenment as it relates to our politics.  Summoning our best Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Hume, we must demand a politics centered around rational thought and reasoned debate at the expense of political debasement and personal degradation.  We should hold as a standard Obama’s composure, nuance, ability to think deeply before responding appropriately.  We must relegate to the dustbin of history Trump’s haste, thoughtlessness, scorn for reason, and reliance on division, fear and ad hominem attacks.

These ideals are achievable if we demand it, and we must.  Now is not the time for hand-wringing and silent despair.  To the contrary, the present time calls for hopeful action and principled resistance.  Obama took us two steps forward in the American journey; Trump is simply our one step back.  The question now is how far back we are willing to go, for every step backward in history is not equal in stride or duration.  We have to do the hard work required to reverse course.

Charlottesville is rock bottom for Trump, but it can be our call for a renewed sense of purpose, possibility, moral clarity and political vigor.  America will recover from Charlottesville, just as she will recover from Trump, but the speed and scope of the recovery is up to us.  Out of darkness there will be light; let us be sure that our light shines brightly and boldly enough to smother the darkness ahead.

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August 19, 2017 Posted by | Charlottesville, Democratic Party, Obama, Politics, President Obama, President Trump, Republican Party, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment