The American presidency, Franklin Roosevelt once said, is "preeminently a place of moral leadership." It helps explain why Donald Trump is failing so spectacularly: the current occupant of the Oval Office has no real interest in providing moral leadership, or even learning how.
The president was already scheduled to speak on Saturday afternoon -- his remarks were supposed to focus on veterans' issues -- and interest in his remarks grew in the wake of the deadly violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia. This was a unique opportunity for Trump to speak out clearly and forcefully against a societal scourge.
But instead of being the president America needed, Donald Trump was Donald Trump
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence -- on many sides, on many sides."
After referencing low unemployment and other economic developments he's eager to take credit for, the president added, "We must love each other, respect each other, and cherish our history." Trump then transitioned back to his original remarks, explaining how pleased he with a new law that makes it easier for him to fire people who work at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The president made no specific reference to the white supremacists responsible for Saturday's violence. Trump, preferring to remain maddeningly vague, could've condemned neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and terrorists -- when someone deliberately uses a car as a weapon, driving into a crowd, no other word is appropriate -- but he chose not to.
Instead, Trump turned his attention to hatred, bigotry, and violence "on many sides," as if white supremacists and their opponents are equally culpable for the unrest in Charlottesville.
In the face of bipartisan rebukes, the White House eventually condemned white supremacists in a written statement, but it was not only too late, it was also attributed to an unnamed White House official -- not the president. The attempt at damage control did little to stem the tide of public revulsion. On the contrary, phrases such as "cherish our history" were seen as possible dog-whistle comments, intended to pander to the same people he should've been denouncing.
Faced with yet another test of presidential leadership, Trump flunked -- again.