First, let’s set aside the fact that I don’t hold with the morphing of the job of president of the United States into Emoter-in-Chief. The idea that the president is supposed to comment, strike the proper emotion, on every news development that engages people’s morbid curiosity at a given moment — whether it has the slightest thing to do with his duties and responsibilities or not — is a discomfiting sign of a republic in decline.
But that’s where we are today, and if the White House didn’t put out a statement on the latest sensation, meaning would be read into the lack of it, so a president who cares about the dignity of his office is really in a spot.
The best he can do is put out as dispassionate a statement as possible, and move on.
That said, I think President Obama did a pretty good job with this statement yesterday:
“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”
I could have done without the bit at the end, which mentions “honoring” Trayvon Martin. Those aren’t words I would have chosen. Nothing against the victim of this horrid mess — it’s just that that is what he is, a victim. He’s not a hero, he isn’t a martyr to a cause. He didn’t set out to make a statement. He just had a late-night yen for Skittles (possibly the expression of a case of the munchies), and it got him killed.
I don’t know him, and I think “honoring” him is best left to those who did.
But I know why the president used those words. He used them to head off people who would react inappropriately to this verdict under the guise of “honoring Trayvon.”
Anyway, beyond that, I thought the piece just right. There are two main messages here. The first is neatly contained in this statement: “But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”
But for those who feel that’s not enough, that something must be done, are challenged with the second message, which is a corollary to the first: That, this being a nation of laws, if you didn’t like the way this turned out, engage the system and change the society in which you live, from changing the laws down to “being the change” in your own interactions with fellow citizens.
And I think that if the president had to say something, those were pretty much the right things to say.