While our hearts go out to those killed and injured amidst violent conflicts between white supremacist and neo-Nazi demonstrators and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, one thing is clear: bigotry and racial hatred were the primary causes of the casualties. That fact must be firmly and clearly stated, and roundly condemned by our leaders. 

Of course, there is plenty of blame to go around. Protesters and counter-protesters alike were responsible for outbreaks of fighting and violence that presaged the tragedy that we sadly witnessed, in which a man drove a car into a crowd of people, killed one woman and wounded several others. What is known thus far about the perpetrator, judging by published excerpts from his social media postings and photographs of him at the Charlottesville march, is that he appears to have strong political leanings. And what’s more, the man has a name: James Alex Fields.

The sentiments that presumably drove Fields to commit such a horrific crime also have names: bigotry, racial animosity, white supremacy, and possible neo-Nazism. We must be clear about naming the evils in our midst, calling them out and banishing them by name, lest they, through want of identification, embed themselves unconsciously into our own souls. When the spirit of evil – one that we all as humans struggle with – becomes so strong that it finally spills out of our souls and into the streets, things have reached critically dangerous point of development. Our response must be to immediately name it and shame it; we should not let it just slither away under the obscuring shade of moral equivalence.

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While the president and other leaders of the Republican party were quick to condemn the violence on "many sides," that was not enough. While there is certainly more room for tolerance and humanity on both sides of the argument over the removal of Confederate symbols, that is a subject for another discussion. As it pertains to the events in Charlottesville, clearly it was the sentiment of racial hatred and bigotry that struck the fatal blow. Our leaders, including especially the president of the United States, absolutely must call out this evil by its name, clearly and loudly. There should be no room for doubt about the fact that we roundly abhor these sentiments in our midst, and unambiguously repudiate the violent and evil acts that arise from them.

 

Beyond the existential threat posed by North Korea, and beyond the national security implications of possible Russian interference with the U.S. political process, this American tragedy was the first real test of leadership for President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE. By refusing to name the culprit, the president has thus far failed to exhibit the leadership we need and have come to expect from our national leaders.

I do not say this lightly, nor do I believe Trump personally shares the sentiments of racism and bigotry we saw displayed in such ugly fashion in Charlottesville. In fact, having spent significant time with candidate Trump touring the inner cities in Michigan during the presidential campaign, I got to know him and clearly understood that he deeply cares about all people regardless of race, color or creed. It is fine to know that one’s own heart is pure, but when you are a leader of the multitude, others need to clearly know that you repudiate racism and bigotry in all its forms. By failing to forcefully and unambiguously call out the evils of racism and bigotry, the president may have unwittingly emboldened those, such as David Duke, who took his lack of forceful condemnation as tacit approval of their bigoted views and despicable acts.

The political reality is that large numbers of disaffected Americans rallied behind Donald Trump because they believed he could rescue them from political and economic decline and its resulting social problems. President Trump, whether he realizes it or not, is not only the nation’s leader, but also the voice of the voiceless. In addition to addressing the nation as a whole, and offering condolences to the families of those killed and injured, Trump needed to assuage the rising racial tension that seems to be prevalent in America. If one didn’t know any better, one might suspect that his tepid admonition of the Charlottesville antagonist may be have been the result of political ambivalence. He knows in his heart what the moral failing was in this case, but may fear that specifically singling out racism as the culprit could negatively affect his standing among millions of Americans who voted for him.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Americans expect better of their leaders than they do of themselves.

By marching in protest and openly exercising their constitutional rights to voice their displeasure and indignation over the removal of Confederate statues, the demonstrators were seeking affirmation. They did not come under the cover of night, covered with hoods and nooses, as had been done in America’s dark past. They set forth by day and made themselves known to their friends and neighbors, to their employers and colleagues, as well as the public at large. The president could have and should have acknowledged their pain and frustration, while specifically condemning the sentiments of racism and bigotry that drove one among them to cross the legal line and commit horrible acts of violence and murder against his fellow countrymen.

This is not a tall ask of a man who would lead the mightiest nation on earth and seek to restore it to its former glory. This moment in history demands and requires that our leaders not take cover amidst the comforting embrace of friendly crowds, but rise above them when necessary to provide right guidance and moral clarity on issues critical to our nation’s progress. This is certainly no time for moral midgetry.

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) served as an adviser and spokesman for Dr. Ben Carson's 2016 presidential campaign. He is manager and sole owner of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the year. He's on Sirius XM126 Urban View nightly from 6:00-8:00pm EST.


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