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Zaleski: Dad, uncles would reject this president

Jack Zaleski, The Forum Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

I was among those Americans who was OK with "giving President Trump a chance." After all, I argued with friends not as generous to the tweeter-in-chief, he's been in office a few months. Let's see if he grows into it, you know, becomes presidential.

No more. No more passes.

He's not presidential. He's a toxic blot on the presidency. He's a daily insult to every previous occupant of the Oval Office, where even the least-respected modern-era presidents knew the difference between Nazi-inspired hate and the American struggle to extend civil rights to oppressed minorities. Trump's on-again-off-again condemnation of the haters who caused death and injury last week in Charlottesville, Va., exposed the real Trump: A man who enables fringe white nationalists and other like-minded goons to boast that the president is "on their side," as one of the haters said on camera.

He's burned his chances to be the leader of a great nation. He's donned the stupid red hat of the great divider at a time the nation desperately needs a great healer. He's not fit for office. Here's why.

My father and uncles were veterans of World War II—my dad on a Navy warship and uncles in the Army infantry. All saw combat. It's the story of the uncles—told as they were aging toward death—that fires my rage when Trump equates the Aryan ideology of the Third Reich with the civil rights doctrine of Martin Luther King. And make no mistake about it: That's what he did with his mealy-mouthed pronouncement that "all sides" shared blame for Charlottesville. Uncles Al and Stan marched across Europe with Patton's army in the last months of the war, when Nazi Germany was collapsing. Because they spoke Polish, they were recruited by an Army intelligence unit to go into concentration camps in Poland to translate testimony of surviving Polish Jews. Transcriptionists typed the record as Al, Stan and other GIs translated the horror from Polish to English. They never talked about it until pressed. They never forgot what they saw. A few years before his death, Uncle Al said, "When I saw those people in the camps, I knew what we'd been fighting for." I didn't understand what he meant then. I do now. Trump, no student of history (or anything else, for that matter), does not.

There is a direct line between the crimes of the Third Reich and the racist vitriol in Charlottesville. It's more than chronic racial and ethnic prejudice. Carried to its logical end, the white nationalist/anti-Semitic movement means apartheid at best, genocide at worst. Conflated with the American South's reluctance to let go of the poisonous symbols of the Confederacy, the emboldened white nationalist movement is finding fertile ground to grow hate-nurtured weeds. Haters' voices have been amplified by Trump's refusal to take the moral high ground.

My dad and uncles, who were not the most tolerant of men, would be outraged. The "Greatest Generation" went to war to defeat an ideology of hate, false racial superiority and genocidal murder that had been institutionalized by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The symbols, rhetoric and violence in U.S. cities last week were echoes of those defeated regimes and discredited ideas. Any elected official—president, congressman, governor—who gives comfort to the purveyors of hate, no matter how nuanced, is unfit to represent us. So would say my dad and uncles.

Zaleski retired in February after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He will continue to write a Sunday column. Contact him at or (701) 241-5521