It didn’t take Charlottesville to confirm that President Donald J. Trump is a hollow man. But it did take Charlottesville to provide a tipping point for the Republican Party to find its distance from this egomaniac who hijacked the GOP to get to the White House.
There is widespread consensus, including forcefully from conservatives, that the president failed to lead the nation in the manner presidents must at a critical moment. Worse yet, it is naïve to deny the ugly subtext of appeasement to white supremacists conveyed by his “many sides” equivocations.
For many Republicans, their reflex, unlike the president, was one of moral clarity. House Speaker Paul Ryan condemned without delay the white supremacy on display in Charlottesville as “repugnant” and said the event should “unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry.”
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who runs the GOP Senate campaign committee, reprimanded Trump: “Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These are white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.”
Even Trump’s hand-picked chairperson of the Republican National Committee, Ronna Romney McDaniel, got it right, tweeting: “The hate & bigotry on display in #charlottesville is dangerous & cowardly. Free speech may give them the right to do this but also empowers us to unite to loudly speak out against it.”
Speaking out also requires a commitment. Part of that commitment should be to expose appeasers and enablers. Young men in Charlottesville marched unmasked because they felt emboldened. Trump has a role in this appeasement, in part by employing prominent White House aides who promote nationalist policies rooted in supremacist ideology.
But let us not ignore other appeasers among us. Republicans who are Christian should take stock of who their leaders are.
So-called evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. draped the mantle of conservative Christianity around Trump during the campaign. Graham said he believed “God’s hand was in” Trump’s election victory. Falwell likened Trump to King David and called him a “bold leader.” Neither man led after Saturday’s events.
Graham was more critical of Charlottesville officials for wanting to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee than he was of the Nazis protesting its removal. Falwell, president of a university one hour from the violence, has been publicly silent.
By contrast, dozens of prominent conservative pastors released magnificent statements that left no doubt that white supremacy is antithetical to the gospel of Christ and must be confronted and defeated.
“It’s necessary to condemn it so that we do not become complicit in it,” pastor and author John Pavlovitz said.
Pavovlitz nails the 21st-century manifestation of the 20th-century plea of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” While incarcerated in Alabama in 1963, King wrote to eight well-meaning, albeit cautious, religious leaders who had urged King to restrain his movement for equality and justice. In what many consider one of America’s greatest modern documents, King defends the notion that justice can’t wait for the right time:
There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
Christians within the Republican Party, you have been given an incredible moment to become “thermostats” to transform. Rage against this deadly evil and hold leaders to account when they don’t. Silence is complicity. Show the country the way. Trump may have had your vote, but let him and his acolytes know they’re failing to represent you. In fact, they are offending your beliefs.
Rob Stutzman is a Sacramento-based GOP public affairs consultant, firstname.lastname@example.org