We can probably begin on July 19, 2015. With John McCain.
“He’s not a war hero,” Donald Trump said of him that day. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Americans rolled their eyes and smiled at the ignorance: what kind of fool was this running for president?
So yes, we can begin with John McCain, then add Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Jeff Sessions, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, the entire Republican Congress, and too many other party members to count. They share a commonality: they have all been insulted and abused by Donald Trump. He has, of course, crossed party lines for Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama, transcended party affiliation for James Comey and Khizr Khan, even traversed geographical borders for world leaders from Australia, Germany, and—by virtue of refusing to sign on to the Paris Climate Accord—every civilized nation in the world and its inhabitants.
Trump pulls no punches…except…never in his paroxysms of insults, affronts, and cowardly cheap shots has he found a discouraging word for Vladimir Putin, not even after the Russian leader forced the United States to cut its Russian diplomatic staff by 755. Imagine the tweet storm that would have spewed from his fingers had Angela Merkel done likewise.
But for Putin, silence.
And for Trump’s cadre of hatemongers, many of whom turned up in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday? The same.
Donald Trump refused to criticize the white supremacists and Ku Klux Klansmen who descended on that college town—refused to call them the bigots and racists that they are. Instead he made some tepid reference to the fact that there was “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” He cowered from specifically criticizing the white nationalist rally and its neo-Nazi slogans, many of whose participants donned their “Make America Great Hats” and screamed “Jews will not replace us.” I said last week that Trump’s supporters are not as bad as he is: after yesterday it’s apparent that many of them are. Others are worse.
Besides, Trump’s muted call for “swift restoration of law and order” and his plea for unity among Americans of “all races, creeds and colors” not only ring of nothing but platitudes, but directly contradict the advocacy of violence and force he promoted during his election campaign. Now the mob he built—the ones he implored to punch people in the face—has become empowered and emboldened enough to initiate white supremacist demonstrations. Yes, it’s 2017, but no student of history can possibly be surprised, not when we’re being led by a president who spurns the very past he wants to rebuild, who doesn’t read books, and who relies on Steve Bannon for his political and social viewpoints.
One prominent figure who has run afoul of Trump is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he of his own tarnished history when it comes to race. But Sessions at least issued a statement that sounded as though it might have been made by an American: “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.” Why couldn’t Trump say that?
Charlottesville’s mayor Mike Signer cut through the claptrap and laid the issue right at Trump’s doorstep: “I do hope,” Signer said, “that [Trump] looks [at] himself in the mirror and thinks very deeply about who he consorted with during his campaign.”
Today an Ohio man, James Alex Fields Jr. has been been arrested and charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failing to stop at the scene of a crash that resulted in the death of a 32-year-old counterprotester. Three dozen were injured, many seriously, and the death toll may rise. It appears that Mr. Fields was the driver of the car that plowed into the crowd, but that has not been proved. Mr. Fields is only twenty. It is frightening to think that such hatred could have festered in such a short span of years, and that this hatred could have so easily been converted into a total indifference to human life.
We don’t live within a cloak of secrecy. The rest of the world is watching, not only our allies but our enemies too. Our moral high ground continues to erode in the world community, and if today we notice ironic laughter in Russia and more sardonic taunts from North Korea, let’s remember how this all started: Two years ago a draft dodger insulted an American war hero and we looked the other way.