Once upon a time, there was a widely held—if never fully realized—belief that the country’s president ought to serve as a moral compass. If not that, at least, they ought to emphatically articulate and speak to the nation’s highest values. This is especially true in times of turmoil and tragedy.
On Monday—nearly two years after referring to white supremacists as “very fine people” following a deadly attack in Charlottesville, Virginia—Donald Trump read from a teleprompter a speech denouncing the very hate his first presidential campaign was built on.
It may have been intended to soothe hearts or allay fears, though it’s hard to imagine it resonating with anyone who has been paying attention to Trump’s policies, campaign speeches, and attacks on politicians of color as anything but a checklist.
Enter, Barack Obama.
Since leaving office in 2017, the former president has typically kept out of national politics, but he made an exception on Monday night, releasing a pointed statement on social media reminding Americans of their power to effect change.
“No other developed nation tolerates the levels of gun violence that we do,” Obama wrote, “We are not helpless here. And until all of us stand up and insist on holding public officials accountable for changing our gun laws, these tragedies will keep happening.”
Obama also called for Americans to reject racist, hateful rhetoric that has gone hand-in-hand with a wave of white supremacist terror attacks in recent years.
“We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments; leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people,” Obama stated.
“It has no place in our politics and our public life. And it’s time for the overwhelming majority of Americans of goodwill, of every race and faith and political party, to say as much - clearly and unequivocally.”
Trump, the living embodiment of a hit dog hollering, had a prepackaged rebuttal ready to go Tuesday morning—a series of quotes from a Fox and Friends discussion. I’d quote it here, but it seems fitting to leave just one space in this news cycle where nonsense doesn’t have the last word.