One na­tion di­vided un­der flawed leader

The Phoenix - - OPINION -

That was not a scene from 1930s Nazi Ger­many that took place in the streets of Char­lottesville, Va., last week­end.

It wasn’t even a scene from the 1950s or ’60s Deep South. Those out­casts wore sheets and white hoods.

That mob car­ry­ing tiki torches and chant­ing “Blood or Soil” and worse in Char­lottesville didn’t bother cov­er­ing their faces. They don’t hide their big­otry. They dis­played their hate for all to see.

More than 150 years after wag­ing a Civil War that cost 600,000 Amer­i­can lives in an ef­fort to pre­serve the Union, we re­main di­vided.

The events in Char­lottesville picked at a scab that has fes­tered in this coun­try for a long time.

Mak­ing things worse, at a time when the na­tion des­per­ately needed a pres­i­dent to serve as uniter-in-chief, Pres­i­dent Trump chose in­stead to di­vide us.

His com­ment that blame must be shared by “many sides” touched off a firestorm that his staff tried to quell Sun­day with a state­ment – that did not carry the pres­i­dent’s im­pri­matur – con­demn­ing the ac­tions.

Un­der with­er­ing crit­i­cism, Trump re­lented Mon­day and con­demned many of the groups in­volved in the Char­lottesville protest by name, in­clud­ing the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white su­prem­a­cists as “crim­i­nals and thugs.” But it only took another 24 hours for himto re­verse course.

In a press gath­er­ing meant to stress his in­fra­struc­ture plan, the pres­i­dent, in the words of his own staff, “went rogue,” veer­ing off the script and lash­ing out at those who crit­i­cized his ini­tial re­ac­tion to the vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville.

Trump dou­bled down on his orig­i­nal be­lief that “both sides” shared blame. He went on to sug­gest that not ev­ery­one tak­ing part in the rally to protest the re­moval of a statue of Con­fed­er­ate leader Gen. Robert E. Lee was a Nazi or white su­prem­a­cist. He in­sisted there were peo­ple in­tent on vi­o­lence in both camps and also “you also had peo­ple that were very fine peo­ple, on both sides.”

He sug­gested the “alt-left,” as he re­ferred to the counter-pro­test­ers and an un­fair press who were lead­ing the charge to re­move sym­bols of the Con­fed­er­acy across the South, and won­der­ing if Wash­ing­ton or Jef­fer- son were next in line for sim­i­lar treat­ment.

There you have it, the gap­ing wound of racism in Amer­ica once again laid bare, this time with the com­man­der-in-chief pick­ing away the scab.

Trump no doubt is right when it comes to some blame ly­ing on both sides, and there be­ing good and bad el­e­ments of both.

But where he is dead wrong is try­ing to place those with hate drip­ping from their lips on equal foot­ing with those who ar­rived to counter their be­liefs.

This is not new ground for Trump. He has con­sis­tently rode this trou­bling el­e­ment of Amer­i­can so­ci­ety on his path to the White House.

It was ev­i­dent in his long as­so­ci­a­tion with the birther move­ment, ques­tion­ing the cit­i­zen­ship of the na­tion’s first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. He vowed to build a wall on the Mex­i­can bor­der. He flatly sug­gested a ban on Mus­lims en­ter­ing the coun­try. He ques­tioned the im­par­tial­ity of a Mex­i­can judge.

All of that was red­meat to his base, fu­el­ing feel­ings of re­sent­ment, of be­ing over­looked, passed by, ig­nored by the elites on the two coasts. Trump vowed to “drain the swamp.”

Now he ap­pears to be drown­ing in it, while the rest of the na­tion treads wa­ter in the bat­tle to deal with hate.

Even those you would think would be his clos­est al­lies, big busi­ness, this week bailed on the pres­i­dent, un­able to rec­on­cile his stance that lent cre­dence to hate, big­otry and an­tiSemitic bile.

More than 150 years after this na­tion went to war with it­self, shed­ding the blood of broth­ers over the is­sue of slav­ery, this na­tion is still deal­ing with the poi­son of big­otry.

Only now, em­bold­ened by the White House, it could not be more open. Make no mis­take, those tiki torches were an ugly re­minder of what this coun­try still has yet to ex­tin­guish.

Hate is very much alive. Big­otry has not gone away.

It con­tin­ues to eat away at so­ci­ety, ly­ing at the root of much of the dis­cord we deal with ev­ery day.

And the flames are be­ing fanned by a pres­i­dent who does not seem to un­der­stand that his words em­bolden and of­fer cre­dence to things that are the an­tithe­sis of what makes Amer­ica great.

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