Several years ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Maya Angelou in her kitchen. My favorite quote by her remains, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
For a moral person, it is not hard to condemn bigotry in any shape or form. Raised in a home where racism is condemned and not encouraged, one will not feel uneasy as an adult to condemn anyone promoting the KKK. Anyone with an appreciation of world history will never appear pained and regretful in calling out neo-Nazis. A person with integrity will condemn white supremacists at the top of his or her lungs.
President Trump, last week you had three occasions to disprove what I have always, frankly, felt: that you are a racist. Two years ago, you started dropping crumbs when you said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
You have repeatedly proven that you have the capacity to show righteous indignation. However, you are very selective in putting it on display. For example, you impressively disposed of your political opponents in the primaries with insults. Who can forget how you claimed that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father plotted with Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate JFK?
Hillary Clinton remains a favorite punching bag, despite the fact that you won the election. You have ridiculed your own attorney general, insulted immigrants seeking better lives in America, harassed Muslims around the world and tried to bully the former director of the FBI. You have even insulted congressional Republicans, despite slim majorities to pass your legislative agenda.
In a recent conversation with my mother about the events in Charlottesville, she said, “Looking at the television coverage brought back painful memories from the civil rights movement.” It pained me to hear my 81-year-old mother say that. It also disheartened me to hear another mother, Susan Bro, say after the tragic death of her daughter, Heather Heyer, “I’m not talking to the president now; I’m sorry. Not after what he said about my child.”
For the first time, you were called upon to calm and heal a nation in pain. Yet, unlike any other president in recent history, you failed this test miserably. Whereas, President Obama displayed dignity by leading the country in singing “Amazing Grace” in the aftermath of Charleston, you led a racist American choir in singing “Dixie.” You made no attempt at moral leadership whatsoever.
Regarding private or public expressions of racism and oppression, there is only one right side: that of the oppressed. There are no “very, very fine people” who are neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white nationalists. Perhaps had your father not discriminated against African-Americans who tried to rent his apartments in the seventies, you would have a better understanding of what constitutes racism and oppression.
It is time for you to govern for all Americans, and not only those in your political base. The real question is can you? Do you want to? Hell, does you even care? Do you, who expresses support for groups that call for the extermination of many, including your own daughter and son-in-law, even have a soul that can be saved?
I am an eternal optimist. As a child and well into adulthood, my father used to say, “Son, you only want to see the good in people. Not everyone is good or has your best interests at heart. I have no doubt that if given the chance, you would find something good to say about the devil himself.”
Mr. President, my father was right. I still only want to see the good in everyone. So I’ve got to be brutally honest with you: Right now, I am struggling to identify any semblance of goodness, decency or basic humanity in you. Your refusing to repudiate comments like those of David Duke, who stated, “You’d better look in the mirror and remember who put you where you are,” does not help.
Candidate Trump asked African-Americans, ” What the hell do you have to lose by supporting me?” Eight months into your presidency, my answer remains the same: every damn thing.
President Trump, you are offensive, insulting and hurtful to many, including me. Last spring, Pope Francis presented you with a set of writings by Martin Luther King Jr. Dust them off and begin reading his teaching. Then, do as Heather’s mother suggested: “Think before you speak.”
Dr. King also wanted to “Make America Great Again.” Not like you, though.
Cooper is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.