President Bill Clinton went to Oklahoma City after a terrorist bombed the federal office building there in 1995. President George W. Bush lifted a bullhorn at the ruins of the World Trade Center on Sept. 14, 2001. President Barack Obama sang “Amazing Grace” in Charleston, S.C., at a funeral there for a victim of the 2015 shooting spree in a black church.
President Donald Trump can’t go to Charlottesville, Va.
Trump is incapable of performing what has been an important role for presidents: healer-in-chief. Presidential visits to the sites of tragedies have provided temporary catharsis for a grieving nation irrespective of party. In Oklahoma City and Charleston, Democratic presidents led the grieving in red states. New York, where Republican Bush helped start the healing process, is blue.
By sowing bigotry, pitting groups against one another and showing no interest in courting the majority of voters who cast ballots for other candidates last November, Trump is being shunned across the U.S. and the world. The places and people with whom he has worn out his welcome include:
College campuses, minority venues and many big cities. He’s scheduled a political rally for Tuesday in Phoenix even though the mayor asked him to stay away.
U.S.-friendly foreign countries. There was an uproar in the British Parliament over the possibility of a Trump official visit this year, as prominent politicians, including the mayor of London, expressed opposition. Canadians have complained about Trump’s participation next year in a Group of Seven summit meeting in Quebec, and expressed relief that it’ll be held in a small, out-of-the-way town.
Executive suites. Business leaders, usually eager to court favor with a national administration, pulled out of White House advisory councils after Trump blamed “many sides” for deadly violence provoked by a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. Trump was forced to disband two business councils.
Sports champs. Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors’ star, said that because of Trump, he wouldn’t go to any White House ceremony honoring his team’s National Basketball Association title. The coach of the University of North Carolina men’s college basketball champions has been conspicuously unenthusiastic about the prospect of a Washington trip to be feted by the president.
Arts venues. The White House announced over the weekend that Trump will stay away from the annual Kennedy Center ceremony in December honoring top American artists, now in its 40th year. Only four times in that period have presidents missed the event, in each case citing pressing global business. Trump’s excuse was that he wanted to allow the “artists to celebrate without any political distraction” after several honorees said they wouldn’t attend the related White House reception because of his comments on white nationalists and Charlottesville. The Kennedy Center event is typically bipartisan. The liberal activists Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand were honored when George W. Bush was president. (At the reception, Bush gave Streisand, a harsh critic, a kiss on the cheek; afterwards she said he was “charming.”) The National Rifle Association’s president, the right-wing ex-actor Charlton Heston, was honored when Bill Clinton was president, as was the left-wing playwright Arthur Miller when the chief executive was Ronald Reagan, who loved these evenings.
As the Virginia aftermath continues to rage, Trump defenders insist that the president harbors no racial prejudices. But this is the man who led the so-called birther movement, the preposterous claim that Obama, the first African-American president, wasn’t born in the U.S.; who insulted a judge as unfit because his parents were from Mexico; and who has leveled numerous, often false, charges against Muslims.
That’s his record, so it doesn’t matter what’s in his heart. Veterans of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department in the early 1960s drew a distinction between two segregationist governors of the time; Ross Barnett of Mississippi, a true believer in racial separation and white superiority, and Alabama’s George Wallace, an opportunist.
But their real feelings made little difference; both perpetuated evil.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.