Late on Wednesday afternoon, former President Barack Obama addressed America during a live town hall on policing and racism. It was welcomed, eloquent and ultimately hopeful speech. Turning directly to young men and women of color, Obama said he wanted them to know that their lives mattered, and their dreams mattered.
He also appealed to their potential. "I hope that you also feel hopeful, even as you may feel angry," Obama said. "Because you have the power to make things better and you have helped to make the whole country feel like this is something that's got to change."
When Americans cities are still smoldering from civil unrest, over 100,000 people have died from COVID-19 and 40 million people are unemployed, we need strong leadership like this. In this national moment of crisis, we need inspiration like this. We need compassion, and most of all, we need someone to unite the country.
What we do not need, clearly, are any more words from our actual president, Donald Trump. Indeed, every time Trump opens his mouth, he creates division and ill will through lies, exaggerations and inflammatory misinformation. Trump's attempt at an inspiring photo op Monday led to actual violence as armed police forcibly cleared space for his arrival, firing chemical gas and smashing journalists and protesters alike with riot shields.
Americans do not want to hear from a president they have lost faith in. According to a recent CBS News poll, Trump has a better approval rating for his handling of the coronavirus — 45 percent very good or somewhat good — than for his handling of the protests in Minneapolis — 32 percent strongly approve or somewhat approve.
Frankly, Trump has failed us over and over again. The country can no longer afford to hear empty words followed by hateful tweets. "If you watch Fake News @CNN or MSDNC, you would think that the killers, terrorists, arsonists, anarchists, thugs, hoodlums, looters, ANTIFA & others, would be the nicest, kindest most wonderful people in the Whole Wide World," he tweeted Wednesday.
Because Trump is quite predictable, we know whom he really means when he says "thugs" and "hoodlums." And we know it's coded racial language.
Because Trump is quite predictable, we know whom he really means when he says "thugs" and "hoodlums."
We know this because not seven months into office, on Aug. 15, 2017, Trump said some of the people at a white supremacist rally were "very fine people. " We know this because, on Jan. 11, 2018, he said, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" when talking about immigrants from Haiti and African nations.
And as much as I disagree with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Ohio, on policy, I was disgusted by Trump's bigoted tweet on July 14, 2019: "Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done."
Under no circumstance can a man who spews such bile be the leader our country needs right now. But unfortunately, there seem to be few other options in his White House. This administration appears incapable of sending any other type of message with any other messenger. His surrogates are out on cable news telling America that we are being overrun by criminals and antifa. His sycophantic Republican senators are writing editorials calling on the military to violently suppress a "revolt." And apparently it was Hope Hicks, his former communications director and a longtime Trump loyalist, who came up with the plan to walk to St. John's Episcopal Church — a plan that resulted in one of the lower points of this presidency.
Just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush gave his "Islam is Peace" speech. It was brief but powerful. In part, he said:
"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war.
When we think of Islam, we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that's made brothers and sisters out of every race, out of every race."
And of course, it is almost impossible to forget the 2015 eulogy Obama delivered at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was gunned down by a racist terrorist during Bible study. His words inspired America's soul, and his singing of "Amazing Grace" — a sincere outpouring of grief — touched our hearts.
This is a time that our country needs to be unified and promised justice. We need to be inspired and encouraged to be better. As protesters called for an end to police violence in our nation's capital Friday night, Trump did not attempt to listen to them. Instead, he hunkered down in his bunker.
And then, late on Sunday night, as protests continued, the lights of the White House literally went out. It was a fitting metaphor for where we find ourselves today. We do not want a president who cowers in his basement. But in this case, the alternative seems to be worse.