A Year After Charlottesville, Trump Shows That He Doesn’t Get It Or Doesn’t Care
One year after Charlottesville, it's clear that President Trump still doesn't understand what happened there, or that he just doesn't care.
It was a year ago today that a march in Charlottesville, Virginia primarily attended by an assortment of alt-right white supremacists, Nazis, and self-identified members of the Ku Klux Klan resulted in the murder of a young woman who was in town to protest against the rally. The purported intent of that rally was to protest against plans by the city to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a prominent location in the city. Rather than being just a simple rally about a statue, though, the event clearly had overtones of a Nazi rally at Nuremberg in the 1930s with Nazi-era slogans like “Blood and Soil!” and “The Jews will not replace us!” were chanted by torch-bearing men, followed by a rally the following day that resulted in violence between participants and counter-protestors that led to the death of one woman and more than a dozen injuries. These events, of course, took on a national tone thanks to the President’s response to the tragic events of that Saturday. In his initial response, Trump blamed ‘both sides’ for the violence, referred to the participants in the rally as “very fine people,” and refused to directly condemn groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which was present at the rally, or the broader so-called alt-right movement whose supporters made up the vast majority of the participants. The outrage over these comments was sufficiently broad, even from fellow Republicans in Washington, that the White House was compelled to have Trump deliver a follow-up comment the following Monday that was more measured and emphatic than what he had said before. Whatever damage had been repaired by that statement, though, was short-lived, though, because less than twenty-four hours later Trump repeated his ‘both sides’ argument in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York and then repeated it again a month later in the wake of a meeting purportedly intended to discuss race with Republican Senator Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate.
Today, a group of protesters consisting of largely the same people who participated in last year’s rally and march will hold a protest in Washington, D.C. that will end with a rally in Lafayette Square in front of the White House. While President Trump will not be present, instead he’s at his golf club in New Jersey, he did manage to send out a tweet yesterday that shows he still doesn’t understand what was wrong with his original comment, or what lies at the core of the ideology bringing people to Washington today:
As white nationalists planned to gather in front of the White House on Sunday to mark the anniversary of last year’s violent rally in Charlottesville, Va., President Trump denounced “all types of racism,” but did not specifically condemn the supremacists.
“Riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division,” he wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
Mr. Trump’s general call for unity, as Washington braced for the possibility of violence between the white nationalists and counter-demonstrators, echoed his reluctance a year ago after the deadly Charlottesville rally to single out the supremacists for condemnation.
In what is seen as a defining mark of his presidency, he blamed “both sides” for the violence, eliciting widespread criticism for what was seen as drawing a moral equivalence between hate groups — some of whom supported his candidacy — and those who protested them.
Accusations of racism have shadowed Mr. Trump over his decades as a real estate mogul, reality television star and president. Those claims have been renewed in recent weeks as he has questioned the intelligence of prominent black people such as LeBron James and Representative Maxine Waters and criticized professional football players for kneeling during the national anthem.
In a new memoir, Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former White House adviser tasked with outreach to African-Americans, claims that the president regularly used a racial slur while he was the host of the show “Celebrity Apprentice,” though she never heard him say it herself. Asked by a reporter about the book on Saturday at his club in Bedminster, N.J., the president held a hand to his mouth, as if to whisper, and said: “Lowlife. She’s a lowlife.”
The rally on Sunday, called Unite the Right II, is scheduled to take over Lafayette Square for two hours in the evening. Officers from the United States Park Police and the Washington police department will erect a barrier separating the white nationalists and the thousands of counterprotesters who intend to oppose them.
The Unite the Right group plans to have up to 400 people at the rally, according to the permit it received from the National Park Service, though the number in attendance could be considerably smaller. An antiracism group, the Answer Coalition, was granted a permit in Lafayette Square for a group more than three times the size of Unite the Right’s. Other groups of counterprotesters have permits to gather elsewhere in the city.
Jason Kessler, who helped organize last year’s Charlottesville rally, is scheduled to speak to the crowd, as is David Duke, the former politician and Ku Klux Klan leader.
The Park Service granted a routine First Amendment demonstration permit to Mr. Kessler. “In anyone’s recollection, there has never been a First Amendment permit that’s been denied,” said Mike Litterst, a Park Service spokesman.
Here’s Trump’s tweet:
The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2018
As Jennifer Rubin notes in The Washington Post, Trump’s comment demonstrates that he still doesn’t understand what was behind the rally in Charlottesville, or that he simply doesn’t want to offend a group that has been loyal to him since the start of his campaign:
The “riots” — a blob without definition — did not “result” in “death and division” — two more blobs with no definition. Heyer’s death. A white nationalist allegedly murdered an anti-Nazi protester. Period. Trump cannot say those words because to do so would reaffirm his failure a year ago and, worse, annoy the segment of his white base that thinks they are the victims of racism. As The Postreported, “Trump’s tweet Saturday, his first public mention of the anniversary, did not label the event as a white supremacist rally or specify that it was a white rallygoer who rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one.” (One is reminded of his 2017 International Holocaust Remembrance Day message which omitted the word “Jew.”)
We must come together as a nation” is rich coming from the president who has done more to fan anti-immigrant, racist hatred than any modern president. Indeed, racial divisiveness (e.g., picking fights with African American athletes, calling African Americans “low IQ,” referring to mostly nonwhite countries as “shitholes,” equating innocent “dreamers” with MS-13 gang members, trying to take away funding from cities that do not spend public-safety dollars rounding up and detaining illegal immigrants who haven’t committed serious crimes, the Muslim ban) is central to Trump’s presidency. He returns to the theme again and again, especially to rid himself of negative headlines on other subjects. Trump of course also divides the country by gender (e.g. implying Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would trade sex for campaign donations, attacking women’s intelligence but rarely if ever men’s, mocking the #MeToo movement, praising alleged wife-beater Rob Porter). Since he began running for president, he has divided Americans by place of birth (native born or not), by religion (demonizing Muslims), by medical condition (mocking a New York Times reporter with disabilities), by region (ignoring or minimizing Puerto Rico’s misery), by profession (the press is the enemy of the people) and by expressions of patriotism (if you kneel for the national anthem, you don’t love America).
And Trump felt compelled to throw in “all types of racism” to make sure the “fine people” among the neo-Nazis don’t feel left out. He couldn’t simply say, “I condemn racism and acts of violence.” And finally, his wish for “peace” is hard to stomach given his habit of inciting crowds to engage in violence.
Kevin Drum makes essentially the same point:
The reaction of nearly every Republican to Trump’s repeat performance was nothing. A few made comments of their own, but almost none had even the mildest criticism of Trump.
This comes after yet another a year of Trump’s casual—but always deniable—racism, aimed variously at black athletes, football players protesting police brutality, the usual attacks on undocumented immigrants, and so forth. Everybody knows what Trump is doing, and everyone seems to be OK with it.
This is what truly sets the party of Trump apart from the GOP of the past. Sure, they’ve been chasing the white vote for a long time. But until now, they were basically a sister party of the Christian Democrats in Germany or the Tories in Great Britain. Today, they’re a lot closer to being a sister party to UKIP or the National Front in France. It’s revolting.
Though they come from opposing sides of the political spectrum, Rubin and Drum are, of course, largely correct here and, as Rubin says in her closing paragraph, Donald Trump’s history regarding racially divisive rhetoric has demonstrated that he lacks the moral authority to lead the nation on this issue. In addition to the comments he made in the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville last year, Trump has engaged in a number of other actions that demonstrate the extent to which he is willing to engage in racially divisive language in order to advance his personal and political interests. From the day he started his campaign three years ago, this President has attacked Mexicans, Muslims, disabled people, a Federal District Court Judge who happened to be Mexican-American and a Gold Star Family who happened to be Muslim. In response to N.F.L. players who were peacefully kneeling to protest racially biased police violence, he responded by calling the largely African-American players “sons of bitches.” Both during the campaign and since becoming President, he has used campaign-style speeches to turn his crowds of supporters into raving lunatics by throwing them red meat on the most divisive issues facing the nation. More importantly, he has done so not only knowingly but with a rather obvious sense of glee at the chaos that he is causing.
In addition to this, Trump has succeeded as a politician largely by appealing to the worst aspects of the unhinged populism, xenophobia, and nativism that has made up the worst aspects of American politics. In doing so, he managed to not only win the Republican nomination for President but to win the Presidency itself. Since taking office, he has not only engaged in the same racially divisive rhetoric he did as a candidate, but he has implemented it into policy in the form of the travel ban that applies almost exclusively to majority Muslim nations, the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has primarily benefited the children of Latino immigrants, and he has implemented a so-called ‘zero tolerance’ program that for a time resulted in the separation of parents and children arriving at the border. Finally, he reportedly referred to immigrants from Africa as coming to the United States from “shithole” countries. Through this rhetoric and action, the President has demonstrated where his sympathies lie, and his effort to paper over the truth about Charlottesville a year after the tragic death of Heather Heyer is revealed to be the same non-condemnation that he issued in the immediate aftermath of last year’s events.