Charlottesville: home of the University of Virginia, beloved of Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of our country, slave owner, and one of the intellectual and philosophical giants of his time.
Charlottesville: town in Virginia, home to Robert E. Lee, a great military leader and man of honor, who knowingly chose the path of traitor because he believed that the rights of states and the supremacy of the white race outweighed his solemn oath to protect and defend his country.
Charlottesville: the home of Albermarle County, of my friends Pam Moran and Ira Socol and all of the women and men of Albermarle County Schools who are working so hard to transform their schools into places where students become deeply engaged in their own learning, many of whom are swimming against the powerful tides of generational poverty and poor education.
Charlottesville: the moment in time when an American president proved, in his own words, by his own choices, that he is morally irredeemable as the leader of what we hope is still the greatest country on earth.
I write almost exclusively in this space about education, a topic which has no political affinity; we all have children and we almost all hope for better futures for them. But there are times when everyone must be counted, and in an era of social media we must be willing to be counted where we are seen.
I won’t try to repeat what others more eloquently spoke and wrote yesterday, from left-leaning media consultants to Tea Party-leaning Republican congresspeople, ranging from condemnation of the president’s excuses for violence and terror perpetrated by Nazis, Klansmen, and gun-toting White Supremacists, to tearful calls for his removal from office.
In their great wisdom, the crafters of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights may have made two mistakes;
- The first is with that most cherished principal, the right to freedom of speech and assembly. It should extend to nearly all people in nearly all cases. It should not extend, nor was it intended to protect, armed militia, of any faction, from gathering with the intent to cause violence. We must allow even those with whom we vehemently disagree to meet, gather, and give voice. We should not allow them to turn our towns into fields for the battles they dream about or their terrorist attacks.
- The second is that the remedies of failure of our democracy are too limited. Business leaders, parents, and educators agree that learning from failure is a powerful tool; we try, we fail, we learn, we iterate, and we move on. Unlike nearly every other country in the world, the Constitution makes “do-overs” very difficult. This provides stability of government; it also buttresses our mistakes.
Yesterday, the president did not commit a “high crime or misdemeanor” the allowable causes for impeachment. But with every other leader in our society, in business, the military, the church, in civil organizations, athletic teams, and clubs, there are other tests of leadership from which, when failed, we move on. We demand that our leaders show moral courage, attention to duty, that they lead in the best interests of all, not in the interests of themselves, their families, or a select few.
This president has clearly failed that standard. He has repeatedly, and now blatantly, failed as a moral leader. He stands alongside the names of other failures of the Great American Experiment of democracy: Richard Nixon, George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy.
Moral strength does not come from shouting that you are right; it comes from admitting when you are wrong, and then doing something about it. Today we don’t need liberals calling for impeachment of the president. Today we need moral conservatives, leaders of the Republican party, the true Party of Lincoln, to condemn not just what happened in Charlottesville or the words the president said, but the man himself, who has revealed his core nature, and in doing so, rendered himself unfit to lead a pluralistic, multi-cultural, free-thinking society. We need people who voted for Donald Trump in the hopes that he could bring the country together, to admit that he will never do that. Such an admission does not mean they would want to change their vote last November. It is merely what we teach our children: when you make a mistake, admit it, name it, and move on to a better solution.