Six days after the terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush did something no American president had ever done before. He visited a mosque.
Less than a week after 19 terrorists who were Muslim attacked the U.S., Bush stood with leaders of the Islamic Center of Washington. He spoke to a crowd gathered for the occasion. He quoted from the Quran. He said, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”
At a time when people were afraid and enraged, when people were wounded and turning toward harassing Muslim Americans, when this country could have collapsed into warmongering and violence, the president led us to a place of civil peace. He modeled respect, and America followed.
In 2016, five days after a peaceful protest against police brutality in downtown Dallas ended with a gunman killing five police officers, President Barack Obama paid the city a visit. Along with Bush, Obama spoke at an interfaith memorial service for the officers at the Morton H. Meyerson Center. He quoted the Bible. He called the fallen officers by name and described each one and his family.
And then he told Americans that police officers deserve our respect and the black communities that feel targeted deserve our attention. He told us he understands the feeling that the country is coming apart.
Then he said: “Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem. And I know that because I know America.”
On Monday, seven days after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, prompting days of protests and police crackdowns nationwide, President Donald Trump visited St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Police used tear gas to sweep demonstrators away from the church, which had been damaged by prior protests. The president posed for a photo with a Bible. He did not enter the church. He did not give a speech or offer a prayer. He understands the optics of commanding a spotlight, but he opts not to lead toward greater understanding.
America is on a knife’s edge, at risk of toppling into violence that can cause lasting damage and deeply divide communities. And yet, what the president offers is division. When we’ve peered into this abyss in the past, our presidents have pulled us back and reminded us of who we are. They’ve reminded us who we should strive to become.
The moment now cries out for such leadership, which is why Gov. Greg Abbott said this week Texas doesn’t need federal troops, it needs the opportunity to come together. We believe this country wants to turn toward core values of liberty and equality, but what’s needed now is leadership on the national scale.
— The Dallas Morning News