In June, I wrote a blog headlined “Hatred Destroys Everyone.” There had been a spate of hate crimes in the preceding couple of months targeting various minorities, none of which had been denounced by the President of the United States or any senior members of his administration.
I pointed out how the tone set from the top can lead entire nations into a dark place, using the example of Zia ul Haq, a military dictator from Pakistan with fundamentalist leanings. Zia’s decade-long rule in the 1980s left Pakistan with hateful elements of intolerance and draconian laws, ultimately leading to the founding of militant groups like the Taliban. The country and the region continue to suffer to this day from the effects of Zia’s actions.
Sadly, we are seeing unsettling trends today in the U.S., where extremist groups – KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists – are feeling empowered and encouraged by the words of President Trump, who equated them to those who opposed them in Charlottesville, Virginia. The president’s statement that there were “many fine people” among those who came to Charlottesville with torches and shouted bigoted and racist slogans has left most citizens of the country in disbelief. The fact that it took President Trump two days to denounce terror attacks on those who were demonstrating against these groups must have given much oxygen to the extremists. In fact, several leaders of the so-called alt-right tweeted messages of thanks to President Trump for his “courageous and fair comments.” And then, within a day of denouncing the far right extremist groups, the president was back giving equal blame to both sides.
Much has happened in the days since the violence in Charlottesville. The country today stands on the brink of more violence that threatens to spin out of control. This is a time when strong moral leadership is needed to keep the events from sliding down a slippery slope, from which retreat will be difficult. Sadly, the message from our leadership is not one of moral strength.
In fact, all anyone looking for evidence as to where our leader stands on hate needs to do is to look at the list of people with extremist hateful views who have been appointed to prominent roles in the White House. These are well documented in a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center summarizing the first “100 Days in Trump’s America.”
“We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans, that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace. We are strongest when we are unified and we work together for the common good.” This was a statement issued by President Trump in June, in the aftermath of the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia in which Republican congressman Steve Scalise was seriously wounded. The president’s unwillingness to follow through on that sentiment and to condemn violence from his supporters from the right makes these words ring hollow.
I fear our country stands at a precipice facing risks of the kind we haven’t seen in decades.
S. Qaisar Shareef concluded a career of nearly 30 years with Procter & Gamble Company in 2011. He is the author of When Tribesmen Came Calling: Building an Enduring American Business in Pakistan, published in August 2017 by Blue Ear Books. He lives outside Washington, D.C.