The desecration of Mount Carmel Jewish cemetery was an appalling act of bigotry that illustrates how deeply this country is divided and why it needs better leadership to get Americans to unite in their rejection of hatred.
Up to 100 headstones were discovered either knocked over or otherwise damaged early Sunday at the cemetery in Wissinoming. Philadelphia police began a criminal mischief investigation, but the likelihood of this being a prank seemed remote given incidents elsewhere.
The vandalism occurred less than a week after a Jewish cemetery outside St. Louis reported more than 150 headstones had been tipped over or damaged. Add to that more than 50 bomb threats received by Jewish centers across the country this year, including in Harrisburg, Wynnewood, York, and Cherry Hill.
President Trump was criticized by Jewish groups for neither mentioning the bomb threats nor Jews nor Judaism in recent remarks observing International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He issued a statement after the St. Louis vandalism decrying "anti-Semitic threats." But that's not enough.
Trump should take a lesson from Tarek El-Messidi, a Philadelphia Muslim who raised funds to help restore the St. Louis cemetery, Chesed Shel Emeth, and now has turned his attention to Mount Carmel. El-Messidi's generosity exemplifies the spirit of community that this country needs more than ever right now. It needs a president who can be a healer of wounds, not someone who rubs salt into them.
For that to happen, Trump needs to acknowledge that his divisive election campaign helped open the door to increased bigotry with its emphasis on how much Americans differ. His harsh language has softened very little since his election, while executive actions like his Muslim travel ban have exacerbated divisions.
The wrong message was sent by Trump's choice of Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart website has long been a favorite of white nationalists, to be his chief strategist. It's hard not to connect Trump's acceptance of Bannon, despite his links to bigotry, to the more than 1,000 hate attacks cataloged by the Southern Poverty Law Center since Trump took office.
The president needs to understand the genuine fear in Jewish communities, Muslim communities, African American communities, and others where people don't believe he cares about them. He should connect those fears to his 48 percent disapproval rating in the polls, rather than blaming his unpopularity on the media.
Meanwhile, the rest of us can repudiate acts of intolerance by supporting efforts to fight bigotry. America can do better, but it needs leadership more focused on the problem than it has gotten from the White House.