In “The American Crisis,” Thomas Paine wrote:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph.”
These are trying times for our country’s soul and Paine’s words describe the type of leadership that is needed — leadership I have never seen from President Trump and do not expect to see. When people shout “Jews will not replace us,” “I hope you get raped by a n – – – – –” and the Nazi slogan “blood and soil,” they are not, as the president said, “very fine people,” and the people who march with them, even non-violently and in silence, are not “very fine people,” either. They are, instead, people who carry the torch of centuries of lynching, church bombing, cross burning and other forms of domestic terrorism.
This is the same torch that was carried by those who built Confederate monuments — built, in many cases, at the height of lynching and Jim Crow — to attempt to intimidate African Americans and make us feel inferior. These statues must come down, both for that reason and because they pay tribute to traitors to our great nation. In response to the issues tragically underscored by the events in Charlottesville, the Congressional Black Caucus has committed itself to redoubling our efforts to root out racism in federal spaces and, most importantly, federal policy.
Shamefully, the president remains willfully uninformed about our nation’s history of racism and discrimination, and policies that continue to oppress marginalized people. This is especially true when it comes the black community.
His remark that “You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it’s safer than living in some of our inner cities” is offensive to the black community. His encouragement of police brutality, as recently as last month, makes the black community less safe. His Justice Department’s push to revive the failed war on drugs disproportionately hurts the black community, as does its recent hint that it plans to attack affirmative action. As The Post’s editorial board points out, Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is a fraud. I could go on. The administration’s policies are blatantly hostile to the interests of communities of color.
The CBC tried to educate the president about these concerns before, during and after our first and only meeting with him. We gave him a 125-page policy document that outlined these concerns and proposed solutions. But the administration has yet to respond to this document or to the follow-up letters we’ve sent.
President Trump says he wants to make this country great again, but doesn’t appear to recognize who made it great in the first place. Enslaved African Americans helped make this country great. As the country was literally being built on their backs, they began the centuries-long fight to abolish the institution of slavery, the worst form of white supremacy. Many other great Americans also helped make this country great by fighting white supremacy, people like Congressman and CBC member John Lewis — a civil rights hero who was beaten within an inch of his life on Bloody Sunday; our late colleague, Senator Daniel Inouye — who received the Medal of Honor for his service and sacrifice during World War II; Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and now Heather Heyer.
The president calls these Americans the “alt-left.”
As I write this, Black Lives Matter is helping to make this country great by standing up and speaking out against police brutality and inequality. The CBC stands with them because we are committed, like them, to making this country a more perfect union.
It is impossible for me to know what is in the president’s heart, but his statements and actions, especially those over the last several days, bring me to one of the following conclusions: Either he is comfortable accepting support from, somehow sympathizes with, or is afraid to stand up to and call out white supremacists. Any of these conclusions is beneath the elected office he holds and reflect the depths to which he has shrunk from leading our great country.
The president has shown us who he is again and again. I, for one, believe him. He has also definitively answered the question he posed to the black community at a campaign rally in Ohio, a year ago tomorrow: “What do you have to lose?” The black community has a lot to lose under this administration, and we have lost a lot, already.
Correction: The Thomas Paine quote referenced in this article is from the pamphlet, “The American Crisis,” not “Common Sense.”