By Chris Searcy
Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley PA • West Palm Beach, Florida
It is generally accepted that diversity has made our nation stronger, not weaker. We are, after all, a nation made up mostly of immigrants and their descendants. Today we are faced with a choice: we must unite and stand against hatred and racism, or divide the nation based on fear, suspicion and intolerance. While the choice appears to be easy, coming together to solve the issue of racism, fear and hate is a goal that has eluded our nation so far. However, that doesn’t mean we should give up, and that racial harmony and goodwill toward one another isn’t worth striving toward. Indeed, it is the only path worth pursuing.
In our cover story for this issue, The Trial Lawyer is looking at the fallout from President Donald Trump’s conflicting comments about the white supremacists’ protests in Charlottesville, and whether the president is leading or dividing the nation along racial lines. Race relations is a difficult subject that has resisted satisfactory solutions for centuries, but we must continue to search for common ground if our nation is to reach its’ greatest potential.
Charlottesville may be a flashpoint for America’s race relations, as well as for the Trump administration. Donald Trump’s failure to single out white supremacists for blame revealed a lot about him, and what it revealed isn’t good. The president’s willingness to defend the indefensible actions taken by neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and other similar hate groups seems to show he’s not above pandering to the people who helped put him in office, regardless of their actions. A statesman would have sought to unite and heal the deep wounds of Charlottesville, and search for solutions; instead, dividing and stoking hatred for his own benefit.
Trump said there was bigotry “on many sides” and that some “very fine people” were marching with the white supremacist protest group in Charlottesville. William Saletan, in a Slate article titled “What Trump Supporters Really Believe,” points to polls that reveal that “Overt racists aren’t a decisive share of the electorate, but they’re a substantial part of the president’s coalition. And this gives them far more power than they would otherwise enjoy.” Saletan concludes:
When you put all these numbers together, they suggest two things. First, the most likely predictor of overt racism isn’t being white, conservative, or Republican. It’s supporting Trump. Second, among Trump fans, the racist constituency is significant. Twelve percent of strong Trump approvers express a favorable opinion of neo-Nazis, and 19 percent express a favorable view of white nationalists. Twenty-two percent of Trump voters say some white supremacists are “very fine people,” and 45 percent — a plurality — say whites face more discrimination than other groups do.
Trump’s hedging comments on a subject of such easy clarity caused members of his own cabinet to criticize or distance themselves from his statements. When asked by Fox News whether his boss shares traditional American values of justice, equality and fairness, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “The president speaks for himself.” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told a gathering of troops in a moment captured on video, “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.”
Any way you look at it, Donald Trump is leading this nation down a dark road. America was once a shining beacon of hope, the world’s leading advocate of democracy and justice. Now, nations as well as Americans are wondering what the United States stands for, if anything. That’s why we must make clear that our long-promoted American ideals of racial harmony, justice for all and equality aren’t just antiquated slogans that have lost any meaning. If we still believe in these things, we have to prove it. When the occasion presents itself for one or more of us to undertake the representation of persons or causes victimized by these issues, we as trial lawyers need to be ready to respond and undertake the representation regardless of the potential political unpopularity or risks to ourselves or our practices. Doing that won’t be easy; but not doing it means failing our founding fathers as well as all the other leaders throughout our history who have fought and sacrificed for liberty and justice for all.
On another note, don’t forget to register now for the 2018 Trial Lawyers Summit, February 4–7, 2018 at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel in beautiful, sunny South Beach. Not only is it a wonderful way to get away in the midst of winter, it’s also a great opportunity to learn and share ideas with the finest civil plaintiff and criminal defense attorneys in America. You can find out how to improve your skills in the courtroom and how to improve the marketing and management of your law firm. It’s a great gathering, and well worth the investment. I hope to see you in South Beach in February!
“Morituri te salutamus!”