Commentary: Women, black leaders filled void left by Trump

Where Trump has only added fuel to the fires, others have stepped up to calm Americans and call for action.

By Francis Wilkinson / Bloomberg Opinion

President Trump’s inability to perform his job is a tragedy for the nation. But his wide-ranging incompetence — whether it’s his flailing in the face of police brutality and violent protests or his delusions as the coronavirus approached — is showing America that it has other leaders, many of whom are women or black (or black women), who can fill the void.

While Trump thrashes like a shark trapped in the sandy shallows of Twitter, these other leaders are rising. I was not expecting a rapper named “Killer Mike” to be the voice of reason in Trump’s inflamed America, but there he was last week, stepping in front of cameras at a news conference to denounce violence in Atlanta.

“I woke up wanting to see the world burn yesterday, because I’m tired of seeing black men die,” said Killer Mike, the son of an Atlanta police officer. “I am duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy.”

Instead, he said, “Now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms outshone the rap star at the press conference, alternately pleading for peace and demanding an end to chaos. “I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old. And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt,” Bottoms said. “So, you’re not going to out-concern me and out-care about where we are in America.”

Bottoms also praised the city’s white female police chief, Erika Shields, who had had her own viral moment last week when she waded into a crowd and was filmed patiently listening to, and reassuring, a distraught black mother.

ABC’s Jake Tapper asked Bottoms Sunday about Trump’s unique qualities. Her response bears repeating:

“This is like Charlottesville all over again. He speaks and he makes it worse. There are times when you should just be quiet. And I wish that he would just be quiet. Or, if he can’t be silent, if there is somebody of good sense and good conscience in the White House, put him in front of a teleprompter and pray that he reads it and at least says the right things.”

Bottoms’ emphasis on “says” was political realism. Perhaps someone could script some words for Trump and, provided he didn’t deviate and say what he really thinks, Trump could pretend to lead.

A few weeks back, while Trump was botching the response to the pandemic, LeBron James and Barack Obama did what mature grown-ups do: They tried to make the kids feel better. The two black American icons starred in a televised commencement program for high school seniors whose ritual had been stolen by the virus.

It’s the sort of thing Trump would never be able to pull off. In the long run, however, the current president may do as much or more than the previous one to encourage women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and others on the path to leadership.

The 2018 midterm election was a fierce reaction against Trump featuring highly competent and racially diverse female candidates. Likewise, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose management of the pandemic contrasts well with Trump’s, has been elevated by Trump’s attacks on her. Val Demings, a black, female, former police chief who now serves in Congress, is poised to gain a national spotlight in part due to Trump’s incapacity.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. MAGA is premised on stopping the erosion of white male power and cementing in place its economic, social and political preeminence. It appears that, along with so much else, Trump is poised to destroy that ugly dream as well.

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg Opinion. For more articles like this go to

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