Editorial: America is crying out for real leadership

There are compounding crises facing Americans today, and perhaps the greatest among them is a profound lack of leadership.

As Kenosha burned last week, the campaign to reelect President Donald Trump wasn't searching for answers. Instead, it was working to shift the blame for civil unrest directly onto Joe Biden.

"The hard truth is ... you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America," Vice President Mike Pence warned at the Republican National Convention, repeating a frequent GOP talking point. "Joe Biden would double down on the very policies that are leading to violence in American cities."

But this isn't Joe Biden's America, at least not yet. This is still Donald Trump's America. The Kenosha carnage - seven bullets pumped into the back of Jacob Blake by a police officer, the looting and rioting, the shooting deaths of two protesters - all of this is happening on Donald Trump's watch.

Civil unrest, of course, can happen under any president. But when it does, it is the president's job to de-escalate the violence and tension. Not only has Trump failed to express the smallest amount of empathy for Blacks who are the victims of unjust police violence - days following the shooting, he had yet to even mention Jacob Blake's name - but his rhetoric has deepened the divide. Election or no election, his role has to be more than just saber-rattling. His job is to set a tone that first will calm America's streets, then lead to a path forward.

"The carnage stops right here and stops right now." That was Trump at his Jan. 20, 2017, inaugural address. Yet the carnage in Trump's America is far greater today, and he doesn't seem to understand that the division he has fostered is as much responsible - if not more so - as any malfeasance he can lay at the feet of the Democrats.

Biden, meanwhile, needs to do more, too. While he has repeatedly condemned the street violence, starting with the unrest following the death of George Floyd on May 25, this is a bigger test of leadership for the former vice president, who has framed the election as nothing short of a "battle for the soul of the nation."

Americans who do not like Trump are telling Biden it's not enough just to not be Trump; that the nation now needs a transformational president.

It is possible, even necessary, to condemn the violence while still being all-in behind the theme of Black Lives Matter. Unfortunately, Kamala Harris seemed not to recognize this in her speech countering President Trump Thursday night that was long on support for the protesters and short on condemning the violence.

Surely, we can all see that those goals must go hand in hand, that it only contributes to the polarization when leaders fail to take every opportunity to insist that looting and violence not only are just wrong but also play a role in hardening opposition and attracting gun-toting vigilantes.

Into this vacuum of leadership, others are stepping forward. The Mets and Marlins held a 42-second moment of silence (42 symbolic of Jackie Robinson) on Thursday before walking off Citi Field, leaving nothing behind but a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. Other sports teams and individual players are sitting out in solidarity with BLM, bringing the economic power of the multibillion-dollar professional sports industry to bear on this critical social issue.

However, into this vacuum also stepped a 17-year-old militia wannabe from Antioch who never should have been in Kenosha Tuesday night and who never should have had access to an AR-15-style rifle.

The gruesome toll in Kenosha - so far - includes a father of three who may never walk again, two protesters shot dead, a teenager in custody and a Wisconsin community bruised and bloody and shaken to the core.

What this nation needs and wants is someone who can do this right. Biden must find his voice and become a better candidate. Trump, meanwhile, needs to be a better president.

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