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The Consequence of Charlottesville
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The Consequence of Charlottesville

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

It is past time to call things as they are with President Trump. He can issue all the executive orders he wants and tweet all the early morning comments he wishes; Trump has no idea what it means to lead the United States. Trump may have been the successful head of a privately held real estate company but it has become more obvious by the day that he does not comprehend what it means not only how to make public policy, but how to provide moral leadership to a nation.  

What happened in Charlottesville on Saturday ought to have evoked an unequivocal, blunt outburst from the President, not a mealy-mouth condemnation of multi-faceted unrest emanating from many quarters.  Hatred, white supremacy, racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism must be called out directly by any American leader in the 21st Century.  Failing to do so disqualifies a person from holding public office.   

Whatever repair work the President will endeavor to perform today or what his spokespersons sought to do already on Sunday, the absence of moral leadership was exposed by the wishy-washy remarks he made on Saturday. Trump does not understand that words said or that fail to be said cannot be fixed. Political leadership means that you speak truth even to your supporters and you deal with the consequences.

The President does not need to look very far to see what character demands as he watches members of his own party disassociate themselves from his remarks and disconnect from him.  The real measure of the impact of the President’s conduct, however, was visible when Kenneth Frazier, the CEO and Chairman of Merck Co., resigned this morning from the President’s American Manufacturing Council. While not mentioning Trump by name his remarks reflected the type of leadership that a President should have exhibited. Frazier was not as blunt or dramatic as were Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s in resigning from two of the President’s advisory councils in June over U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, Frazier’s actions—if it is replicated–could well symbolize the dissolution of at least some of his deep Republican base. It may well signal to the GOP that unless it immediately disconnects from this type of national leadership, the spillover in their own 2018 elections could be dramatic.  

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