US President Donald Trump pauses during a statement at the White House.
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
SCRANTON, Pennsylvania – On Tuesday night, about an hour after President Donald Trump’s belligerent and misguided remarks in New York, I arrived at PNC Field in Moosic, Pennsylvania, to watch a minor league baseball game.
It was an AAA game, featuring the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders – the New York Yankees top affiliate – playing against the Gwinnett Braves, a feeder of the namesake from Atlanta.
We were a group of people who were identifiably Jewish, joined throughout the stadium by dozens of other observant Jews, families on vacation in the Poconos or campers from nearby Jewish summer camps. The men wore kippot, and many of the women head coverings. No one seemed to bat an eye.
That is because America has come a long way since the days when Jews and other minorities had to hide out of fear of being attacked on the streets of places like Scranton or Moosic.
Yes, as seen in Charlottesville on Saturday, there still are neo-Nazis and white supremacists throughout the United States. At the same time however, America has become more diverse, tolerant and accepting. It is a place where Jews can obtain unparalleled success, as demonstrated by the two Jewish men flanking Trump during his speech on Tuesday: Steven Mnuchin, secretary of the Treasury, and Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser.
While that success is admirable, there is a problem when the leader of this country, the president, has difficulty expressing basic moral clarity. That is exactly what Trump was missing when he retracted his earlier condemnation and instead blamed both sides for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville.
From the beginning, Trump had difficulty saying what needed to be said. His initial statement on Saturday was weak, and when he finally spoke up on Monday, he quickly proved that it wasn’t sincere by a series of tweets attacking the media for not accepting his new condemnation.
It doesn’t make a difference if Trump was simply playing politics by refusing to place blame on the supremacists and neo-Nazis to avoid offending some of his voters. His failure to rise above petty politics and demonstrate moral clarity is a stain on his presidency.
Being president does not make someone a leader. Leadership is attained through the actions of women and men who do what is right even if it is not always popular. Trump failed in one of the most basic and elementary tests.
As Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the ADL, said Tuesday night: “We have a history in this country of presidents standing up to bigotry and hate. Today, for the second time in four days, President Trump did the opposite.”
In the immediate future, Trump’s remarks embolden and empower neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Some of them have already thanked him for telling “the truth,” and giving them the justification for their corrupt lives of hate and racism.
In the longer term, what happened on Tuesday night is further erosion of America and its standing in the world. The US used to serve as a lighthouse and beacon of the values and morality the world needed to strive to emulate. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, that light is now fading.