"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." -- Edmund Burke, "Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents"
Edmund Burke's admonition in 1770 should be taken as a warning to us today. The president of the United States this week came to the defense of torch-carrying white-shirts, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members who marched last weekend on the campus of the University of Virginia. There were two white supremacist marches in Charlottesville -- one at a park on Saturday, which ended in the killing of one woman and the injury of 19 others, and one Friday night at UVA, the one the president referred to when he said at a Trump Tower news conference, "You take a look, the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee." The president babbled on at length, referring repeatedly to the "fine people" who marched on the UVA campus: "I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue."
No, Mr. President, there were hundreds of whites, overwhelmingly men, carrying torches, many giving the Nazi salute and screaming "Jews will not replace us" and "blood and soil," a Nazi slogan, among other hideous chants. Called on to bring moral clarity, the president created moral confusion.
We have come to expect Donald Trump to say things that are untruthful, ignorant, crude and, yes, racist. Those among his supporters who share his bigoted views -- and unfortunately, there are more of them than anyone wants to admit -- thrill to his statements. David Duke commended Trump after his news conference, tweeting, "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa." But most of Trump's supporters took another route: They looked away or tried to recast Trump's words and obvious passion.
These Trump apologists will fall, along with him, in Burke's words, "an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." Those within the administration and White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures and governor's offices need to rebuke the president's words in clear language. Silence is not an option -- and those who choose to pretend Trump didn't say what he did or mean what he said when he spoke off-prompter are complicit in the president's disgrace. A few congressional Republicans (about 20 so far) have denounced the president explicitly, among them Sens. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Cory Gardner, John McCain, Thom Tillis and Jeff Flake and Reps. Will Hurd, Jerry Moran, James Lankford, Paul Mitchell and, notably, Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader. But the silence among his staff and Cabinet has been deafening.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao stood at Trump's side at Trump Tower, awkwardly smiling while Trump uttered his vile nonsense, and has said nary a word since. Chao, who was born in Taiwan and came to America as a child, knows exactly what it is like to face ugly prejudice. The white-shirts Trump defended would send her packing -- not just from Trump's Cabinet but from the country -- if they had their way. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, who is Jewish, also stood silently by Trump's side as the president said there were "some very fine people" among the neo-Nazis, with their torches and sieg-heils, on the UVA campus. They should have walked away. They should have had the courage to tell the president and the world that his words were despicable. By remaining silent, they have chosen not to associate with the good but to give aid and comfort to the bad.
This should not be a difficult choice. There are no gray areas when it comes to white supremacy. There are no "fine people" among those who march to intimidate blacks, immigrants and gays. When the president of the United States pretends otherwise, he is unfit to lead. And those who choose to stand with him have struck a bargain with evil.