Great leaders can deescalate intense situations and persuade people to abandon fear and hate in favor of love and mutual respect. Unfortunately, people in power can also use their bully pulpit to make tragic situations even worse. It has been a long week since George Floyd’s brutal murder by police, and we are still seeing painfully too much of the latter.
The President of the United States is in a unique position to steer the nation toward healing and loving. On January 20, 2017, we said goodbye to a Commander-in-Chief and watched a Hater-in-Chief and his playpen occupy the White House. Even as Donald Trump began his reign by gaslighting America about his inauguration’s crowd size, his supporters wagged their fingers and urged everyone to “give him a chance.”
Whether we wanted to or not, we gave Trump a chance. Sunday night, for instance, Trump had a chance to protect and uplift the nation he swore an oath to protect. Instead, he hid in an underground bunker. Rioting continued, people got injured, and property burned, yet Trump’s attention appeared to be focused on the sudden reappearance of his bone spurs.
Last night, Trump tried a different tactic. Reportedly vexed by press coverage of his withdrawal, Trump arranged for tear gas and flash grenades to be fired at peaceful protestors just so he could parade from the White House to St. John’s, known as “the Church of the Presidents.” The purpose of this trip was not to pray, deliver a unifying speech, or even step inside the house of worship, but simply to hold a Bible as a prop and pose for the cameras.
Shortly after this stunt, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore decided to cite 70 people arrested for looting as somehow complicit in Floyd’s murder. Evoking dark memories of Trump’s infamous “on both sides” comment about Charlottesville, Moore claimed: “His death is on their hands, as much as it is those officers.” Appearing to acknowledge the inflammatory nature of his words and take full ownership of them, he added, “And that is a strong statement.”
Moore soon found himself trying to walk back his shameless comments — only after a video of his speech went viral and triggered calls for his firing. Moore’s attempt at an apology only made things worse, as he still appeared unwilling to let go of his position: “I regret the remarks of that characterization, but I don’t regret, nor will I apologize to those out there creating destruction. His memory deserves better.”
Great leadership confidently takes the reins after a tragedy and steers people to a better place. When the President of the United States is a spineless Hater-in-Chief, we can only expect him to inflict further damage while inspiring the Michel Moores of the country to add their own insulting words to the stew. Until America gets a Commander-in-Chief again, we must heal and progress not because of, but in spite of, this abysmal lack of leadership.