It's not enumerated in Article Two of the Constitution, but consoler in chief has always been one of the most important responsibilities of the American president. Playing this part has only become more important in the television age, and Donald Trump – who became president partially because of his mastery of the reality TV medium – has utterly failed to offer moral leadership during the biggest test yet of his seven-month presidency.

Think about Barack Obama's 2015 eulogy when a white supremacist massacred African American churchgoers in Charleston, his 2011 speech after Gabby Giffords was shot in Tucson or his tearful comments after kids were gunned down at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012.

Bill Clinton encouraged Americans to "overcome evil with good" after 168 people were killed at the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. "Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness: Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind," he said. "Justice will prevail."

After millions of schoolkids saw the Challenger explode in 1986, Ronald Reagan spoke straight to camera from the Oval Office. "I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery," he said. "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave."

Think back to the way Lyndon Johnson and then, a decade later, Gerald Ford worked to rehabilitate the country in the days after they inherited the most powerful job on Earth. As John F. Kennedy said in Germany a few months before he was assassinated, "Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality."

George W. Bush really set the standard after Sept. 11, 2001. He projected steely calm on the night of the attacks, addressing the nation from the White House when his security team wanted him to stay away from Washington. He spoke out poignantly against targeting Muslims in anger. But his best moment came when he visited the World Trade Center site on Sept. 14. Workers at Ground Zero were yelling that they couldn't hear him. Holding a bullhorn, Bush replied: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people . . . who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!" Recalling that moment still gives us chills 16 years later.

Three days after Charlottesville, Trump also flew to New York and made an off-the-cuff statement about a national tragedy. But instead of rallying the country behind a common goal, this president infected the wound. He offered a window into the depths of his soul, and his false moral equivalency is now generating fresh scrutiny of his checkered record on race.

Asked if he puts neo-Nazis on the same "moral plane" as liberal counterprotesters, Trump replied: "I'm not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I'm saying is this. You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible."

As Trump continues to dig in his heels and becomes increasingly isolated, Bush Wednesday released a joint statement with his father, George H.W. Bush, from Kennebunkport. "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms," they said. "As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city's most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country."

Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative magazine National Review, writes in a new column: "Over the past few days, Trump hasn't spoken as the leader of the country, or even leader of one party, but as a leader of an inflamed faction. In general, Trump's news conference was a tour de force of whataboutism, one of the most important rhetorical tools of the pro-Trump internet. The 'alt-right' marched on Charlottesville? Well, what about the 'alt-left'? Robert E. Lee's statue is coming down. Well, what about George Washington? . . . [They] were used, as whataboutism so often is, as cover for Trump's failings and to obscure rather than sharpen distinctions. Charlottesville highlights how the problem with Trump is not the crudity of his expression. This, at times, can be part of his charm and makes him a distinctively powerful communicator. It's the crudity of thought and feeling."

Journalist Howard Fineman sees something even more sinister. "Having risen to power by dividing the country, his party leadership and even, at times, his own campaign team, [Trump's] aim now is to divide or discredit any institution, tradition or group in his way," Fineman argues on HuffPost. "Trump seems perfectly willing to destroy the country to maintain his own power. . . . The goal, as always with Trump, is to win amid the chaos he sows, to be the last man standing in rubble. And 'winning' is rapidly being reduced to the raw, basic terms he prefers: brute survival. With a record-setting low approval rating, world crises everywhere and a special counsel on his tail, the main victory he can hope for is staying in office. It's not only an emotional imperative for Trump, it's a deliberate ― and thus far successful ― strategy."

Besides the Bushes, here are nine other people or entities who have shown this week that you don't need to be president to offer moral leadership for the country:

Susan Bro

The mother of Heather Heyer gave an extraordinarily touching eulogy about her slain daughter during a memorial service in Charlottesville yesterday.

"They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her," said Bro, sparking a standing ovation that lasted nearly a minute and a half.

More than that, it was a call to action for the 32-year-old's life to not be lost in vain. "I have aged 10 years in the last week," Bro said. After struggling up the stairs to the podium, she urged everyone watching to fight against intolerance "as Heather would do."

"I'd rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we're going to make it count," she said.

"Moments later, as the service ended, Bro implored a protester in the audience to stop her critical comments about President Trump by asking the woman to be respectful of her daughter. The woman, who called Heyer a hero, complied, and there were no other outbursts," the Washington Post's Ellie Silverman, Arelis R. Hernández and Steve Hendrix report from Charlottesville. "In her remarks at the service, Bro described a determined, argumentative and passionate woman who made an impact on her community despite never going to college. She implored those who wished to honor Heyer to pay attention to social events in the way that her daughter had taught her and others to do. Citing a Facebook post of Heyer's, Bro said: 'If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.'"

David Shulkin

The Veterans Affairs secretary, a holdover from the Obama administration, said yesterday that he is "outraged" by what he saw from neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville. "Shulkin, who is Jewish, spoke to reporters and said that although he serves Trump, he does not speak for him," Dan Lamothe reports.

"I do feel like as an American and as a member of the Cabinet, that I can speak for my own personal opinions on this, and I am outraged by the behavior that I have seen with the Nazis and the white supremacists," Shulkin said. "I am outraged on the use of violence – to be able to put one's ideals, and force them upon others."

Shulkin said it is "a dishonor to our country's veterans for the Nazis and the white supremacists to go unchallenged, and that we all have to speak up about this as Americans." He then quoted the famous poem by Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller that begins, "First they came for the Socialists."

"I strongly believe that, and I believe that history teaches us that if we don't do that, we're going to get ourselves down a road that isn't consistent with what America stands for," Shulkin said. He added that "staying silent on these issues is not acceptable," and that he will continue to speak up for things that he believes are important.

Joint Chiefs of Staff

The commanders of each service branch of the military, who normally steer clear of anything that has even a whiff of politics, have each spoken out strongly against racism on Twitter this week.

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of Naval Operations:

Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps:

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff:

Gen. Dave Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff:

Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau:

Rabbi Emeritus Haskel Lookstein

The rabbi who oversaw Ivanka Trump's conversion to Judaism sent a letter Wednesday night to his congregation condemning Trump's statements about Charlottesville.

Writing along with two other rabbis, he said: "We are appalled by this resurgence of bigotry and anti-Semitism, and the renewed vigor of the neo-Nazis, KKK, and alt-right. . . . While we avoid politics, we are deeply troubled by the moral equivalency and equivocation President Trump has offered in his response to this act of violence."

"Lookstein was close enough to the Trump family that last year he was invited to speak to the Republican National Convention," Yashar Ali writes for New York Magazine. "He initially planned to give an invocation but later dropped out after outcry from the Modern Orthodox community and other groups."

Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.)

The Senate's lone African American Republican said history has shown the nation typically sees the president as a part of the nation's moral high ground. From the Charleston Post and Courier's write-up of an interview with him Wednesday: "Because of that, voters typically give deference to the objectives of the administration, he said. But he added that Trump's answers equalizing the roles of the supremacist groups and the protesters have left the president weakened on the moral leadership front. 'There is no doubt the last couple of days complicates this administration's moral authority,' Scott said . . .

"Scott said the issue is simple: 'We do not support in any way, shape or form any group that thinks they are superior, or any folks who are looking to divide this nation into smaller groups.' . . . Scott further pointed out that Trump's rhetoric has not been clear enough on the denouncement of hate groups. That includes trying to equate protesters 'with the extreme elements who are responsible for the death of an American citizen.' By drawing a 'moral equivalency' between the white supremacists and counter-protesters, Scott said, 'I think you are either missing four centuries of history in this nation or you are trying to make something what it's not.'"

"When the administration speaks in a way that seems to cause confusion in ways I vehemently disagree, I'm going to speak out against the words of the administration," Scott added.

John Brennan

The former CIA director wrote a letter to Wolf Blitzer, which he allowed to be published, after the CNN anchor noted on his show after Trump's news conference that he had lost all four grandparents to the evils of Nazism.

"I just want to extend my sympathies not only for their deaths but also to you and your family – and countless others – for the pain inflicted today by the despicable words of Donald Trump," Brennan wrote. "Mr. Trump's words, and the beliefs they reflect, are a national disgrace, and all Americans of conscience need to repudiate his ugly and dangerous comments. If allowed to continue along this senseless path, Mr. Trump will do lasting harm to American society and to our standing in the world. By his words and his actions, Mr. Trump is putting our national security and our collective futures at grave risk."

António Guterres

The secretary general of the United Nations issued a veiled but unmistakable criticism of Trump during a news conference yesterday, saying that racism is "poisoning our societies" and imploring all leaders to reject intolerance. "The U.N. chief was asked about Trump's remarks in response to the racially charged violence in Charlottesville . . . and while Guterres said he does not comment on individual leaders, his criticism of Trump was nonetheless plain," the Post's Anne Gearan reports.

"Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are . . . poisoning our societies," Guterres said. "And it is absolutely essential for us all to stand up against them everywhere and every time. . . . To condemn all forms of irrationality that undermine those values is essential, at the present moment, be it in the United States or everywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, these demons are appearing a little bit everywhere."

Kenneth C. Frazier

It took courage for Merck's chief executive to resign from Trump's manufacturing council on Monday. In so doing, he gave cover for others to follow. In a statement, one of the few African American CEOs in the Fortune 500 said he had to step down as "a matter of personal conscience."

"America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal," he said. "I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism. . . . Our country's strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political beliefs."

Other chief executives who have spoken out against Trump have seen their stocks fall when Trump inevitably retaliated, so it was a risky move. Indeed, with an hour after Frazier's statement was first issued, Trump attacked Merck on Twitter for its "RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!" He followed up that night with another criticism of the company.


Van Jones interviewed an activist named Constance in Nashville Wednesday as part of his "We Rise Against Hate" tour. She was injured in Charlottesville on Saturday and is afraid to give her last name for fear of retaliation.

"The hate that I saw on Saturday is something that I've never ever seen before, or that I have felt before," Constance said. "One of [the Nazis] told me 'I really wish I could lynch you' and blew me a kiss."

Recounting what it was like to be hit by the car when it plowed into the crowd, she said: "I'll never forget the sounds . . . First I heard the car hitting people. Bam, bam, bam, bam, and then I heard the screaming. I don't remember getting struck, but I remember landing on the ground. And I remember hearing people saying get up, get up, he's putting it in reverse."

Jones told her, "You would be forgiven for saying 'I've done my part for justice and I'm going to let someone else go and carry this fight forward.' Is that your view?"

"Absolutely not," she replied. "I love this country too much."