EDITORIAL: Leadership void on racism

York Dispatch
  • Business and military leaders strongly denounced the president's comments after Charlottesville.
  • But congressional Republicans have offered tepid responses, when forced to respond.
  • It's not enough to be against racism. Our country needs leaders who are actively anti-racist.

The nation’s business leaders have stood up to President Trump in the wake of his egregiously irresponsible comments following last weekend’s racial clashes in Charlottesviile, Virginia.

President Donald Trump gestures as he answers reporters questions in the lobby of Trump Tower, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 in New York. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Leaders of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have has also spoken out, issuing statements repudiating the racist groups behind last week’s violence.

But criticism from Republicans in Congress? Not so much.

More:In Charlottesville, echoes of York City, circa 2002

And that includes Pennsylvania’s contingent. While some have issued boilerplate denunciations of racism, none have stepped up to exert true leadership during a time of overt racism and dangerous unrest.

NPR contacted the offices of all 52 Republican senators overnight Wednesday to seek their perspectives on the president’s latest remarks and whether they are getting in the way of the GOP’s legislating agenda. Not one would agree to an interview.

It has gotten so bad that even Fox News’ Shepard Smith lamented that the network — not exactly hostile territory for Republican guests — could not find one Republican willing to defend the president’s comments on air.

No wonder. Trump was at his least informed and most vile on Tuesday when, during a press conference at Trump Tower, he reverted to blaming both sides for the deadly violence that grew out of white nationalist protests.

Trump argued that the “alt-left” — whoever they’re supposed to be — was just as much to blame for the violent clashes as the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and KKK members who brought their warped and discredited views to the streets of Charlottesville.

To link those who protest racism with those who espouse it is a false equivalency of monumentally ignorant — or willfully hurtful — proportions.

Yorkers react to Charlottesville violence

The public response has been near universal. Not surprisingly, Democratic lawmakers have not held their criticism in check, but support for the president elsewhere has been almost nonexistent. Other than a few fans like former KKK leader David Duke, Trump and his statements have been resoundingly rejected. Except in one quarter.

While a few lawmakers, like Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have criticized the president directly, most elected Republicans have done so only obliquely.

Take Pennsylvania’s Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. He issued a statement on his website and Twitter account following the Charlottesville events. Here it is, in its entirety:

“There is no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, bigots, and white supremacists, and those who oppose them. Our country has no room for corrupt ideology or violent acts.”

Which is fine as far as it goes. But that’s not very far.

Who was it that made that “moral equivalency,” senator? And why are you not demanding that person apologize, or at the very least retract the statement? 

That would be true leadership.

Ditto gubernatorial hopeful and current state Sen. Scott Wagner, who has had nothing to say in response to the explosive developments.

Contacted by a Dispatch reporter, the Spring Garden Township Republican said he believes in fairness and that there’s no room for hatred of any kind in American society. He also said he has issued similar statements in the past and anyone wondering where he stands on the issue can look them up.

So, post-Charlottesville, put Wagner down as anti-hatred. Not exactly a profile in courage.

Bottom line: Such sentiments simply do not meet the demands of the moment.

As more than one observer has noted in the wake of Charlottesville, it is no longer sufficient that a vast majority of Americans are not racist; they must be actively anti-racist. That requires calling out racist acts and those who commit or support them.

To do otherwise is to quietly acquiesce to intolerance, bigotry and hatred.

By failing to directly confront President Trump for mischaracterizing the events in Charlottesville — and, by extension, mishandling the issue of race — GOP lawmakers are similarly quietly acquiescing. Not to racism  — we do not accuse the president of that — but to comments and attitudes that can embolden racist acts.

Democratic criticisms are sloughed off by the president and his supporters as simply partisan attacks. If America is to confront and overcome the latest eruption from its undercurrent of racism, true Republican leadership will be needed.

So far, we’re not seeing it.