The Office of the President of the United States is often at its most powerful when providing leadership in the face of great difficulty. There is a great history of just this type of leadership, of a President’s ability to bring the country together, to encourage and to light a path forward even when circumstances appear at their darkest. That tradition of Presidential leadership was remarkably absent this weekend.
Presidential Leadership in Recent History
Presidents over the past years have faced tremendously difficult situations; situations that could have been dark and without hope. These Presidents all responded to their respective challenges with a strength of leadership markedly absent from the current administration.
Former President Bill Clinton was faced with a vicious act of domestic terrorism after the Oklahoma City Bombing. Clinton made a famous speech comforting the country after the attack, he said in part,
Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life.”
George W. Bush was faced with national tragedy and terror after the 9/11 attacks in New York City. He responded in a forceful speech. He said in part,
These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”
President Barack Obama responded to the tragedy of the Charleston church shooting. President Obama, known as a powerful public speaker said this,
The good news is I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome. That, certainly, was Dr. King’s hope just over 50 years ago, after four little girls were killed in a bombing in a black church in Birmingham, Alabama.” He went on to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
President Trump Responds to Charlottesville, VA Attack
In response to the hatred-fueled racist attack in Charlottesville Virginia Saturday, an attack that took the life of a young woman and injured dozens, the President refused to condemn the ideology of white supremacy that motivated the attack and declined to denounce the racist groups who caused the violence.
The President did eventually condemn the KKK, and white supremacists, after days of harsh reaction from Republicans and Democrats alike. The President’s delayed condemnation was too little too late. He disingenuously read a prepared statement and looked like a 2-year-old forced to apologize for hitting his sister when he isn’t sorry at all.
President Donald Trump had an opportunity this weekend. He had the chance to show that he is the President for all Americans, an opportunity to show courageous leadership and hand a mighty blow to the white supremacists who have been emboldened by his rhetoric. He blew that chance and proved an utter failure of Presidential leadership.