It was nice to hear Donald Trump finally condemn white-supremacist violence. His Monday White House remarks, of course, made it sound like “racism, bigotry, and white supremacy” were impulses foreign to his own MAGA community, when we know they are not. And he managed to call for action in response to the shootings without, somehow, mentioning America’s entirely exceptional gun laws, which make the purchase and deployment of military-style weaponry easy even for people Trump calls crazy. Trump sounded almost like he was speaking at gunpoint. In sum, it was not a morally or psychologically satisfying event — not that anyone, even Trump fans, expects from him a cathartic response to violence against innocent people, the ultimate losers.
So it was good to see Trump’s predecessor offer the words we expected from a president:
As The Atlantic’s David Graham notes, it was what the country needed to hear at a moment of shock and horror:
There is the sense of consolation that seemed to come naturally to him— in any case, he got horrifically frequent practice at striking this tone during his eight years in office. There’s moral clarity, identifying the problem as “troubled individuals who embrace racist ideologies and see themselves obligated to act violently to preserve white supremacy,” and (in contrast to Trump) situating the internet’s role not as a cause but as a catalyst. And there is the call to unity that has been his central political theme since 2004: “But just as important, all of us have to send a clarion call and behave with the values of tolerance and diversity that should be the hallmark of our democracy.”
Trump clearly wants to get beyond this moment quickly, and is counting the days before he can return to his chosen reelection-campaign theme of sealing off the borders against the Latino “invasion” and stoking the outrage of his white voter base against swarthy ingrates who don’t love America as much as its traditional and rightful owners. Obama doesn’t really need this moment in the spotlight, and, as Graham says, he is actually helping Trump by delivering the necessary words his successor is uniquely ill equipped to utter:
It’s been a tough week for the Obama legacy. At last week’s Democratic debate, many of the candidates for the presidential nomination were critical of actions his administration took. Yet he remains immensely popular, not only with Democrats but with the population as a whole …
There’s no figure in American politics who has as much credibility and popularity to act as a counterweight to Trump as Obama. But he’s still unsure what to do with that power — except, as he did today, to just do the job for him.
I don’t know if Barack Obama will eventually rival Jimmy Carter as the country’s best ex-president; I only hope he doesn’t have to keep making up for his successors’ shortcomings.