The late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel stood up to Ronald Reagan when he visited the graves of murderous Nazi Waffen SS in Bitburg, Germany in May 1985. I paraphrase his comments, “Mr. President, this is not your place, your place is with the victims and with the brave American GIs who liberated Europe and the concentration camps.” President Trump needed to establish his place early on and unambiguously with the anti-fascist and anti-racist protesters even if he deplored them for their actions and relentless anti-Trump diatribes.
The choice in Charlottesville was clear and there was no moral equivalency. As Wiesel continued, “The issue here is not politics, but good and evil, and we must never confuse them.” You must stand against racism even if you believe their numbers are infinitesimal and that a majority of white Americans are decent people who overwhelmingly elected a black president twice. Even if the groups who organized the counter demonstration openly despise you and even if their agenda for America is diametrically opposed to your agenda.
As Jews we know from bitter experience that the Nazis were at first few in number, yet there were all of those silent “good folks” who looked the other way. They did not participate in the brutality but through their apathy, fear and indifference enabled the pedagogy of poison and institutionalization of racial hatred to become the accepted norm. Where were the leaders of society; the educators, the physicians, the philosophers, the workers, the clergy, etc.? Had they taken a stand, perhaps the ugliest chapter in human history might have ended differently. When we make our voices heard we truly stand united, in our humanity and in our isolation of the fanatical few who choose hate as their message. That is your place, Mr. President.