- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2018


History is filled with unexpected and ironic twists. Ronald Reagan, when first elected, was derided by his detractors as a cowboy and war-monger. Those who sewed the seeds of fear were convinced he would take our nation to nuclear armageddon. But that same President Reagan instead would negotiate the first reduction in nuclear arms with the Soviet Union, essentially ending the Cold War.

President Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president, brought with his election lofty expectations of healing any racial divide in the United States. Sadly, just the opposite happened. Prior to Mr. Obama being elected in 2008, Gallup polling found that 51 percent of Americans were either satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the state of race relations in our country. By the time he vacated the White House in 2017, the same Gallup poll found only 22 percent of Americans were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with race relations in the United States.

Presidents defying expectations, for better or for worse, goes with the territory. Sometimes, like Mr. Reagan, they seize a moment in time through their actions and make an historical statement that affects hundreds of millions of people for years to come.

President Trump is currently faced with one of those moments of time. It has the potential to define his presidency in the most ironic of ways, but he must choose whether to seize it.

Mr. Trump ran one of the most unconventional campaigns in American history. He was rude and insulting to virtually anyone who opposed him. Primary challengers were labeled with unflattering nicknames, journalists were called liars and hacks and, though some Republicans feared the vaunted Clinton campaign machine, Mr. Trump relished the rough and tumble. 

Mr. Trump can be brash. He is frequently less than artful in his delivery of even the most well-meaning message. Toss in the fact that the majority of American media simply doesn’t like him and looks for any reason to pounce on his words and we have a serious problem. The media blames Mr. Trump for the lack of civility in American conversation, as though the talking heads on the cable news channels do nothing to fan the flames … or sometimes even ignite those flames themselves.

Even if one believes that Mr. Trump’s distinct New York attitude contributes to the lack of civility in public discourse, surely one can’t dismiss calls by a California congresswoman to attack Republicans everywhere, in restaurants or convenience stores, and tell them they aren’t welcome anywhere. Surely one can’t dismiss the calls by a New Jersey senator that if you disagree with Republican elected officials, you should “get in their face.” Surely one can’t dismiss the angry tirade by failed Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton saying that civility can only return when Democrats control Washington or when the former top cop of the United States, former Attorney General Eric Holder, urges his fellow Democrats, when dealing with members of the Republican Party, to kick them.

Add one more example now to the continually deteriorating level of discourse. Suspicious devices, feared to be explosive, were sent to Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mr. Holder and to Rep. Maxine Waters of California, among others. As despicable as their suggestions of violence were, they don’t deserve to be targets of violence themselves.

Thus, Mr. Trump is presented with a moment in history. The brash president has an opportunity to step up and create a legacy of civility through a clear, concise and forceful effort to unite all Americans, regardless of party affiliation, creed or color. He can reach into our history and look at the times when great men and women disagreed on an issue, yet respected not only each other’s right to do so, but respected each other. Period.

President Trump took a baby step in the right direction Wednesday. While speaking at a news conference intended to highlight the fight against opioids, Trump, calm and dignified, said we have to unify. He stated that we all need to have one very clear message, “Acts of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.” He pointed out this is a bipartisan message and that both sides agree on it. He repeated similar sentiments on Friday

Mr. Trump loves to say he isn’t a politician. The violent threat of domestic terrorism combined with the Saudi killing of a journalist in its Turkish consulate provides him a chance to permanently elevate his label to statesman. President George W. Bush famously said he was a “uniter, not a divider.” This moment in time calls for a true leader to unite us all, not on every issue, but to unite us as Americans. While reasonable people can disagree, reasonable people don’t call for attacks against opponents. Reasonable people surely don’t send explosives to those they disagree with. 

The ultimate irony of this presidency may be that Mr. Trump, long chastised for his brusk and abrasive manner, can seize this moment and forge a legacy of lasting civility in our nation.

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