Did anyone expect President Donald J. Trump to wax eloquent and consoling with regard to Charlottesville? Did we really think he would condemn the torch-bearing white supremacists who assembled there? Do a majority of Americans count on Trump to provide wisdom, guidance and inspiration in times of trouble?
No. No. And no.
Handed an opportunity to shock us with a display of principled leadership, Trump on Saturday could have distanced himself from the alt-right and white nationalists he empowered with his “Make America Great Again” campaign. But he did not come close to that. He never uttered any of the descriptors we use for people who carry Confederate flags and chant, “Jews will not replace us.”
Instead, he blamed “many sides” for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville.
“Many sides” presents a false equivalence, putting neo-Nazis on the same footing as those who stand against them.
Trump, a quick-trigger when it comes to assigning blame — radical Islamic terrorists, “bad hombres,” “crooked Hillary,” Mitch McConnell — just could not bring himself to condemn the racists who marched on Charlottesville. He did not name names, as he usually does. He did not call out David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard. He did not call out alt-right leader Richard Spencer.
Even before the violence, the president of the United States had a chance to serve his nation well. Friday night’s torch parade of young white supremacists — as disturbing a tableau as we’ve seen on the American continent in recent years — begged a response.
Again, a condemnation of the assemblage would have been shocking to a lot of us. But it might have neutralized some of Trump’s critics.
Instead, he offered a banal tweet about being united against hate and violence.
“Let’s come together as one!” Trump tweeted, and, given the snark and personal attacks we usually see in Trump’s tweets, could those words have been any more hollow?
So I go back to my premise: What did we expect? Donald J. Trump is capable of many things — bragging about his business acumen and the size of his rally crowds, blasting the media, blaming others for the failings of his presidency — but he is never going to unite the country, he is never going to console us. He’s been a divider, not a healer, giving comfort, even inspiration, to the nation’s bigots.
It is just one of many ways Trump will never measure up to the standards set by his predecessor, the African-American man whose birth as a U.S. citizen Trump infamously questioned for several years.
Former President Barack Obama many times stepped in front of television cameras to talk the nation through tough times, most of them stemming from gun violence -- the massacre of children and teachers at Newtown; the shooting of Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman; the slayings of Dallas police officers; the death of Trayvon Martin.
And Obama had cred as consoler-in-chief because of what was in his bones and what was in his heart. He was, and is, a decent, thoughtful man.
Saturday night, Obama’s offering on Charlottesville was a three-part tweet quoting Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. . . . People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. . . . For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Had he still been president, would Obama have condemned the racists who marched on Charlottesville? I think he would have, and he probably would have done so with a forgiving grace the neo-Nazis who hate him do not deserve.
Trump, on the other hand, just does not have what it takes to move the nation to a higher level of civic virtue, unity and respect. He never offered to be such a man during his campaign, and we should not expect that now. He is what he is, nothing more.