How do you respond to a president who cannot distinguish between neo-Nazis and those who oppose them? What do you do with a president for whom members of the Ku Klux Klan and those they persecute are moral equals?
And whoever thought such questions would ever need to be asked?
It’s not just President Trump’s natural opponents who are shocked. Republicans – men and women from the party of Lincoln – are also speaking out, as they should. Here’s how some of them have responded, often on social media, since Trump went wobbly Tuesday on his previous day’s condemnation of white supremacists:
• Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”
• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms.”
• Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush: “America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.”
• Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.: “We cannot accept excuses for white supremacy and acts of domestic terrorism. We must condemn them. Period.”
• Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: “There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry. The President of the United States should say so.”
• Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind.: “This is simple: we must condemn and marginalize white supremacist groups, not encourage and embolden them.”
• Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.: “Blaming ‘both sides’ for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.”
• Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio: Trump “needs to make it clear. I mean, he’s got to fix this and Republicans have to speak out, plain and simple. Who cares what party you’re in?”
Who liked Trump’s comments? Former Klan grand wizard David Duke did. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” he said, referring to protesters from Black Lives Matter and a leftist anti-fascist group.
But, perhaps the most powerful comment came on Sunday from Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, whose family paid a heavy price for the sin of Naziism: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
Yet the president of the United States can’t bring himself to shout a consistent, full-throated condemnation of people who align themselves with the single greatest evil of the 20th century. How is that possible?
It’s a mournful day.