President Trump's specific repudiation of white supremacists 48 hours after his initial bland tweet about the Charlottesville tragedy is to be commended and distinguishes himself from former president Barack Obama, who has yet to admit that radical Islamists are at the core of the Western world's terrorism problem.
However, if the president or his advisers categorize this as a one-off course correction to yet another ill-conceived Trump tweet and move on – there will be grave consequences. Here are three reasons.
White supremacists are just getting started. The white supremacist website Daily Stormer had this to say late Saturday after blood was shed in Charlottesville: "And to everyone, know this: we are now at war. And we are not going to back down. … We are going to go bigger than Charlottesville. We are going to go huge. We are going to take over the country. … We learned a lot today. And we are going to remember what we learned. This has only just begun."
Just like Charlottesville law enforcement, who despite massive indications on social media, sadly underestimated the protest as a local event instead of a national confrontation between radical elements, the White House is in danger of misidentifying the times. Political polarization in the nation has reached its next troubling stage. The evil underside of every political movement – right and left – feels enabled to wage war in the nation, at the expense of every American. It is not the first time white supremacists have made a run on re-establishing themselves as a legitimate voice in political debate. They have failed four times in the last century. If they succeed in this century, America has truly devolved.
When it comes to decrying white supremacy, Trump has a credibility problem. It's been said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Candidate Trump failed to adequately distance himself from white supremacists. His campaign, whether by design, ignorance or lack of political savvy, failed to specifically draw a clear distinction between white racists and the disenfranchised lower middle and working class, whose legitimate claims were key to his electoral victory.
Hence, in reaction to Trump's better-late-than-never Charlottesville repudiation, former KKK-er David Duke tweets: "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists."
Trump has some rhetorical work to do.
Mr. Trump's Christian witness is at stake. Mr. Trump has taken more concrete steps to invite Christian leaders back into policymaking than any president in recent history. Predictably, many of these leaders came to his aid last weekend as his political opponents tried to forge his weak tweet into a weapon against him. They are now vulnerable to age-old charges of biblical hypocrisy when it comes to battling racism. White supremacist escalation intensifies this vulnerability.
If President Trump is truly a new Christian, as many Christian leaders suspect (and some even report) he is, he will hopefully see that most Christians are more focused on the saving grace of the Gospel than on political gains. That means being Second Corinthians "ambassadors of reconciliation" in this dangerous time of American unrest, when violent tribalism is rearing its ugly head. Reconciliation to God and each other through Jesus is on display when Christians stand with fellow Americans to repudiate all radical terrorists, including this new surge of white supremacy.
Mr. President, it's time to get "Two Corinthians" right.