In the wake of a fatal stabbing in Portland this past Friday, there has been a noticeable silence emanating from the White House’s orange occupant. Media outlets were quick to comment on it, and with those comments came calls for Donald Trump to say something about the attacks. Questions were raised – was the Trump White House refusing to comment because the attacker was a white supremacist? Was the silence somehow intended to reproach Portland for being part of “enemy territory,” a Democratic-leaning sanctuary city?
Dan Rather threw these accusations at Trump, amid other challenges such as the Huffington Post’s count of all the opportunities Trump had to address the brutal assault over the weekend. He would eventually comment on Monday, but not before his silence was mentioned by the Independent, by the founder of Moms Demand Action, and by many others. In view of so many people calling on Trump to speak regarding the Portland stabbings, I have one question. Not for Donald Trump, though – for everyone else?
Why are we looking to see what Donald Trump, self-aggrandizing bigot, has to say about the murder of these two people? Is it that we’re looking for an opportunity for a little more sport at his expense, as his every opportunity to not be one-note narcissist is squandered via unforced error? Surely we don’t want to inflict that on the families of the victims. We can do better than that.
It can’t simply be another checkpoint to ascertain whether, at long last, Donald Trump will consent to follow the basic playbook of political propriety. It was inevitable that he would comment at some point, and true to form it was three days late, a Tweeted banality. What would an earlier comment have served, though? Do we really want to see how he tries to capitalize on the murder of American citizens politically, or were we just looking to see how his administration would handle a narrative regarding a white supremacist committing a vicious attack? I can’t believe anyone was holding out for a surprise.
The simplest answer, of course, is that Americans are looking for moral leadership from the office of the President; for the highest office in the land to connect with citizens who have lost someone in their family, a friend, a member of their community. To connect, perhaps, with a city that has had the ugly experience of seeing a violent and hateful crime committed so publicly. Certainly America has looked to its President for humanity, for empathy, for reassurance and bolstering and the sober voice of authority standing resolute with people who have been injured in this fashion.
If that’s really the case, though, why are we asking this of Trump? The simple fact is that Trump has no moral authority to speak from; he has so devalued the office he occupies that it no longer speaks with a voice of compassion and understanding. To ask that Trump speak out about attacks committed in service to the ugly ideology whose fires he has knowingly stoked in the worst corners of the American psyche is to ask for dissembling platitudes, assembled by a speechwriter to be delivered by a man incapable of admitting fault or showing what he perceives as weakness. It is a request to see a loss of face and nothing more, for Trump has no confidence to offer, no reassurance to provide, and no empathy to share with the people he was elected to lead.
Instead, Trump spent the weekend tweeting about how terrible the media is, how great his trip to Europe was, and how pleased he was by the victory of a Republican candidate charged with assaulting a reporter. Who can say, honestly, that they want to hear the moral leadership of this man? Who wants to see the highest office in the land genuflect to propriety while thinking about gold, golf, and galas? Of what value will it be if Trump speaks out about this violent criminal in the vein so many others have been referred to, not as a representative of a terrorist ideology but as a disturbed individual unrelated to larger patterns?
We don’t want Trump to speak if he’s got nothing to say. We want him to listen, to listen to the families of these victims, to listen to the facts in the case, to listen to the pattern of destructive and violent activity that has arisen from white nationalist sentiments.