LAST week, a weary, divided nation finally received words of moral guidance. They did not come from President Trump.
The president spent the better part of the week feuding with the NFL after spinning himself into fury over the decisions of certain football players to protest police violence against African Americans. He manufactured an occasion for demagoguery out of a complicated debate over race and criminal justice, deeming any protesting player a “son of a b----” and demanding that citizens cease to engage in protests he dislikes.
At about the same time, the superintendent of the Air Force Academy was forcefully rebuking intolerance after black students found racial slurs written outside their doors. Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria’s speech was a welcome reminder of what leadership can look like — all the more necessary and welcome because of the absence of leadership at the highest levels of government. Contrast Mr. Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists following the violence in Charlottesville with the general’s plain-spoken insistence that racism is unacceptable and that we must treat one another with dignity and respect.
The week also saw Chuck Rosenberg step down from his post as acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration after becoming convinced of Mr. Trump’s lack of respect for the rule of law.
Mr. Rosenberg, who had headed the DEA in a temporary capacity since 2015, criticized Mr. Trump this summer after the president encouraged police officers not to be “too nice” to suspects taken into custody. While the White House later said Mr. Trump had been joking, his remarks still displayed a disturbing disregard for the legal protections on which a constitutional democracy depends — especially amid conversations over mistreatment of African Americans by police. Mr. Rosenberg responded with a letter to DEA staff emphasizing the importance of integrity, respect and compassion in the conduct of law enforcement.
His letter was important not as a rebuke to the president but as a model of leadership and courage in reaffirming democratic values. As Mr. Rosenberg explained to his staff, “We have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong.”
“We fix stuff,” Mr. Rosenberg wrote to his agency following the president’s remarks on police brutality. “At least, we try.” He was writing about law enforcement, but the same should be true for government writ large.