When white supremacists took to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, killing at least one woman, the president said there “were good people on both sides.” I did not believe him then and I don’t believe his recent photo op of holding a Bible to demonstrate his understanding now.
One hopes that the leaders of our towns, cities, states and nation would be able to look at the peaceful demonstrations and separate them from the folks who choose to loot or rob during this time of immense grieving of the death of an American citizen at the hands of the police. This citizen was black and more likely to be the victim than I would be as a 70-year-old white woman, but I am a fool not to see myself in his place.
Once we added more military garb and weapons — I still do not fully understand why cops have tanks — we created a warrior class of cops in the minds of some cops.
Clearly many police are both competent and compassionate, but not all. And often the voice to reject the more warrior among them falls silent, as with the police officers who remained mute while a cop crushed the life out of an American citizen for over eight minutes.
Mr. Trump, who still cannot utter comforting words for the over 100,000 of us who have died of a virus, remains more ready to play soldier than to speak with compassion and understanding. He does not seek to bring major black leaders to a summit, does not call upon past presidents who may be able to help build a bridge.
This man who had convenient bone spurs and thus avoided his duty to be a soldier now wants to wrap himself in the aura of one who defies a foe. The trouble is, his battleground was where people were being entirely peaceful and respectful, exercising their right to assemble and protest actions of the government.
It was Attorney General Barr who, no doubt in league with the president’s desire to look like a “wartime president,” decided that, rather than have a dignitary address the crowd and ask them to move back so that the president could go to church, allowed pepper spray and horses and riot gear to reframe the narrative.
The president then walked to the front of a church not to pray but to hold up a Bible. He did not speak of reconciliation, of regret of the loss of life. He did not announce a meeting, an inquiry into these dark events. Rather, he held a Bible aloft for a photo op. This is not leadership by anyone’s definition.
He did not say that there were “good people” in pain and grieving. He did not say anything of substance at all — just as he has not said anything of substance about the 100,000 dead.
I suspect he does not think that taking heartfelt and meaningful action on these two fronts will look good. He cannot admit that there has been a terrible loss of life by the pandemic while he delayed meaningful action. He constantly rewrites his own history while the GOP, afraid of his bullying tweets, would rather have votes than virtue.
Trump does not speak of the death of an American citizen killed by a cop, while other cops did nothing. So he focuses on the few looters who deserve jail time but not our erasing of the many, many good people around the globe who ask, what is going on in America? I can’t breathe if anyone else can’t breathe — that is as true for the pandemic and respirators as it is for the brother knelt upon or the EMT shot in her own bed — or for me if the world puts me in the wrong place with the wrong police officer.
Dragging our military into this mess of leadership when they are not needed — to simply provoke and look like a war-time president — is distasteful at the least and a danger to our due process and right to peaceably assemble at the most.
This president does not display compassion, empathy or the desire to move the country forward in any meaningful way. And before you rail against that, let me say that it is not enough to have the Dow Jones Index soar if our constitutional rights are the cost of my stock dividend.
If my brother is not safe, neither am I. Serve and protect us — all of us.
Joyce Reehling lives in Pinehurst. She retired here from New York after a 33-year career in theater, TV and commercials.