Yesterday’s horrific violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was shocking for a country that prides itself on tolerance.
So I was encouraged to hear political leaders from both sides of the aisle in Washington condemn the violence for what it was: an unacceptable expression of hate and intolerance that goes against the core values and ideals of America.
The words of the U.S. President about yesterday’s events were less clear.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms,” Trump said from his golfing vacation in New Jersey, “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”
Egregious display of violence? So am I to take from the POTUS’s words that hatred, bigotry and violence are okay in smaller doses, as long as they’re not “egregious”?
And what to make of the words “on many sides,” repeated for emphasis? Is the POTUS chastising equally the white supremacists as well as the people who showed up in mass to protest the hate groups?
At times like these, we listen closely at the words of our leaders to give voice to our outrage and clarify what needs to be done.
For me, at least, the President’s ambiguous and undirected statement only add sadness to an intensely sad situation.
The problem, I think, is that our current President lacks the integrity to be able to speak to all Americans at times of national tragedy.
A man of integrity influences others by being a good example. His words carry moral authority because others see consistency between what he says and what he does.
A leader who lacks this kind of moral authority speaks hollow words. People discount what he says because he says one thing and does another. The only way he can influence people is by using his position of power to bully and coerce.
Our president’s words lack moral authority because he himself has a history of using words carelessly to insult, demean, and encourage intolerant behavior.
Intolerance is a bloody, mangled carcass. It needs to be buried quickly or it becomes a breeding ground for vultures and maggots.
Sad to say, but a great slice of America right now is unable to look to the White House for the moral compass needed to bury our mangled carcasses.
Let’s hope other, more self-aware leaders step in to fill the void.