AT AN incendiary moment in this country, as racists, anti-Semites and white supremacists grow ever more emboldened, it shouldn’t be hard to draw lines — to identify hatred and denounce it as a threat to democracy and the republic.
It wasn’t hard for Kenneth C. Frazier, chief executive of Merck pharmaceuticals, who resigned from President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council on Monday after two days of presidential equivocation about the racist violence in Charlottesville. “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental views,” Mr. Frazier said. It wasn’t hard for Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, a Republican who set partisanship aside and called out Mr. Trump on Saturday for failing to blame white supremacists for the bloodshed in Virginia. “Mr. President,” he said in a tweet, “we must call evil by its name.”
It shouldn’t be difficult to stand up for tolerance and coexistence, but in fact it was too hard for many of Mr. Trump’s allies and apologists, who sought to excuse, soften, modify, justify and reinterpret his evasive initial statement about the events Saturday. Even national security adviser H.R. McMaster, widely respected as a straight-talking general, joined the ranks of Mr. Trump’s enablers. “The president has been very clear,” Mr. McMaster said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
No, Mr. McMaster, the president had not been very clear.
Thanks partly to Mr. Frazier, the avalanche of condemnation directed at Mr. Trump became overwhelming Monday. The president responded first with a dyspeptic rejoinder to the drug company CEO but then finally uttered the words of condemnation he should and could easily have pronounced on Saturday. After two days of equivocation, he said what a presidential president would have said at the outset — that racists and neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan are “repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But what punch do the right words pack when they are so obviously begrudging, belated and bestowed under the weight of overwhelming pressure? Will white supremacists such as Richard Spencer, who gleefully noted that Mr. Trump’s initial statement blamed the violence on “many sides,” while saying nothing about racists, really feel the sting of rebuke? Or will the apostles of intolerance be heartened anew, as they have been by Mr. Trump’s ascent over the course of two years?
If there is reason for hope at this dismal juncture, it is that Americans who stand on principle are recognized and extolled for having done so. By speaking truth to power, Mr. Frazier and others like him galvanized the national conversation and helped cauterize the wound inflicted by Charlottesville, at least for the moment. That, at least, should give Americans cause for pride.
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