Dylan Roof looks so young, and when he’s being led in and out of court — absent the Confederate symbols and guns and sharp scowl that marked his Facebook page — he looks innocuous and even innocent. I find it hard to connect his appearance with the deliberate carnage he created at Mother Emmanuel Church. Deliberate it was; he sat among the bible studying church members for 45 minutes before opening fire.
Roof has been convicted, and he faces the death penalty. I don’t suppose it matters much to the survivors of Mother Emmanuel, or to the rest of us who stand with them in silent witness to a great American tragedy, whether or not Roof is executed or spends the rest of his life in prison. What matters is the racial hatred that inspired Roof, a hatred that is far more deeply embedded in our culture than most of us would have believed.
President Obama’s speech at the memorial service for the victims, and his leading this huge assembly in singing Amazing Grace, was surely a high point of his presidency.
Donald Trump does just the opposite; he fans the flames of hatred and racial strife. I can’t imagine him leading the nation in mourning. I can only envision his sneer, his bluster, his call for vengeance. And you know he wouldn’t be speaking on behalf of the dead at Mother Emmanuel. He’d be decrying the breakdown of law and order, and calling for more surveillance of black churches and neighborhoods, so that people like Roof wouldn’t feel they had to act out on their own.